Ashland Municipal Court Judge Pam Burkholder Turner likes to open her court sessions with a little story.

Ashland Municipal Court Judge Pam Burkholder Turner likes to open her court sessions with a little story.

"Someone once said to me, 'Were you a teacher before you were a judge?' I said, 'No. But thanks for the compliment.' I see the function of this court as education, as do most municipal court judges," Turner said during a recent court session, speaking to a roomful of people accused of everything from speeding to leaving a restaurant without paying the bill.

Turner holds court in the Ashland Civic Center, a building across East Main Street from Garfield Park.

If someone breaks the law within Ashland city limits, and it's not a major crime like a felony, he or she may end up before Turner.

One of the first people to appear in court on Tuesday was Richard Sangeleer, age 36. He faced an accusation that he didn't pay his $27.80 bill at the House of Thai Cuisine.

Sangeleer said he thought he had the money to pay the bill, but then found out he didn't.

Turner asked him to tell her a little about himself, such as whether he has a job. Sangeleer, who wore his black hair combed forward into a point, responded that he's a publisher of "outsider literature."

"Everyone has a book in them. Either they haven't written it, or they haven't published it yet," he said.

"That just about covers everyone," Turner said.

Sangeleer said he thought his bill at House of Thai Cuisine was more like $15. Turner then produced a receipt and showed him the $27.80 figure.

She sentenced him to pay a $250 fine plus fees, and to pay $27.80 in restitution to the restaurant. He will make payments of $25 per month. She also put him on 11 months of probation. If he violates the terms of the probation, he will have to pay another $1,000 and spend 30 days in jail.

"Well, it was an expensive meal," Turner said.

"Yeah — very expensive," Sangeleer agreed.

On a charge of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, Turner fined him $500 plus fees.

Erica Zlataroff Barton, age 44, appeared on a charge that she drove 54 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone. She asked to be sent to traffic school and to have the offense kept off her record.

"Doesn't it make sense that I need improvement?" she said.

But Turner turned down the request, pointing out that she had received several other speeding tickets in less than a year.

"I cannot help you. Not in good conscience could I help you," Turner said before fining her $190 plus fees.

"Slow down!" Turner added.

Next up was a University of Oregon student who had made the trek from Eugene to ask Turner to sentence him to a diversion program. While a student at Southern Oregon University, Ian Dusenbury, age 20, was cited for minor in possession of alcohol by consumption after police caught him hiding in a closet during a party.

Dusenbury claimed that other minors at the party were sentenced to diversion programs, and asked for the same leniency. Minors who successfully complete diversion programs can have offenses kept off their records. But Turner said he had been caught in the past furnishing alcohol to minors.

"You're not coming with clean hands," she said. "Diversion is not a right. It's a privilege. I'll look into how other people were sentenced. I'll think about it and I'll let you know by mail."

"Thank you," Dusenbury replied. "I appreciate it."

After listening to other cases, Turner reached the case of a homeless man who had been cited for having an open container of alcohol and for prohibited camping. Thomas Hecklin, age 44, had previously been caught urinating into Ashland Creek near diners on the Calle Guanajuato.

Hecklin had received a drug and alcohol evaluation through OnTrack, Inc., a local provider of drug and alcohol treatment programs. OnTrack recommended he go to treatment four times a week.

"I told them straight up it wouldn't do any good while I'm living outside in the cold. Being outdoors all winter is really taxing," said Hecklin, who came to court dressed in a rain poncho, boots and a cowboy hat with a squirrel tail hanging down. His hand was wrapped in a dirty bandage to cover a wound he said he got when someone attacked him.

Then Hecklin asked Turner to send him to the Jackson County Work Center in Talent for 90 days. The center provides an alternative to jail. The men and women there get counseling, attend life skills classes and do work that ranges from helping at a nearby animal shelter to fighting wildfires.

"I would never have predicted you would say that," Turner said of his request to be sent to the Work Center.

Hecklin said he has fallen into despair.

"I want to do something with my life," he said. "I just turned 44. You come to a certain point in life where you see other people have things, and you don't have anything. I'm living on the streets. I'm dirty and dingy. I've been working to keep myself sober. I want my health back. I've been sleeping in a Dumpster. It's the only place with a roof."

Hecklin said he wants to recover and eventually begin a job search using the help that's available at the Work Center.

Turner agreed to dismiss the charges if the man does 90 days at the Work Center and gets drug and alcohol counseling.

"I appreciate you doing this," Hecklin said.

"It's an unusual request," Turner said, and then commented on his nickname — "Squirrel."

Hecklin proudly held aloft his hat with the squirrel tail hanging down.

"Yeah, I got a new tail. It took me a month to dry that," he said. "It fluffs up real nice if you put it under a dryer."

Hecklin went off to the side of the courtroom to fill out paperwork, and then returned to Turner.

"You're intelligent, you can think, you can express yourself," Turner told him. "A lot of people don't have that. There are a lot of things you don't have, but you have that. You have the hope of being able to go forward in life."

Before Hecklin left, Turner added, "I'm really crossing my fingers. I hope it works out for you."

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.