After a harrowing hearing, Sussex County Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden ruled that Kris Kringle is, in fact, Santa Claus.
The court overheard a competency hearing as to whether or not Kringle is the storied jolly man in a red suit.
“Each of the attorneys will present an opening statement to you. This is a description of why we’re here today and a summary of the testimony of the witnesses they expect to call to testify,” explained Jurden. “These opening statements are not evidence, and will not be used to decide the matter before the Court. Only the testimony of the witnesses and any documents presented to the Court during trial are considered evidence…
“Since this is a competency hearing, it is a matter that is decided by me, the judge. There will be no jury today; however, I may call upon you young citizens for guidance as I render my opinion.”
The courtroom was filled on Tuesday, Dec. 11, with students from Milford’s Lulu Ross Elementary School, all showing their support for Kringle, and many of whom even rang jingle bells upon hearing his name.
“One of the great, great icons of Christmas is Santa Claus. For many, he brings the holiday to life. The gentleman you see here is Kris Kringle. He’s a nice man, loves children. You may have seen or talked to him in a mall or on the street,” said prosecutor Charles Coates.
“The problem is he claims to be the Santa Claus. We’re not here to tell you there is no Santa Claus — it’s just that this gentleman is not Santa Claus.”
Coates argued that declaring Kringle incompetent would protect Kringle and the public at large.
“We don’t want him to attend to do anything that would hurt him or hurt others. We don’t want him climbing up roofs and trying to shimmy down chimneys. We don’t want him going into the woods, trying to take reindeer out of the forest. He should be home with his friends, he should be home with his family, or he should be in a state facility. He’s not Santa Claus, but he is a nice old man.”
Retired Superior Court Judge M. Jane Brady rebutted on Kringle’s behalf, stating that the burden of proof was on the prosecutor.
“I’ll be reminding the Court there’s a little bit of Santa Claus in all of us. At this time of year, it takes one person to bring all that together… his name is Kris Kringle…
“I intend to prove that Mr. Kringle is Santa Claus!”
Kringle was the first witness to take the stand, and he “Ho, ho, ho’d” definitively that he was Santa Claus.
“Do you believe you’re Santa Claus?” asked Coates.
“Of course,” responded Kringle.
Coates went on to call to testify Dr. Herbert Westover, who had evaluated Kringle.
“I believe Mr. Kringle suffers from the delusion that he is Santa Claus,” he said, noting that the evaluation lasted about 45 minutes.
Brady questioned whether Westover had observed Kringle interacting with other people during the evaluation, to which he replied, “No.” Westover also stated that Kringle did not take a lie-detector test.
Brady called to the stand R.H. Macy, whose famous Macy’s department store hosts Santa Claus during the holiday season.
Macy testified that she believed Kringle to be truthful and of sound mind.
“Do you really believe this gentleman to be Santa Claus?” asked Coates.
“I do! Why wouldn’t I,” replied Macy.
Coates objected to the witness, noting her testimony was “irrelevant and immaterial.”
“Counsel is making a circus of this courtroom and this proceeding. There is no such person as Santa Claus, and everybody knows that.”
“I submit that it is truly a matter of opinion,” retorted Brady. “Can Mr. Coates prove there is no Santa Claus?”
Jurden said the matter would be considered.
“The tradition of the American justice system requires a broad and unprejudiced view of such a controversial matter, and therefore intends to keep an open mind.”
Brady went on to call Coates’ daughter Janey to the stand.
“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” asked Brady of Janey Coates.
“Sure I do! He gave me a brand-new PlayStation last year… There he is, sitting right there!” she said, pointing to Kringle.
“Why do you believe he’s Santa Claus?” asked Brady.
“Because my daddy told me so!” stated Janey Coates.
Coates voiced his objection to all testimony presented by Brady. Jurden asked Brady if she was prepared to prove Kringle is Santa Claus “on the basis of competent authority.”
While she was conferring with her client, Frederick Wilcox — postmaster for the State of Delaware — burst into the courtroom and ran over to Brady, presenting her with documents.
“Your Honor, I would like to submit certain facts concerning the Post Office, an agency of the federal government,” said Brady.
Wilcox testified that the U.S. Postal Service is a part of the federal government, and was created in 1776 as part of the Second Continental Congress.
Wilcox also testified that it is a criminal defense to “willfully misdirect the mail or intentionally deliver it to the wrong person.”
The Postal Service receives many letters addressed to Santa Claus from boys and girls all over the world, said Wilcox, and delivers them to Kringle.
Brady entered a handful of letters into the record, and said she had more but was hesitant to produce them.
“Produce them,” said Jurden. “Put them on the bench. Let’s see this evidence.”
Bailiffs carried in a number of bags and boxes, which were subsequently emptied on the bench — all of which were letters addressed to Santa Claus.
“The Post Office, an official branch of the federal government, recognizes that this man is Santa Claus, and I offer them as proof positive that my client is the one and only Santa Claus!” said Brady.
“Well, if the United States government declares this man to be Santa Claus, the court will not dispute it,” said Jurden. “Case dismissed!”
Following the hearing, Kringle wished Jurden a Merry Christmas and led the Court in a rousing rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
The annual performance of the courtroom scene from “Miracle of 34th Street” is performed in Sussex, Kent and New Castle County courthouses. Three performances were held in Sussex County for 260 elementary students from Lulu Ross and H. O. Brittingham elementary schools.
Judge:Superior Court President Judge Jan R. Jurden
Kris Kringle: Family Court Judge James McGiffin
Prosecutor: Charles Coates, Esq.
Defense attorney:retired Superior Court Judge M. Jane Brady
Dr. Westover:Robert Gibbs, Esq.
Janey Coates:Janey Nagle
Mrs. Macy:Ruby Harrington, Judicial Fellow
By Maria Counts