Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Update From Far West Oahu, Act III, Scene 1

Act III, Scene 1

Monday, 5am came and I shut off the clock radio. It had been a fitful night; sleep escaped me, exchanged by rabid thoughts of what could go wrong in this, my Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) presentation against the Former Female Tenant, FFT. I was groggy but sure I would make it to the downtown Honolulu courthouse in time for my 8 o’clock docket. I just wasn’t entirely sure I would prevail since the FFT was no longer living in the same house anymore. I thought that might be a leading factor in my own TRO being dismissed as she was no longer a direct threat to me.

I worried too much…

The express bus stopped in front of me and I boarded it at 6am. This was the worst ride I’ve ever had on “America’s Finest Bus System.” The driver had a lead foot both on the accelerator and the brake, alternatively rapidly hitting the gas and the brakes, almost like she had one foot on one pedal and another foot on the other. I think my abs got a great work out but I was really tired when I finally stepped off an hour and fifteen minutes later.

I arrived at the courthouse a few minutes later and sure enough, here comes the FFT, plopping herself down on a stone bench about ten feet away. My TRO says she must be 100 feet away from me at all times. She didn’t move, so I called 911. They promised to send an officer but, when the building doors opened at 7:45am, I went in, figuring the police were not going to show up. I laboriously climbed up two flights of stairs—remember, I’d had virtually no sleep—and checked in at the bailiff’s desk. They took my driver’s license and handed me a court ID badge to wear directing me to a hallway, which had courtrooms on the left and right, the end of which was reserved for TRO plaintiffs. I took a seat, acknowledging several people who were in my TRO class a couple weeks earlier. It was 8am. A cop called my name to ask if the FFT had done anything but sit a few feet away from me. He said the courtyard of the courthouse was a “common area” and that the FFT had to come there to get into the court. He did say that if she did anything else, he would help me “make a case against her.”

I asked a few of the other TRO’ers how they were doing since last we met. Some were still strong, some had weakened and were nervous that they might be arrested, since they themselves had violated the terms of their TRO’s by making contact with the defendant. Mine specifically stated—as did everybody else’s, I’m sure—that I was not to contact the defendant in any way, verbally, through someone else, by phone, email or semaphore flag, for that matter. Yet, in some cases, not only did the plaintiff make contact with their “terrorizer,” but the TRO was actually withdrawn not two weeks after the initial service. One guy, who was a plaintiff himself and who had worked within the TRO program as a volunteer for eight years, gave me some disturbing insights into the system.

He told me that the emotions and actions leading to a divorce or final imposition of a Restraining Order had the plaintiff leaving a marriage, as in a separation, or leaving a live-in relationship and issuing a TRO only to rescind it six times. He said the statistics were the same, whether people were married or just cohabitating a place. He told me of one woman, of Asian birth, married to a European-born man, who endured 40 years of abuse before finally coming to court. Not a week later, she dismissed the TRO and a week after that was in a dentist’s chair having her two front teeth replaced because of a blow by the husband.

He went on to talk about the people working in the system. Many “burn-out” after a few years. He said that their hearing the same stories, day after day, or seeing the same clients coming in month after month just got to them and they had to move on to something else. He also said that the TRO courts had the lowest burden of proof of any court in the land. In went like this: if the judge didn’t grant a TRO in what seemed a minor case of two people merely disagreeing with one another, that might be the very one case where death resulted and then the state would be sued for negligence.

I then sat next a university student, majoring in zoology, who I agreed to call “Stella,” after the character in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” We struck up a conversation immediately, covering a multitude of topics, one of which was her reason for being here this day. It seems her roommate in the college dorm was heavily into drugs—ice, cocaine and pot. Stella turned her in after the roommate threw a full bottle of wine at her during one of her binges. When Stella called the campus police, she was told to stay out of the way and say nothing. They were ineffectual in removing the roommate, even though campus rules forbad illegal drug use and so she called the police. The police told Stella later that the campus police are usually as lackadaisical as she just experienced but, they then got the girl out.

Stella was delightful to talk to. It didn’t matter that she was just two years into school and I was entering what for most is retirement years. We chatted like two friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while and were just bringing each other up to date. She was an artist at heart though she was studying how to care for animals, not as a veterinarian, but more like a zookeeper. She received dozens of art scholarship offers from many prestigious universities and art schools but turned them all down to follow her parent’s instructions: find something you can make money with; art won’t do it. I can’t understand how parents can ignore offers of a tuition-free education from people who recognize great talent and then tell their children to go for what they identify as a “sure-thing.” Stella admitted she was an animal lover and that from six years old she had naturally cared for sick and injured pets and wild animals with some success. Her heart though had always been in art and even showed her art teachers new ways of seeing and doing things, with several now teaching Stella’s methods. All too soon, Stella’s court time came and she was gone, leaving with promises to call or email me for a shared lunch.

Some 30 people were waiting for court times and one by one they were called in. I had been in this lobby since 8am and now, at 11:30am there were few others left, mostly just waiting for court orders to be written up and handed back. Finally, at 12:30pm, my name was called and I entered Judge Fujikami’s chambers.

The clerks told me to sit down at the end seat fronting the judge’s raised bench. This was a narrow room, almost like a hallway had been converted into a courtroom. The paneling was a soft mahogany, the seats comfortable as I took my place, opening my manila folder of TRO information in front of me.

The FFT entered next and took her seat on the opposite end of the room. A court clerk sat between us.

The judge then apologized for calling us in so late but there had been some difficult cases ahead of us that took more time than expected. He went on to say that because of court rules, he could not hear my case today and would have to “continue” (postpone) it until May 30th. He asked me if that was okay with me and I said sure. Judge Fujikami than said, “Unless you can come to an agreement right now.” I asked him what he meant and he asked me what I wanted with my TRO. I replied that I expected it to remain intact; I was changing nothing. When he asked the FFT what she wanted, she pushed a fully stuffed manila envelope toward the judge say she wanted to enter the contents into evidence. The judge told her “not now” that she would have to save it for the trial on the 30th. With that, he adjourned and I went to back into the lobby to wait for my paperwork.

When the clerk came out, I asked her just how I could enter further information into evidence. I had a 15 page log of the FFT’s actions and behavior and pictures of these that I wanted to provide. I also had a statement pleading with the court that my TRO be unaltered as although the FFT had moved out she was in a room in a house nearby in the same neighborhood. Since she hadn’t even returned her house keys she could still conceivably harass me within my home if she so desired. The clerk explained how to include this into the trial and off I went.

Frankly, I can’t imagine what evidence the FFT might have against me. I’m sure it is specious at best. Yet, judging from some of the results of other TRO’ers, something might come up that alters the judge’s view of things that has him changing the terms of the TRO, possibly against my interests.

Oh well, maybe he won’t commit her to a mental exam as I requested and that would certainly be a loss I could swallow.

More in Act III, Scene 2 after May 30th

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