Recently I decided to go to court to watch civil harassment restraining order hearings before a judge I hadn’t appeared before. I have a case in front of him soon and wanted to see if his judicial temperament was reasoned jurist or screaming maniacal behemoth.
A civil harassment order is something you obtain when someone harasses, threatens, stalks, assaults or engages in similar unacceptable behavior. It enables you to call the police and have them arrested if they come near you again. The court issues a temporary order then, after the offender is served, conducts a full hearing to decide the merits of continuing the temporary order.
When I arrived at the department, the doors were still locked. About thirty people were in the hall. Many were civilians, some were lawyers. I looked at the calendar and saw there would be both civil harassment order hearings and elder abuse protection orders.
The bailiff opened the doors and the masses flooded in. Since I’d be leaving before all the matters were heard, I popped into a seat in the very back row, back against the wall and close to the door. Moments later, a large male accompanied by a part-Chihuahua, part-no idea appeared before me. He looked like a mountain leading a molehill. The dog wore a red service animal cape that looked suspiciously homemade. It stood proudly, like Mighty Mouse.
“I need to sit there,” the Mountain told me, indicating my seat. ” I have a service dog.”
Why my seat looked better than the one next to me, I didn’t know, but I moved. I didn’t want to chance that the dog might have super powers.
All the seats filled rapidly and left numerous people standing in the aisles. Several were lawyers, one who looked like a villain from a James Bond film with closely cropped white hair and a supercilious attitude. He tried to pounce on any seat that he perceived might be available, even if it was when a woman stood to adjust her skirt. When he removed his jacket, his shirt was half-untucked in the back. I wasn’t going to tell him.
When the judge took the bench, his first order of business was to let people take seats in the jury box. I’d been wondering why the bailiff hadn’t allowed it before to alleviate the overcrowding, but guess the only person allowed to use their brain was the judge.
The first case was called and the Mountain got up and walked toward the table where people sit if it’s them who need to be restrained. His little dog marched along beside him, tail straight up, jaunty curl at the tip. I wondered what he’d done.
The judge indicated that the other party was on the phone. I thought it must be a lawyer using CourtCall. He put the call on speaker and the thin, reedy and querulous voice of a woman filled the courtroom.
“I’m sick, I cannot be there. I need you to let me continue this case. I’m sick.”
Okay, perhaps this was a reasonable request.
Then, “I need to get the FBI there for the hearing, like I told you last time.”
Here’s the thing. People who talk about bringing the FBI to a restraining order hearing aren’t usually playing with a full deck.
The judge tried to elicit some information from the woman, but she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise or any other way.
“I’m sick, I cannot be there. I’m going to throw up!”
The Mountain interrupted to tell the judge that the police had been at this woman’s house for several hours a few days ago and that was a typical occurrence. She was always causing trouble.
“That’s not true!” she screamed.
The next thing we heard went like this: BBRRACK. BBBBBRRRRAAAACK.
She was barfing. Or pretending to barf. I don’t know. There’d already been some raised eyebrows and glances exchanged between the people in the courtroom audience prior to this. Now, there was laughter. This was nuts.
Ultimately, the court decided the Mountain didn’t need to be restrained. He dismissed the case. Handler and dog pirouetted out of the courtroom and it was on to the next matter.
A seventy year old woman and her interpreter came forward. She wanted an order against a young man in his early twenties who had rented a room from her, but lived there no longer. She claimed he’d made sexual advances against her. The young man was offended.
“If I want an old woman, I’ll date someone who is thirty!”
Those of us a bit older found that pretty funny. The judge dismissed the case. He told the woman if the young man bothered her again to come back and he’d rehear it.
Next up was a Neighbor v. Neighbor dispute. Neighbor A’s dogs were allegedly pooping in Neighbor B’s yard. Neighbor A claimed it was not his dogs, but coyotes doing this. We were privileged to hear a five minute discussion on the difference between coyote and dog poop until the judge finally shut it down. Oddly, it was Neighbor A who sought the order. Wasn’t it his dogs that were trespassing and causing problems? Neighbor B claimed his kids couldn’t even play in the front yard because they might get menaced. What was going on?
Then we got to the good part: Neighbor B had gotten so fed up with the dog poo situation he’d taken a pile of the stuff and….smeared it all over Neighbor A’s car.
The judge inquired why Neighbor B thought that was a good idea. Didn’t he know that things like that usually led to fist fights? Neighbor B didn’t have a good explanation. I can’t think of any situation where he would.
That order got granted. I would hate to live anywhere near those two.
I left after that case, having gotten way more entertainment than I’d ever thought I would. So, if you’re ever bored, go check out the civil harassment order calendar nearest you. Truth is always stranger than fiction.