I was washing dishes tonight, listening to Rhode Island Public Radio, when a tragic story reminded me of court today . . .
Last month in Florida, a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, 28, followed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was visiting his father's friend in a gated community.
Zimmerman claimed he was afraid of the teen and phoned 911:
There's a real suspicious guy...looks like he's up to no good....on drugs or something....he's just staring, looking at all the houses, looking at me.... coming towards me...got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male....something's wrong with him....I don't know what his deal is....The police dispatcher warned Zimmerman not to follow the young man: "We don't need you to do that."
But Zimmerman followed anyway in his SUV, got out with his 9 millimeter handgun and killed the 17-year-old, claiming it was self-defense. The dead youth held only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.
That's what fear does.
"Barbara" says she was so fearful of her former partner, "Tracy," that she hired a law firm to win sole custody of their daughter, "Jenny."
I can see the courtroom again: Barbara's lawyer, Cynthia Gifford, wants her client to talk more on the witness stand about fear--all the bad things that might happen if Tracy and their daughter resume their close relationship.
Tracy's attorney, Keven McKenna, objects to the speculative narrative. Judge Debra DiSegna sustains his objection.
Barbara claims that Jenny is much better now with Tracy out of her life, but admits there are those odd moments when Jenny seems sad and says stuff like, It's not something you can help me with.
McKenna begins his cross examination by impugning Barbara's credibility, getting her to admit an embarrassingly false assertion in her "Complaint for Custody" four years ago.
Barbara conceived and gave birth to Jenny the old-fashioned way. The child's father willingly gave up his paternity rights so his friend, Tracy, could formally adopt the baby. Both mothers' names appear as parents on her birth certificate. The child's full name includes both their surnames.
McKenna also asserts that they successfully co-parented Jenny for twelve years.
He introduces a notebook of emails as if to suggest that the one Barbara seized and Gifford pored over for days with Dr. Vilker was (as Vilker suggested it might be) an aberration and not representative of a long list of positive emails between Tracy and her daughter.
Barbara is annoyed by "the blogging." She says it is biased.
It is true that I, as author of the blog, am offended--not by Barbara, but by the lawyers who dragged her here to make their living. I am frankly troubled by the damage adversarial litigation does to families, the sarcasm from both sides, the games of Gotcha that degrade everyone in the room.
I write about color-of-law custody cases at Family Court because I am paying for them with my taxes, and they need to end. They have done lasting damage to children and families for no good reason but to enrich a privileged guild.
In this case, maybe the only way out, ironically, is to let Jenny be independent, to set her free of the lawyers, the emergency ex parte motions and miscellaneous complaints that have trapped her and her mothers here through all her teen years.
This much is certain: Tracy and Barbara have an amazing daughter. I suspect that once she is independent, she will find ways to build healthy relationships with each of them.
Her love may succeed in finally overcoming fear.
"Jenny" made this picture in 2008.