Monday, January 28, 2013

Norfolk Probate Court

Traveling east on a secondary road in Dedham, Massachusetts, one is treated to a tree lined street framing beautiful old Victorian homes.  Even at the traffic lights, a sign of a entering a commercial area, the appearance of a court house on the left is majestic.  The probate court house of Norfolk County, architecturally magnificent, stands as a symbol of justice.  Many believe that the building serves as a haven, a sanctuary for those seeking protection from abuse, and end to an unhappy marriage.  Walking into hallowed halls, high ceilings, and marble floors almost demands whispers, voices softly encouraging and comforting those enduring an emotional life transition.  But in contrast, the echoes in these halls are an agonizing amplification of the injustices in the court rooms.  Equally picturesque, the dark wooded courtrooms, with intricate detail, are the mask of what is actually a torture chamber, with judges freely stamping their gavel on decisions with the intensity to crush families. 

The well utilized basement area of the courthouse looks more like a prison holding area, where everyone waits for their cell assignment.  It’s dark and crowded with limited seating.  It’s an agonizing wait as couples are called into the small rooms with the hopes of coming to an agreement to bring in front of a judge and expedite the process.  The first time I stood there, I heard conversation around me.  Once woman was stating she had been coming to that courthouse for 17 years.  I couldn’t imagine the reason.  In my mind, you go to court, arrange the common visitation schedule – every other weekend, one weeknight – and an amount for child support.  Simple, easy and quick.  My naïveté was due to my idealistic belief that people respect what the court stands for; truth and justice.  Lying in court, or perjury, is only committed by seasoned criminals.  Sadly, I was mistaken. 

Prior to going to court, my abusive ex told me he was warned by his family that I was going to accuse him of sexually abusing the children.  To me, that was not only shocking, but ridiculous.  You don’t lie in court.  You don’t make fraudulent accusations.  What I had to relate about my ex’s vile behavior was enough – I didn’t need to fabricate anything.  But he did…..and the court allowed it. 

One court worker was enamored, finding my ex so compelling, she loudly related her empathy to his latest fabricate complaint to another court worker. When I boldly interrupted her, she merely replied, “Well, that’s what he said.”  And I retorted, “Considering the source, you should know it’s a lie.”  There are many positions which demand discretion.  Information is respected privacy and should remain out of earshot to non-staff.  Therefore, how can a court allow their workers to discuss cases, and vocalize their own misguided opinions where anyone can listen?    

Norfolk probate court judges made decisions without hearing the facts from both sides.  How can a Jewish judge believe testimony that children had to go to Hebrew school seven days a week?  How can a judge make a decision on the tearstained photograph of a woman with fingerprints on her neck be anything other than proof of being choked?  How can a judge remove custody from a parent after the same motion was already denied twice?  How can a judge sleep peacefully at night, after destroying the lives of innocent children?

The only thing missing from the pictures of the Norfolk probate courthouse, are the mothers who gathered outside, sobbing after a judge removed her children from her care, merely because her abusive ex displayed the calm demeanor often seen in a sociopath, while she showed emotion at the thought she was going to lose what she loved most.  And the court, offering the same lack of empathy as the narcissistic sociopath, with unconscionable ruling, did as she feared most.

The probate court has since moved to an industrial area in an antiseptic brick building.  Have the demons that once lived in the imposing structure followed along?  Well, that’s not my story to write.  By the time I had to utilize the services there, I was much more savvy in the ways of the court.  I did not need an attorney, because I could represent myself.  I was no longer intimidated by the unethical attorney I faced, and found ways to get around her objections; by testifying to evidence she was afraid to allow me to submit, for it proved the trail of injustices allowed in my case.  I was finally able to stand up and tell the judge I refused anymore abuse by my ex, his attorney and the Norfolk Probate court. And after years of battle, my case was closed, and I felt as if I had won.  I did not win the deserved custody, as my children were almost grown, but I won the freedom from my abusive ex, and the freedom of facing false accusations in that court. 

But in attaining freedom, and access to children gave my ex carte blanche to do whatever he desired; to manipulate, to degrade and to destroy, and control his children – their thoughts and deeds, in the way he wanted.  And that’s what he desired most….his own freedom to continue his abuse away from the eyes of those who judge….because someday he knew, they may not be judging in his favor.  

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