it just struck me how apt the name of that procedure (event?) is. the "hearing". i suppose i made the connection somewhere in the back of my brain before, but i don't remember....
i realized this morning that i hadn't read the Return of Service document as carefully as i should have. i knew i was supposed to send it back to the court, but i forgot on Monday, and though i remembered Tuesday, i was fairly certain it wouldn't get to the courthouse on time through normal snail mail channels, and resolved to take it with me to today's hearing. the Return of Service document informs the court that the party on whom the latest papers (concerning the date, time, reason for, and changes to the hearing) were served has indeed been duly informed, and that all involved in the proceedings are expected to attend, at which point those proceedings actually appear on the docket.
it was good that i got to the court a bit early and filed those papers, as the computer-printed docket did not originally include my case. i think that might have been bad, since i was responsible for moving the hearing date up. however, a handwritten inclusion at the end of the docket was all that was necessary, and things went forward.
i passed Loren's mother on the grounds outside the courtroom, on the way in, and she waved, and i risked violating the restraining order myself by saying "Hello," but i kept walking, in through security, up to the now-familiar court clerks' office (definitely a mixed blessing to know your way around the courthouse), filed the paper i needed to, then headed back outside to wait.
i walked back to my truck, sat down, turned the radio on, then right back off. lit and smoked a cigarette and re-read the complaint Loren's mother filed against me for the umpteenth time. tried to compose myself. i think i've had this on the brain too long because i couldn't really concentrate on my arguments. i was beginning to feel the nerves, 1/2 an hour before the afternoon session of DV court began- not unexpected.
i'm a pretty broke guy, and didn't want to spend the $5 or whatever it would be to park in one of the local lots, or the new Snohomish County Campus parking garage (which, incidentally, i installed some of the signage for, including a bunch of elevator signage that Loren actually helped me put up one day....wonder if there's a blog entry about that....) so i waited as long as i thought wouldn't make me late for court, pulled around the block to a new 90 minute parking space, and crossed my fingers that i wouldn't get a parking ticket or towed. i imagine, in the immediate vicinity of the county courthouse and jail and the municipal police station (all on the same campus, which spreads over a few blocks) that there are plenty of parking enforcement officials. a minor concern for me, at the moment.
but i digress. i parked the 2nd time, walked up to the court house, went through security again, walked around a bit. i noticed (again, though i didn't pay much attention to it the first time) the reproductions of historical documents on the wall, and let my eyes wander around the captions, finally landing on Lincoln's 2nd inaugural address (scroll down for details in a previous post on this page). by the way, if you're new around these parts, the most recent post always appears at the top of this page, and then the progression continues in reverse chronological order, which means if you haven't read for a while you should start at the bottom of the page and work your way up, albeit in a manner that doesn't include reading the sentences backwards, of course. the links to the archives on the right will retrieve everything posted on or between the dates specified; this page will only display a certain number of posts before you have to go to the archives to dig up the previous one. the archives are only created (automatically) when a new month begins. it's possible that the current settings for this blog only allow display of a certain number of posts, and that in the event my posts exceeded that number in the current month, some of those might not appear in an archive yet; in that case i only offer this advice: drop by every once in a while and catch up, or wait a while for the archived version....
but i digress again.
while i was reading the Lincoln address, Jason called me on my cell phone, to let me know he and Melissa were there. i didn't know Jason was coming, and that was cool. Nichole had made plans to carpool with me there, as her boys were going to be babysat in Lake Stevens while she attended the hearing with me, but i'd called her this morning to mention i thought i'd better show up and get the Return of Service document filed, so i called her at the last minute and she agreed to just meet me there- very gracious :)
eventually Melissa and Jason came in. Jason joked that being in court when he wasn't in trouble was a new experience for him. nice that he took a day off from work to come, and lucky too- i'll mention why later.
i realized i ought to check the docket (i'm much too well versed in all this court procedural stuff) and walked over to the courtroom to do that. sure enough, in handwriting on the bottom, there it was. passed Loren's mother and her husband in the hallway, and though we made eye contact, and none of us seemed overtly upset with the others, i played it as safely as i could and didn't speak to them.
i have to admit i'm not feeling as bitter, as i sit here typing with the prospect of seeing Loren sometimes in the near future a reality, as i was a couple days ago. i can be as bitter as the next guy, and i certainly think i have reason enough to hold a grudge, but i'm ultimately more practical than vindictive, and it's just plain better for Loren when the waters are as calm as possible. but like i said, i surpressed my urge to interact, civilly or otherwise.
a few minutes later Nichole arrived, with Cole in tow. he was having a rough day, and she opted not to leave him with the babysitter. she mentioned Cole was a bit disappointed with that until she explained that he'd get to see his aunt and uncles. when she was nearly through security i headed for the courtroom, to be ready when my case was called. Melissa came with me, and we sat quietly and waited. Loren's mom and her husband were already there, and i declined to sit by them, which was fairly common sense i think. the officer in the courtroom subsequently announced to all present that that was indeed necessary, as well as stating that no food or drink were allowed in the courtroom, and no minors under the age of 18. uh oh. a couple moments later, Nichole entered with Cole, carrying his McDonald's happy meal. i told her he and the food weren't allowed, which i should have known, considering the potentially very ugly subject matter present in a courtroom handling domestic violence cases. it didn't even occur to me, but it totally makes sense. Jason offered to watch him in the meantime, so Nichole could be present during the hearing. it was a minor neo-Pelkey exodus to the hallway. i took the few remaining minutes to go greet my nephew, who was quite pleased to hang out with his Uncle Jason. i tried for a hug, but had to settle for a handshake and a nice smile from Cole.
Jason had offered to move my truck if needed, and i gave him my keys. as that ultimately proved necessary, i'm happy to report he therefore triply exceeded the call of duty. thanks again Jason.
i reentered the courtroom, and pretty soon Dad showed up, unexpected, and that was a nice surprise. then the commissioner (proper title for this judge) entered, and all rose, and were seated, and the role call was made, and the docket was underway.
i was quickly pleased with the quiet, relaxed tone the commissioner set for the proceedings, and the patience she showed for clearly explaining what she meant. it was soon apparent that she would limit the discussion in the hearings to matters strictly applicable to charges of domestic violence. that was clearly to my benefit, and i was encouraged. it was probably less than half an hour until my case was called.
Loren's mother and her husband were accompanied by someone, either an attorney or a counselor or someone from DSHS....something. i think the woman only spoke a couple words, and her function never really became apparent to me. i didn't ask questions. i was representing myself. they stood on the right, and i stood alone, on the left of the court facilitator between us.
allow me to take this opportunity to mention the completely irrelevant details that: the court facilitator (a pleasant woman from the court clerks' office) was very attractive. for that matter, the commissioner herself was very easy on the eyes. must have been my day. i noticed the facilitator wore no wedding ring, the other day in the clerks' office, but alas, of all the places you might meet an eligible woman, domestic violence court probably harbors the least chance of success. i didn't so much as glance at the commissioner's hands; i preferred to look her in the eye. but enough of this.
procedure in this hearing allows the petitioner (who made the original complaint) to speak first, then the respondent (the complained-about party) to speak, then the petitioner to have a chance to rebut the respondent's statements. before the arguments in the case were made, the commissioner asked if both parties were ready to proceed. she asked me first, and i answered i would very much like to proceed.
though all present were repeatedly and specifically instructed by the commissioner (in the previous hearings) to do otherwise from the beginning of the docket, Loren's mother seemed flustered and inclined to talk about things which did not specifically relate to the charge of domestic violence. when asked if she was ready to proceed, she asked for a continuance, to better prepare her case. she said that she was given the impression, on the telephone with the court clerk last Friday (see earlier post), that she had no choice in the decision to move the hearing date forward, and she was therefore unprepared to continue. the commissioner asked her what preparations, specifically relating to the charge of domestic violence, she needed to make. Loren's mother answered that she intended to get a statement from her doctor concerning Loren's weight (!), and before she continued to speak the commissioner interrupted by asking her what this had to do with the charge of domestic violence. a short and somewhat terse conversation ensued, in which Loren's mother grew increasingly frustrated as she (i assume) realized that she was not going to be allowed to raise the issues she intended to in this hearing. the commissioner restated her instructions that the only thing that would be discussed and addressed in this hearing were the specific allegations of domestic violence. eventually Loren's mother was forced to admit that she had no cause relating to the domestic violence allegations that required a continuance, and was compelled to simply provide her account of the incident at her house on the evening of March 17th. this consisted of the majority of the written complaint she filed, and she managed to make a couple fairly unrelated, uncomplimentary (and only marginally accurate) statements about my supposed treatment of Loren, before the commissioner turned to me for my opportunity to speak.
i was very conscious that Loren's mom had been obviously flustered, and attempted to maintain my composure while she spoke. i didn't want to react to what she said in an overt way, as i judged that to be likely interpreted by the commissioner as a lack of respect for Loren's mother, and an attempt to express my opinion out of turn (and as such a lack of respect for the proceedings) and work counter to my purpose. i also wanted to return the respect the commissioner was showing to the litigants. i was very impressed with the manner in which the commissioner ran her courtroom, and to be completely honest i have to say that thus far, in all my dealings with them, the Everett District court system has shown a great deal more respect for me, and has upheld my rights much more, than i initially expected them to. it restores much of my faith in the legal system.
then it was my turn to speak. i realize, as i sit here trying to commit this narrative, that i can't really remember what things i said when, so i'm going to give you the overall gist of them.
Melissa mentioned, after the hearing, that i began with an attempt to preface the events leading up to the incident on the 17th, and the commissioner kind of reminded me that i was to stick to the specific incident in question, and the allegations made against me, and i though i had to compose my thoughts for a moment to continue, i think i was better prepared, and maybe better equipped, to discuss the matter at hand. i can follow instructions ;)
while Loren's mother spoke i'd opened the file i brought containing her complaint, and glancing at the complaint did the trick- i knew what i wanted to say. i said that Loren's mother can have a pretty casual relationship with the truth when it suits her purposes, and that this complaint was a prime example of it. to me, that was golden. i don't know how much weight that statement carried, but it was almost worth the price of admission to have the opportunity to say it. i continued with the fact that all the (extremely) negative things that had gone on between Loren's mother and me in the past had been finished for 10 years, and in the ensuing time, to both of our credit, we'd managed to work toward common purpose more often than not, and that sometimes we had conflicts, but never anything remotely like what used to happen, and that even back in the day, when things were at their worst between us, Loren had never been in danger from either of us.
i said that if you read her complaint you'd think i walked in to Loren's mother's house screaming profanity, but that was simply not the case. i said i'd been in her house for over an hour, which i knew because i'd watched the clock (true) and that i'd greeted Loren, and that his mother and i had made small talk while sitting on couches in the living room, and that Loren's brother had climbed on my back, and i'd talked with him, and Loren was wandering around gathering his things, and during this entire hour I'd tried to be as patient as possible while repeatedly exhorting Loren to get a move on it, and finish getting ready, and that neither Loren's mother nor Loren ever said anything that indicated he wasn't coming to my house. i think that was key to casting a large shadow of doubt on the complaint, the information that i'd been there for quite a while.
i related everything about the ensuing confrontation between Loren me, including that Loren argued he is generally allowed to make up his own mind, and that i'd clearly explained that this time i was making the decision, and it was final, and that he directly disobeyed me when i finally told him to put his shoes on his feet and march, and that when he did so i then clearly explained to him i had the right to enforce my authority and would pick him up and put him in my truck if he didn't do as he was told, before ultimately grabbing two handfuls of his sweatshirt and hauling him to his feet and telling him to march. i mentioned Loren's mother stepping in then, and that she told me to stop yelling, and that i was talking in a stern tone of voice but was definitely not yelling, and that she said i was scaring her and that i answered that if that was true then she got scared too easily and she needed to calm down, and that when she threatened to call the police i told her to go ahead, i hadn't done anything wrong, and that she'd stood with her arms around Loren, kind of rubbing his shoulder, and she kind of pulled him away from me, and it was then that i realized i still had a hand full of his sweatshirt, and let go. and i mentioned that she hadn't been present when Loren and i were arguing, and entered from another room without knowing exactly what had taken place, and immediately undermined my authority. i admitted that she might have had the right to do that since we were in her house, but that i didn't think it was the right thing to do, and that she'd walked him back over to his bed and sat down, with his arm around his shoulders and stroking his arm, and that i'd then repeated everything i'd already told Loren, and that i soon realized the situation wasn't going to resolve the way i wanted it to and decided to leave. i said that i'd then told Loren to come get his stuff out my truck, admitting that my language was less acceptable at the time. for the record, i actually told him, "Come get your shit out of my truck," and was instantly ashamed of myself for the choice of language; there are certainly times when swearing, in conversation, is no big deal, but i think that instance made Loren feel worse than he already did, and that was avoidable, and wrong. i'll be mentioning that to him.
i'm not really sure how much else i got out, and i'm only going to claim this narrative is a 90% accurate description of the hearing. i've thought about the whole incident so much that at this point it's getting hard to differentiate between what i managed to get out in court, and my recollection of the actual event, and the points i envisioned myself making in court the multitude of times i obsessed over it.
i was allowed to speak continuously and uninterrupted for a relatively long time (maybe 7 minutes, if i had to guess?), which i attribute to stating my points concisely (thanks Abe!) and confining those to the issues the court would likely find relevant, maintaining a natural progression of dialogue that didn't run off on tangents (as i'm clearly unable to do in this post); but eventually the commissioner had heard as much as she deemed necessary from me, and asked Loren's mom if it was true that i'd been in her house that long. she answered with more composure this time, and refuted some of what i'd said, but didn't deny i'd been there an hour.
i find it particularly interesting that, in her closing statements, Loren's mother repeated twice that i'd said, "Loren, i can do it the nice way or the mean way." i made no reference in court to the actual language i used when warning Loren i'd use force if necessary to make him comply, and what i actually said to him at the time was, "you can do this the easy way or the hard way". i've been using that phrase since Loren was small, on the rare occasions it's necessary; it mutated into that shorter form from the original, "you can either do this the easy way, and do what i say, or you can do it the hard way, and get a spanking and do what i say."
i wonder if that interpretation ("i/nice/mean" as opposed to "you/easy/hard") was a slip of the tongue on Loren's mother's part, or (i think much less likely, since he's heard it many more times than she has) Loren's interpretation of it in some conversation with her. but i think it most likely that it shows an underlying inclination on Loren's mother's part to think of my use of physical punishment or enforcement as "mean". that's pretty telling, if you ask me. that's really what this whole thing boils down to: she thinks i'm mean to him.
i think it's proper to state here that, on a couple occasions, i've actually admitted to Loren that i've treated him unfairly, or abused my authority (in a minor way) by punishing him too harshly when i was upset about something else, and that i've apologized for that, and pledged to not to repeat my mistake. it's my personal parenting philosophy that if you can't admit fault when you're clearly wrong, you show a lack of respect for your child and risk losing their respect. i think respect from your children has to be first earned, and then expected, and continually justified. i'm happy to say i've been generally successful at learning from my mistakes.
but i digress again. back to wrapping this up.
the commissioner then mentioned that she believed there to be other issues than domestic violence involved here, and that she was going to think out of the box and do something a little unconventional. she mentioned that she had knowledge of the issues which rise as children enter their teenage years, and that it's not unusual for divorced families to eventually deviate from a court-ordered parenting plan, or for the child to be given more leeway in determining their course of action as they begin to assert their independence, or for this to cause problems. she said she was going to put this whole thing in her pocket, and reserve the right to rule on it after a future hearing (45 days from now), to take place after all three of us (Loren, his mother and i) attended mediation services designed for divorced parents and their teenagers. she left the original restraining order in place but allowed Loren to contact me at will. as i interpret her ruling, that means i'm still not allowed to see (or call) Loren until the mediation begins. she reaffirmed the court-ordered parenting plan set forth 10 years ago, pending another resolution in mediation, so it's at least somewhat likely that when the mediation begins, the original parenting plan will supercede the restraining order, at least initially, and for the duration of the mediation.
i'm still not overly clear on all that. the commissioner seemed less than patient when i attempted to ascertain exactly what all this meant, so i shut my mouth. i'm going to try to get the ball rolling on the mediation and ask the questions of them, and count myself vindicated that Loren's mother's (unfounded!) allegations against me were, for the moment at least, largely dismissed in favor of addressing the underlying issues causing our disagreements.
i've already contacted the mediators once. i only got an answering machine, or i might know more about how this works, as i imagine they have a fair amount of experience dealing with this court ordered stuff, and that many times this involves restraining orders. Loren's mother is ordered to contact them no later than April 5 (a week from today....yikes, it's late, and i gotta work today!). unfortunately the date the mediation is to begin is obscured on my copy of the order....could be the 11th, but then again it could be the 15th, the 17th? somewhere toward the middle of next month. i fully expect Loren's mother to wait as long as possible to both contact them and begin the mediation process, and don't anticipate seeing Loren until then, though i sincerely hope i'm wrong about that, and would welcome a rapid reponse to all this, on her part, as a sign of positive action toward resolution of our disagreements.
ok. i'm well past out of time, and that's certainly a sufficiently thorough report. time for bed.
THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYONE THAT WISHED ME LUCK AND SHOWED UP FOR SUPPORT, IT MEANS A LOT TO ME!!
LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING MY SON! :)
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