I laughed at first when I received the letter from Judge Judy’s producer inviting me to fly to California and to appear on that scandalous television program. The show’s producer had found Paul’s small claims lawsuit and realized how entertaining it would be to see people like us making fools of ourselves as we debated the ownership of plants in a garden.
I considered, after refusing Judge Judy’s invitation, that the small claims hearing in tiny Bantam, Connecticut would be just one more unusual and entertaining life experience. During the week leading up to the court date, anxiety made my heart pound and my mind whirl around. No serious thought remained in my consciousness long enough for me to complete even a routine task.
So what if my guts were in knots for a whole week before the Friday hearing? It was my chance to show that my ex-husband is out of his fucking mind. Did I say that? No, of course not; a lady of my background and age would never say something so vulgar.
I was upset from Monday through Thursday, and on Friday afternoon, drove eight miles to my friend Sharon’s house. I’ve known Sharon for more than twenty-five years. She’s a fellow choir member, smart and caring, who has a son my son’s age. As soon as she heard about the upcoming trial, she offered to accompany me and I gratefully accepted.
We drove through a rural, scenic part of northwestern Connecticut, to the Bantam Court complex. As we pulled into the parking area, I glanced to my left and there he was, in a small Honda — Paul, who I hadn’t seen in ten years. At first glance, I didn’t recognize him. After all, it had been ten years since his arrest in August 2005 and he didn’t look the same as on that infamous date. I most likely didn’t either, although I really thought I looked better than during that time of sheer horror.
After I parked, I shared that I felt like throwing up. Sharon sounded a bit concerned, but I assured her I wouldn’t actually throw up; I just felt apprehensive and a bit terrified. We sat for a while in the car, the air-conditioning keeping out the July heat.
Then, we entered the building, which was just like other court houses, only much smaller, with an x-ray for purses and a metal detector to walk through. We walked along the narrow hall to join others waiting to enter the courtroom. Most everyone wore casual clothing or the work clothes of a mason or painter. One woman wore shorts and a tank top and had a large, but delicate, tattoo of five portraits across her tanned upper back. She and I had caught each other’s eyes earlier and smiled, in mutual support, although I knew nothing about her.
Paul wore a long sleeved lavender shirt and sported a small gray ponytail He carried a thicker middle, which must have concealed his colostomy bag and whatever else he had to wear after his bladder was removed.
The judge, a small, elderly man who had to strain in order to climb up to the judge’s platform, appeared pale and frail. As soon as he began speaking, his words flung that impression aside. He was sharp and kind and focused on what was important. He missed nothing.
The first thing the judge did was to tell everyone to leave the courtroom and go out into the small, narrow hall to discuss the issue that brought them to the court. He directed everyone to make every attempt to work it out. Those who were able to come to an agreement had their cases heard first. Usually it was just a payment schedule of $40 a week, or some such arrangement.
Paul and I and Sharon stood in a corner. I was barely breathing.
“Are you a lawyer?” he asked Sharon.
“No,” she replied.
“A friend, for moral support?”
“Yes,” she said.
Sharon had a pleasant, neutral expression on her face. I could feel tension stiffen my mouth and eyes.
I could see he recognized Sharon but didn’t remember her name. He was more stubborn and sure of his position than I expected and after a few words it was clear that we weren’t going to come to any agreement.
We returned to the small courtroom and waited, listening to others argue their positions. As I watched the clock, every five minutes seemed like an hour. Contractors protested about non-payment for work done and homeowners complained about work their contractor hadn’t finished that they’d paid for. The compassionate judge paid close attention to all of these cases. Finally, he called Held vs. Sherman.
He really didn’t know which of us was which and said that Paul’s past legal issues had no bearing on this case, a fair statement. Paul said right away that he had been in prison, so the subject was out in the open. I sensed that no one paid attention to what was being said and the conversation was only between Paul and me and the judge.
Paul’s illogical reasoning was that we had a pre-nuptial agreement where we agreed what was his was his and what was mine would remain mine in case of a divorce, but when I filed for divorce he didn’t get a chance to go after my assets and I had so much more than he. The only thing he said that was relevant was that he had paid for plants and wanted them back.
I responded that he had no right to them, as the house had been mine from the beginning and he had never shared in the cost for anything, whether household bills or major constructions, like the addition to the house and swimming pool. The judge said that he thought we might be in the wrong court. After hearing us speak, he said we’d be notified of his decision whether or not I would have to pay Paul $5000.
Thursday’s mail brought the Notice of Judgment or Disposition which stated that the case has been dismissed. The judge wrote that the reason was that there was a failure to present a prima facie case.
On Sunday, Paul wrote a long, threatening email, stating his intention to sue me in a jury trial for access to his plants. When I consider how upset I was the week before the small claims court event, I think I may allow him access to remove what he wants and just get it over with. Afterwards, he can gloat about how he won and forced me to allow him to dig up whatever plants he still dreams about after all these years. I can survive an hour or so to be rid of him. I know I would suffer way too much to engage in any more court appearances.