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Showing posts with label CRIMINAL COURT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CRIMINAL COURT. Show all posts

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Last week I had my first experience of going to criminal court with a friend whose ex-husband rammed her car.  "This will not be a problem", she said in her heavily accented voice, "I am the victim." 

My friend, whom I will call Anya, is of Ukrainian extraction.  Of course, as a long time person who has participated in family court proceedings I do not consider anything at all "not a problem"--any time you appear in Court, any kind of Court, guilty or innocent you have a problem and, in my opinion, no matter what you are going in for, you have to be on high alert the moment you walk through the door until you leave. 

Criminal Court is an enormous concrete monstrosity located at 101 Lafayette Street in downtown Hartford.  It has none of the 1920s Herculean charm of the Civil Court located right across the way at 95 Washington, Street.  Once I arrived there, I had to walk up a very steep set of stairs to a common area where litigants, their relatives and supporters, sat around waiting for the Court Proceedings to begin.  Anya was sitting there with her folder of documents and it wasn’t long before a mutual friend of ours, Collette, appeared as well.   

Together, Anya, Collette, and I went down the massive staircase and walked over to the Office of the Victim’s Advocate to find out what was going to happen.  This Office was located in the same place as the Prosecutor’s Office and appeared to be abandoned.  However, we were able to find a single secretary who was able to locate Anya’s Victim’s Advocate.  We will call him Bill.  We asked Bill, what is going to happen during the proceedings today.  He didn’t seem to know for sure so he told us he would check with the prosecutor and meet us back upstairs. 
While he was off doing that, I thought about Anya’s situation which had brought her to Court today.  Like many abused women, Anya had been legally hounded through the Family Court system to the point where her ex had seized custody of the children and had her placed on supervised visitation despite the fact that she is a perfectly fit mother. 

Despite the supervised visitation, she had arranged by email to speak to her children after school.  So she parked her car outside the school building.  The kids were standing there with their bicycles waiting to speak to her as she started to cross the street.  Then the Father sped around the corner, his car at high speed and rammed into her car, thoroughly totaling it. 
His excuse?
He said that he thought Anya was intending to grab the children and flee the country.  These are kids who were born and brought up in this Country to a mother who now has absolutely no money after years of being in family court.  She is going to flee?  What—no seriously—she’s going to pack the kid’s bicycles in the trunk of the car and flee without money? 

Be that as it may, I can think of several better ways to stop an ex-wife from fleeing the country if you seriously believe that is what she is doing.  For example, you might want to check with your attorney or report her to the authorities.

Anyway, finally Bill, the Victim’s Advocate, returned and Anya, Collette and I huddled in a circle while Bill explained what was going to happen.   He stated it was agreed that Anya’s ex was at fault and the only question was the nature of the penalty. 

Bill explained that Anya would have an opportunity to speak to the judge and state her wishes and the opposing side would present any mitigating factors they believed should affect the extent of the penalty.  I asked Bill whether he would be assisting Anya in making her statement.  Bill said no he couldn’t do that because Anya has an attorney.  I said, as far as I know she does not have any attorney.  Bill insisted that Anya had an attorney. 
You probably, my reader, figure I should have stopped there and believed what an Officer of the Court had to say.  But, no, I don’t believe what any Officer of the Court says ever, ever, ever.  It is sad but these people misrepresent the facts all the time so you can never believe them.  I said, “If Anya has an attorney, then where is she?  Did your offices forget to inform her that there was a hearing today?”  I also said, “If Anya has an attorney, could you get the file for the case and show us a copy of the appearance for that attorney?”  Bill insisted, “There is an appearance for an attorney in the file.  I saw it.”  “Well, then," I said, "you shouldn’t have any problem going and getting it.”  For a while he stood there insisting we didn't have to see it.

Eventually, Bill went in to see the prosecutor and brought him out to see us.  The prosecutor acknowledged that there was no appearance for any attorney in the file.  He continued on to state that since it wasn’t correct to proceed without an attorney, he would request a continuance and that the judge was very likely going to grant such a continuance.  He wanted to know if that was acceptable to Anya.  She said yes.  Once the prosecutor had left, Collette turned to me and said, “Honestly, the likelihood is that the prosecutor has already cut a deal and the decision has already been made. This hearing is simply a formality.  Nothing is truly at stake.”   I took that in without comment.  I’d just bet that an extremely high number of Court hearings have a similarly predetermined outcome.

The Court convened and my friend, Anya, stood before the judge with Bill, the Victim’s Advocate, at her side.  The prosecutor immediately explained that there was no attorney appearance filed in the case and since Anya was here without an attorney, the prosecutor asked the judge to grant a continuance.  The judge immediately nixed the idea of a continuance and said why would you need one?  The issue of guilt or innocence is not under dispute.  “We are only determining what the penalty should be.” said the Judge, “I think you [Anya] will do a perfectly fine job of expressing yourself without any need for an attorney.” 

I’m like so much for the idea that there was an understanding that there was going to be a continuance.  It felt like a deliberate deception—the kind of bait and switch I see so frequently in family court.  We had been told there was going to be a continuance, and suddenly it wasn’t on the table anymore.  Did this shift really make a difference in the scheme of things?  Maybe not.  But it is all part of a system that acts in a peremptory and unreliable manner and then blames litigants when they object.
To start the opposing side presented its case asking for a lenient penalty.  The attorney went into detail about how Anya’s ex was afraid that Anya was intending to flee the country.  I found that extremely insulting.  As I sat there, it felt as though Anya, who was indeed the victim in this case, (and that was confirmed since her ex was convicted and this was just the penalty phase of the case) was somehow being transformed into a perpetrator. 

The prosecutor then spoke up and mentioned that the case emerged from a high conflict divorce and that family court had five boxes of files on the case.  Again, I felt as though Anya, who was, in fact, the victim in the case, was being treated like the perpetrator.  The fact that her divorce case was high conflict, the prosecutor seemed to imply, was somehow Anya’s fault and detracted from her right to justice. 

The victim’s advocate and the prosecutor said nothing whatsoever about the property damage, nothing about the emotional damage to Anya, nothing about her exes subsequent verbal abuse, and nothing about the harm to the children who were there to observe the whole incident.  Lastly, the opposing attorney stated that her client had not intentionally rammed the back of Anya’s car, but that he was unable to locate his brake.  At that a titter of laughter spread through the audience of largely African-American, Hispanic and poor men and women sitting in the gallery. They were the last people to believe an explanation as stupid as all that.

Finally, Anya had the opportunity to speak.  She spoke about how her ex had committed similar acts of abuse before.  She went into the details of the crime, speaking about how witnesses heard the wheels of her exe’s car squeal loudly because he sped so quickly around the corner on his way to hitting her car.  But the judge was too impatient to hear it.  Even though he had assured Anya he would listen to what she had to say right to the end, after five minutes the judge was done and said, “Fine, fine, I get your point.  I think we are through here.”  Bill quickly jumped in and said, “I think what Anya is trying to say here, your honor, is that she does not agree with any leniency.” as if finally catching up on the fact that he was supposed to be on her side.

At that point, the judge issued his decision which was that Anya’s ex would have a restraining order against him for the next two years.  “May I approach, your honor?” said the opposing attorney.  The opposing attorney, the judge and the prosecutor went into a huddle that excluded Anya for several minutes.  Finally, it broke up and in a firm and hostile manner, the judge said to Anya, “I do not want to hear that you have deliberately gone close to your ex to force him into violating the restraining order.”  Again, I felt like saying, “Who is the victim here?”

After the hearing was over, we walked down the steps on our way out the building.  I was talking non-stop because I was so appalled by what I had seen and heard.  “You said that they understood that you were a victim, but I don’t call that being treated like a victim.” 

I explained to Anya that if I were a victim, this entire atmosphere would have completely traumatized me.  During the entire time we were there, I didn’t once hear the Victim’s Advocate express any concern about Anya’s well being or ask her how she felt or whether she needed anything to feel comfortable.  Instead, I heard absurd theories about Anya’s intention to flee the country, unjustified suspicions that Anya would set her ex up to be arrested, and I heard Anya’s pain invalidated simply because she is a victim of a high conflict divorce.  On top of that the Victim's Advocate treated Anya deceitfully and told her she was represented by an attorney when, in fact, that wasn't true.

In the end, I found it surprising that no one was willing to consider the bottom line in all these abuse cases here in Connecticut.  What Anya’s ex had done was a part of a pattern of bullying behavior that had been going on for a long time.  How was it possible that Anya was the parent still on supervised visitation?  Who could possibly trust the judgment of a man who had seen fit to ram his car into the Mother’s car while his kids were watching?  How could any responsible agency leave these children in his care?  For irrational, irresponsible actions like this you only have to direct your attention to our Connecticut Family Court for your answer!