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March 3, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Family Court (Part 2)

Then Khadija requested an Arabic speaking interpreter.… her talk was - in my opinion - deliberately made to sound like she was much less competent in English than I know her to be. Furthermore it removed her one more step from direct questioning by the judge or direct need to participate… one step removed. As she seems to favor… having other people handle all the details.

That seemed bad. That seemed contrived and manipulative to appear to be the “innocent right off the boat.”

Then the judge asked Khadija if she had anything to add to her request for a restraining order. Khadija (now completely through her interpreter) said yes there were several dates which had not been included in her statement which she wanted.

The judge said that was not particularly important. She wanted to know about immediate details relating to the request to keep me away. Khadija said yes… she wanted no contact, no communication… she didn’t want to be subject to attack or danger and yes she wanted the restraining order. I heard her quickly… nervously… speaking in Arabic while her interpreter spoke in English (How ridiculous that exercise was!)

Then the judge gave me my turn. I had sketched a few points I wanted to include. (I’d spread my papers on the table before me: my court summons, the 21 page Noam Chomsky speech delivered at MIT on the Muslim/West world crisis, two letters from Khadija from 1996 - one saying she wanted to marry me; the other suggesting my sister marry her neighbor - my permanent restraining order from Criminal Court, a picture of Khadija in Morocco holding a letter of mine, blank pages, my sketch for defense and the Quran which Khadija had left at my apartment.)

So... first I said that this was a great disaster for both Khadija and me and it had caused me tremendous suffering (my voice was straining and I occasionally had to stop to regain my composure) I said I loved her and hoped that somehow we could find a way to communicate, reconcile and get past this awful thing.

Then I said she and I are from completely different cultures. She was a devout Muslim and I was a champion of people like Noam Chomsky and George Orwell. Indeed I had no idea how deeply rooted her religious beliefs were into her heart until that night (of October 9th)… and… (I strained so hard to talk and my voice was extremely hoarse and strained) I had no true conception how I loved her and deeply she was rooted into my heart until that night.

The judge asked about the violent events which caused Khadija to request the restraining order.

So… I first said that everything had changed since September 11th… the strain on us had become terrific. I had read the entire Quran but… I had since learned from a Muslim named Zackariah Twist that the translation I had read had been particularly hostile… that Muslims themselves had been offended by this translation and the translator himself was not Muslim.

The judge gently urged me to get to the events.

So I said I had written down quotes which I had challenged Khadija with and she… seeing that I was directly challenging the Quran… got very mad.... she… in my opinion… then decided to strike back as forcefully as she could. (I described the sequence in the kitchen…) Then she had called the police and said I had been physically abusive and had caused everything.

I then made a direct condemnation of her sworn written statement, particularly paragraph eight which I said was: “a complete reconstruction of what had occurred… a deliberate falsehood. I was under so much stress [talking in court]… my heart pounded. My head burned. My voice strained to get my words out.

I asked for a continuance until my criminal trial was over and a better chance to defend myself.. .I said at the end (as I held the Quran up) that: “I am sure there is forgiveness in her religion.”

My request for a continuation was denied. My wife’s request for the additional restraining order was granted. I was advised that I could have no contact and no communication, whatsoever, with my wife. Not in person. Not on the telephone. Not by any electronic device or through any third party with the exception of her lawyer. (She didn’t have a lawyer at that time.) If I violated this court order, I would be subject to one year in jail for each violation. One phone call was one violation. Two phone calls were two violations, and so on. I was to stay 100 yards away from her, her work, and her residence. I was told to remain in the courtroom for an additional ten minutes while Khadija and her party left the building.

I walked into that courtroom as an innocent. I did not know the law. I did not have a lawyer. I had heard that anyone who wasn’t a licensed lawyer and gave me legal advice was practicing law without a license and breaking the law (which happened to be made by lawyers). Mr. Shoe, my public defender in Criminal Court, had told me very clearly and directly to say nothing. “They will only find anything you say in Civil Court and use it against you in trial in Criminal Court.”

But what I didn’t grasp was that Civil Court was only going to concern itself with one thing: Did I pull Khadija fist-first into kitchen window? Did I or didn’t I? Did I become violent as she said?

At the hearing I did not focus on the narrow specific legal question. I made the very common mistake of focusing on something more important to me. I focused on the fact that I felt I had committed a serious offense against Khadija according to her religious beliefs. I hadn’t broken American law at all. To rescue her trust in me and her love, I wanted to say in open court and under oath that I loved her and apologize because, when I had read quotes from the Quran and made critical observations about those quotes, I didn’t know the seriousness of my remarks about her religion. I wanted to ask her to forgive me. Not legal things at all.

When I walked into the court and said how sorry I was, it must have looked (to the judge) like the next best thing to a confession. Why would I be sorry if I hadn’t pushed her into the window? How could she not grant my wife’s request if I couldn’t come up with solid evidence that I was innocent?

Judge Charlotte Woolard read the filed papers, listened to a few brief minutes of testimony, held our situation up to what she considered was probably true in a typical case, in an average “he said, she said” standoff, and imposed the second restraining order upon me. That essentially ended my marriage. Ended the chance to rescue the marriage. Destroyed all avenues to talk. Memorialized my wife’s accusations against me for all the people in coming years who would have use for or interest in them. It branded me as guilty of what I had been accused of. No trial, no evidence, no testimony other then seven minutes each. No continuation and then a judgment. Snap crackle pop.

On the other floor, a court could spend months and months discussing a couple sentences in a letter to decide if they were injurious to someone’s ego, but my courtroom could devote 25 minutes to a marriage I had invested years of my life in. I was beginning to understand Civil Court better.

The moment I walked out of the courtroom, the clock started ticking, marking my allotted time to have the matter reconsidered. My chance to reverse the judgment was quickly passing.

I needed a lawyer but I put it off. Then in late November, a month after the hearing, my wife served me with divorce papers, and I decided I had to get a lawyer. A good lawyer. I wanted a lawyer who could help me in both Criminal Court and Civil Court.

No such animal.

Lawyers have clearly defined specialties.

I opened the phone book. I called a few places. I needed reduced fees because I had so little money.

I was referred to Bay Area Legal Aid. Intended for low-income cases involving employment, disability, family matters and a few other things. I had to call several times over several days to get an attorney who would consider if I was suitable. I told him that my wife had conducted a fake domestic violence incident and I needed help. He said he doubted me. What? He said in the years he’d been working on cases, many men had told him they were innocent when actually they were guilty. I told him, “Look, I don’t know you but you weren’t there and I was. I know what happened.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t?”

“We do not accept any applicant who has a restraining order against them.”

“But that is just what I’m saying. The restraining order was unjustly obtained. I need legal help to sort it out.”

“You won’t get it here. We do not accept cases like yours.”

“Doesn’t matter? No questions asked? I’m just presumed guilty?”

“In my experience, you probably are.”

“But you’ve never handled a case like mine because you never accept them?”

“I’ve said what I have to say. We can’t help you. I suggest you call the Bar referral number that can refer you to a lawyer.”

“Thanks. I will.”

[To be continued]