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The Court of Lost Souls

Open the doors of Courtroom 303-W and hear the everyday tales of violence, tragedy and heartbreak

"Can I just get my restraining order and get out of here?" Louise asks the judge. Boland seems eager to get the process rolling and grants the order. But as Leland leaves the courtroom, he tries once again to speak to Buckner, and once again Boland catches him.

"Mr. Leland!" she yells. "Don't talk to her. She doesn't want to talk to you for fifteen minutes, five minutes or ever again! Do you understand? You will not talk to her in this court, in the hallway, in the elevator--nowhere. Do you understand?"

Leland slinks out of the courtroom as Buckner's mother clucks at him from her seat in the gallery. He lurks in the hallway until two deputies escort Louise out of the courtroom. Only then does he leave.

"One of the most important aspects of this courtroom is that everyone gets a chance to speak his mind," says Judge Campbell. "It gives people a chance to vent a little, uninterrupted, which is an important part of the process. If you don't allow them to say their piece, it makes the system look bad, but more importantly, it denies them a chance to let off some steam."

And more than just family matters can generate that steam. On a recent morning, the chancellor of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center wants to get a permanent restraining order against a man who he feels is a threat to both him and his family. The chancellor, Vincent Fulginiti, flanked by his bespectacled attorney and three sharply dressed witnesses, testifies that the defendant, a six- foot-two, heavyset, cheaply dressed man with a wrist brace on each forearm and carrying a briefcase, has been making threatening phone calls to his office. He testifies that the man even showed up on the doorstep of his home one evening after sneaking past the guard of his gated community.

The defendant, Josh Cohen, tells a different tale. He testifies that all he's trying to do is get to the bottom of what happened to his mother's remains.

The chancellor and staffers at the Health Sciences Center admit that they screwed up in the handling of Mr. Cohen's mother's "cremains." After the hospital was through with her body, which she had donated to science, they failed to return it to Cohen and went ahead and buried her ashes, without his consent, in a Catholic cemetery. After getting what he describes as "the runaround," Cohen says, he took matters into his own hands, phoning the chancellor directly. When the chancellor did not return his calls, Cohen says he went to the chancellor's home, the address of which was listed in the phone book.

The hearing drags along as the chancellor's witnesses testify about Cohen's threats over the phone (one person says Cohen told him he had a gun). The witnesses are then laboriously, and rather ineptly, cross-examined by Cohen. "When I talked to you in August," Cohen asks one witness, "did you record the conversation?" The baffled witness replies, "No," to which Cohen says, "Well I have recordings."

After fifty minutes, the people waiting in the gallery for their own hearings start to get antsy. One guy leans over to a person sitting next to him. "Damn," he says, "this guy didn't even get beat up."

Two hours into the hearing, Manzanares postpones the rest of the morning's docket. Finally, it's Cohen's turn to testify.

"All I'm trying to do is get the facts about what happened to my mother's remains," says Cohen. "I called the chancellor only after the other people in charge of the other departments wouldn't help me. And then, after I talked to the chancellor, he said he would call me back and he never did. I simply took the next logical step and tried to get ahold of him at his house.

"If I accept this restraining order, it's like I'm admitting that I was wrong. All I want is to get the facts. I'm Jewish, so was my mother, and they buried her remains in a Catholic cemetery. I want to know how this happened. I'll admit that I'm a persistent person. Even my mother said so. But I'm not going to hurt anyone. I'll agree not to go to the hospital or the chancellor's house, but I need to be able to have contact so I can figure all this out."

As he testifies, Cohen twists around in the witness box so he's speaking directly to the chancellor and his entourage, who stare back at him blankly.

"How do you expect me to act?" he continues, his voice cracking. "You take my respect and dignity as well as that of my mother. I'm just sick of the runaround. If you would've just talked to me, we could've resolved all this."

Before handing down his decision, Judge Manzanares states for the record that Cohen has every right to be upset. "Anyone who's ever been caught up in this sort of bureaucratic red tape can empathize," he says. "And it's evident that the UCHSC screwed up in regards to the handling of Mr. Cohen's mother's remains. However, I still find that Mr. Cohen's actions were threatening or could be perceived as such." The judge concludes, "On these grounds, I will grant the chancellor a restraining order."

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