The Court of Lost Souls

Moments after a sobbing Gene Sanchez staggers out of Denver County Courtroom 303-W, having just lost custody of his four kids, Judge Lawrence Manzanares bursts out of the adjoining clerk's office in pursuit.

At first, the people lingering outside the courtroom don't recognize the judge out of his robes--he looks much smaller off the bench and in street clothes--but then they quickly clear a path and point in the direction in which Sanchez has headed. The judge catches up to Sanchez in the cafeteria and tries to talk him into returning to court to negotiate parenting time. Sanchez doesn't go for it, but Manzanares isn't sorry he chased after him. He wanted to keep track of him after ruling against him.

"I was worried he might try and take the kids," the judge explains.
Throughout his stint presiding over Protective Orders court, where he grants temporary and permanent restraining orders prohibiting contact between disputing parties, Manzanares has found himself in some very unjudicial situations.

"Last week a guy came in seeking a restraining order against his girlfriend, who he just found out was really a man," he says. "One woman wanted me to grant her a TRO to make another woman stop casting witchcraft spells on her. I've had to get down off the bench in my black robes and break up fights. And I've seen thousands of domestic-violence cases."

As steamy and sorrowful as any daytime talk-show set, Courtroom 303-W is the place where songs and soap operas about cheating hearts and broken promises come to life, where people who can no longer talk to each other conduct cross-examinations in public about intimate details of their painful relationships.

"It's not a pleasant court to preside over," Manzanares acknowledges. "People are angry, bitter and hostile. But even if this isn't the place where I'd always choose to be, I know it's one of the most important courts in the building."

Bob Dolan (his name, like others in this story except for those of public officials, has been changed to preserve his anonymity) is led into the courtroom shackled and wearing ill-fitting gray jail clothing. His estranged wife, Debbie, stands at the plaintiff's table and doesn't look at Bob even when he's placed at a table five feet to her right and stares at her through eyes sunk deep in their sockets.

Judge Manzanares asks Debbie if she wants to make her temporary restraining order permanent. She says yes. He asks Bob if he objects. He does not, on the condition that he is allowed visitation rights to his sixteen-year-old stepdaughter, Wendy. Debbie doesn't want Bob anywhere near her daughter, and Manzanares says that since visitation rights are being disputed, the case will go to hearing--right now.

Neither party has legal counsel, and the judge explains to them how the process will work. Debbie, as the plaintiff, will testify first as to why Bob should be denied visitation rights. Bob will then be allowed to cross-examine his estranged wife, after which he will have his turn testifying.

Debbie is sworn in by the judge and takes a seat in the witness box. After stating her name and address, she explains the situation.

"Bob's been in jail before for punching Wendy," she begins. "He just gets real violent when he's drinking.

"After the last time he hit her and went to jail, he stopped drinking for six years. But just last month he started up again, and one night he came home drunk and threatened to punch Wendy because she was swinging a jacket in the living room and it hit him in the face."

Bob slouches in his chair while Debbie continues: "And when he's been drinking, he drops lit cigarettes and leaves the stove on. I'm just afraid that he's gonna burn the house down. And when I got the restraining order two weeks ago, he came by the house and stole Wendy's dog. We looked for that dog for five hours until he called and asked me, 'Is something missing?' He told me that he had the dog and was gonna choke it--hurt the dog like I hurt him. I'm just afraid that he's gonna try to kidnap Wendy, and I don't want him anywhere near her."

The judge tells Bob, who's been locked up for two days on an unrelated warrant, to approach the podium so he can cross-examine Debbie. He stands up wearily and has to use one hand to hold his pajama-like jail bottoms so that they don't fall down. He ponders for a moment before asking his first question.

"How are my birds doing?" he croaks. "I have some very expensive birds that she said were going to get sick."

Manzanares stops him right there. "Birds don't have anything to do with this," he says. "If you have questions relevant to visitation rights, you may ask them."

Bob shrugs, then sits back down. Debbie returns to her seat. It's Bob's turn.

He explains that while he hasn't been drinking lately, he and Debbie have been doing a lot of cocaine. He admits that he was drinking cough syrup in order to calm down from the coke. But a couple of weeks ago, when Debbie went out to get him some cough syrup and didn't return for several hours, he starting boozing again.

"I'll admit that after Debbie got the restraining order," says Bob, "I went back to the house--" Manzanares cuts him off.

"Mr. Dolan," he says, "you appear to be going down the road to talking about violating your restraining order. Any testimony you give in this court can be used against you in another case. Do you understand your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent?"

"Okay," says Dolan, "I called her at the house--" The judge cuts him off again, telling him that that is also a violation of the restraining order. "Are you sure you want to talk about this?" the judge asks.

Dolan pauses for a long moment, looking tired and confused. "Your Honor," he says finally, "all I want to do is see Wendy once a week. That's all." He gets up and drags himself back to the defendant's table.

Manzanares reviews the case out loud, citing Bob's history of violence, alcohol abuse and his violation of the temporary restraining order. He rules that Bob is to have no contact with Debbie or her daughter, at least until Wendy is eighteen and can legally decide for herself if she wants to see him.

Bob doesn't protest as the bailiff gives him a copy of the new restraining order, and a deputy sheriff leads him out of the courtroom.

While people are getting married in the clerk's office on the second floor, they're breaking up on the third. Judge Manzanares refers to a permanent restraining order as a "poor people's divorce."

"Even though this court doesn't have jurisdiction for divorce issues," he says, "on a temporary basis we decide the same sort of things that are handled in a formal divorce. For middle-class or wealthy parties getting divorces, the main issues are child support, financial maintenance, division of property and a piece of paper saying that they're legally separated.

"But for poor people, who have fewer assets, the issues are separation, who stays in the home and who gets the children. While we're not designed to grant permanent custody, we can make custody decisions which last for 120 days, and we find that people usually adhere to these decisions after that period is up.

"For poor people not seeking child support, your decision might cover 75 percent of the issues otherwise determined in a formal divorce, which they may never get around to."

Denver is one of only five cities in the nation that has dedicated a courtroom to the sole purpose of handling protective orders, says Judge Brian Campbell. Anyone can petition the court for a two-week temporary restraining order, and practically all such requests are granted. Defendants are served papers. Then, if the person wants to have the order made permanent and the other party contests that request, a hearing is held. Each side has to be prepared to testify. Hearings are held during the morning sessions; requests for TROs are heard in the afternoon.

Annually, an average of 2,700 Denver residents seek temporary restraining orders, according to court officials; about half of those end up being made permanent. "It's rare for someone to get turned down for a restraining order if they follow through," explains Campbell, who presided over the Protective Orders court from 1994 to 1996 and now works in the criminal division. "The process is sort of self-culling. If you're not really that worried about the person you're seeking the restraining order against, then you probably won't follow through [by seeking a permanent order].

"But if you show up at the temporary hearing, then return two weeks later, it underscores your feelings, and the court's feelings, that a restraining order is valid. And the likelihood of the judge granting the order after a hearing is very good."

Those odds improve if the target of a restraining order misbehaves even before his case is heard. As James Leland, wearing a slick suit and toting a briefcase, approaches the front of the courtroom one morning, he mutters something in passing to former girlfriend Louise Buckner.

To bad for him that Denver County Magistrate Kathleen Boland, filling in this particular morning for Manzanares, hears it. Buckner already has a temporary restraining order against Leland.

"Mr. Leland," Judge Boland snaps, "at 9:17 this morning, you will be held in contempt of court if you try to say one more word to her." Leland attempts to regain his composure by shuffling some papers on the defendant's table.

Before Leland agrees to the permanent restraining order, he asks the court if he may read aloud from a letter he's penned to Buckner. The judge consents. Louise crosses her arms and looks out the window.

"Dear Louise," Leland reads, "I just want to apologize for all the mean and cruel things I've done to you over the past five months." Louise starts to tap her foot. "But you have no idea how it affected me when I walked into my house that night and found you in bed with Chuck."

A couple of people in the audience snicker, but Leland continues: "It is divine inspiration that makes me write this letter. I know you are a stubborn and tough woman, but I often think of your smile, your laugh and try to remember the good times, the intimate moments we shared--" Louise snorts like an irritated horse, and James stops reading.

"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."

The chancellor's case is an exception. Most matters in Protective Orders court are resolved in about thirty minutes. Judge Campbell says this is born of necessity.

"Because this is an emergency courtroom, it requires swift justice," he explains. "You want to establish peace as quickly as possible. And because you're only dealing with a specific statute and a specific part of that statute, the cases lend themselves to quick resolutions." He's referring to that part of Colorado Revised Statute 14-4-101 that allows a restraining order to be granted in domestic-violence cases based upon a "preponderance of evidence." Those seeking restraining orders don't have to prove their cases "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Some cases of battered women leave little doubt that a restraining order is needed. A video about the court produced by Project Safeguard, an advocacy group for abused women, opens with the image of an ambulance pulling into a hospital with its lights flashing. Dora Lee Larson, executive director of Project Safeguard, says this isn't melodramatic.

However, not every hearing results in a restraining order. Throughout the day, while cases are being heard, clerks, lawyers and volunteers negotiate other cases outside in the hallway while children and witnesses look on.

In one case, a contingent of suits works out a deal so that instead of a restraining order (which would go on the defendant's permanent record), two former roommates agree to certain financial terms while also signing a pact that prevents them from revealing each other's homosexuality to any third party.

Such intervention by lawyers is rare in this court. But intervention by Project Safeguard isn't. Present during each court session, representatives of Project Safeguard help abused women make their way through the legal process.

And the advice pays off. More often than not, the women seeking the court's intervention seem more composed and are better prepared than the men during the process.

"There is a definite power shift in the courtroom," says Project Safeguard's Larson. "Because 95 percent of domestic-abuse victims are women, we help demystify the process for them."

When asked if this power shift makes Courtroom 303-W a "women's court," Larson says that it only looks that way to men who are found guilty. "The judges in the court are bright enough to decide where the evidence lies," she says. "The reason why there aren't any advocacy groups in the courtroom for men is because they're not usually victims. In my experience, I've found that when men have a need for something, they usually get it."

Founded in 1984, Project Safeguard was a key player in getting the Protective Orders court started in 1992. Before then, three different courtrooms handled requests for restraining orders, and they had to be squeezed in between other business. But when Colorado legislators strengthened restraining orders by allowing judges to award temporary "care and control" of children, the cases became more complex, says Jacqueline St. Joan, the judge who spearheaded the new court's creation. Setting up a courtroom to handle only restraining orders "was an idea that was apparent to a lot of people," she says. The separation made it easier for Project Safeguard volunteers to shepherd women through the process.

"Nationally, there is a 40 to 50 percent return rate for women asking for their TROs to become permanent," says Larson. "But in Denver, that rate is up around 60 percent." She says Project Safeguard's direct involvement has helped boost that percentage above the national average.

However, despite the growing percentage of Denver women who are making their temporary restraining orders permanent, Courtroom 303-W is still a frustrating and bewildering place to many people.

"Society still does not understand why women stay in relationships," Larson says. "Society thinks women should just leave an abusive relationship without a restraining order. I was even in a meeting recently with a doctor who said that he doesn't recommend that women get restraining orders, because they only make the men more angry. Well, that's a crock. The truth of the matter is that women can't just leave [a relationship], because they die when they do."

Mary Martinez may die of old age before she gets out of her abusive relationship. She says she and her husband, Rudolfo, have been married 51 years. Now in their seventies, the diminutive couple walk slowly to the front of the courtroom for their hearing. Neither has a lawyer or witnesses. They're just two senior citizens standing in front of Judge Manzanares. Mary Martinez leans against her cane and asks that the temporary restraining order against her husband be made permanent. Rudolfo scratches his bald spot.

"When was the first time Mr. Martinez abused you?" the judge asks.
Mary thinks for a moment before answering confidently, "1960. Two years after we were married." She's probably got her dates wrong, but many things seem hazy to them both. "We tried intervention in 1989, and he promised in front of a priest that he'd stop drinking," Mary says. "But he's an alcoholic, and when he gets drunk, he gets violent. What the priest said was 'He drinks, then he provokes.'"

The five-foot-five Rudolfo sits at the defendant's table and fiddles with some pens in his breast pocket as Mary continues.

"Then in June we went to the grocery store, and he was rushing me," she says. "I wasn't finished picking things out, but he didn't want to wait anymore, so he took the grocery cart and went to stand in line. I had to carry all the rest of the groceries in my arms.

"Then when we got home, he started throwing my spices away and said they were taking up too much space. So I told him I was going downstairs to the basement to throw some of his junk away, and when I was going down the stairs, he pushed me down and then laughed at me. After that, our children told me to get a restraining order until he stops drinking."

Mary nods to Judge Manazanares, signaling that she's finished testifying.
Manzanares asks Rudolfo if he'd like to cross-examine his wife. Rudolfo remains seated for a moment, rubbing his chin slowly, before he stands up and steps to the podium. He adjusts the microphone, which emits a squelch of feedback.

"When you said I pushed you," he questions, "maybe you tripped?"
Mary harrumphs. There is a long pause before the judge asks Rudolfo if he has any further questions.

"No," he says. "My memory isn't too good. I can't think right now."
The judge asks Rudolfo to come forward and testify. He keeps his comments brief.

"I think she's just tired of me," he says. "Couples always fight."
"But they don't hit," Manzanares interjects.
Mary steps up to the podium for her cross-examination.
"Did you drink this morning?" she asks Rudolfo.
"Are you going to sober up?"
"I don't know," he responds stubbornly.

Manzanares grants Mary the restraining order on the basis of Rudolfo's past violence and current alcohol abuse. The two make their way back to the gallery and sit next to each other wordlessly while the clerk fills out their paperwork. Mary gets hers first and leaves the courtroom while Rudolfo ponders what just happened.

"She's been talking to our daughter too much," he says. "None of this makes any sense."

Julia Cruz considers the question Judge Manzanares has posed to her through a Spanish-speaking interpreter: What does she want from the court?

"The first thing I want you to do," Cruz tells the judge, "is bring my husband up in front of the court and beat the living hell out of him."

A couple of the deputies hold back smiles while Mr. Cruz, standing a few feet away from his wife, looks at the ceiling.

Manzanares denies her request for a public beating of her husband but does grant her a permanent restraining order.

"People talk about violence on TV," says Judge Campbell, "but a lot of kids are getting a stereo version at home as their parents fight it out behind them." He estimates that 80 percent of the requests for restraining orders stem from domestic violence.

But Judge Manzanares says juvenile crime is the most disturbing trend he's seen during his stint in the Protective Orders court. "I've seen at least a half-dozen cases involving schoolchildren as young as eleven coming in here trying to get restraining orders against another kid," he says. "And what that tells you is that families and schools have not done their jobs, when a schoolyard fight escalates into a restraining-order case."

Manzanares adds, "And what do you do when an eleven-year-old violates a TRO? Ground him?"

Like Campbell, Manzanares looks at home life as the reason for increased juvenile violence.

"Domestic violence, not violence on the streets, is the first act of aggression that a child sees," he says. "Because of this, too many people in our society grow up not understanding that violence against another person is inexcusable. I see so many people in this court who have never thought about violence. They never thought they could control their own behavior."

Even in court.

The people responsible for controlling the violent tempers in Courtroom 303-W are deputy sheriffs, one of whom is always present while the court is in session. Usually sitting in the unused jury box with a couple of prisoners awaiting their hearings, the deputies "take people down two or three notches," says Judge Campbell. "Their presence is pivotal."

When tempers start to flare, which is often, more deputies arrive on cue to calm things down.

Defendant Carl Britton is a man so slight that he appears to list to his left side from the weight of his cell phone. He speaks with the laid-back accent of the Virgin Islands. Small or not, he's been violent. He admits that he hit his ex-girlfriend, Mallory, twice a few years ago. But he really starts stewing when Mallory tells the court that he's not fit to take care of their young son.

"Carl," Mallory asks during cross-examination, "do you know where Carl Jr. goes to school?"

"No," he replies bitterly. "He only been in school two weeks. And how can I know when I'm living in a motel?"

"Do you know who his doctor is? Do you know if he's up to date on his shots?"

"You keep de records," Carl replies, getting more agitated. "I pay de bills."

"How many times a week do you watch pornographic tapes?"
Carl almost stands up in the witness box; Judge Manzanares cautions him to sit. Carl spends the rest of the hearing glowering at his ex.

Citing her testimony about past domestic violence, Manzanares grants her a restraining order and tells Carl that he must not return to the house he once shared with her.

"How I supposed to work when all me tools are in de house and I got no place to put dem?" he demands. "How come you tell me to stay out de house I pay de bills for?"

Manzanares explains that he's making this decision not because Mallory has any more right to the house, but because he's awarding her care and control of Carl Jr., who should remain living in the home. As he explains the other terms of the restraining order, two extra deputies casually slide in the side door of the courtroom to join their comrade on duty. Only then does Manzanares tell Carl that he also has an existing warrant pending on an unrelated matter. The deputies converge and cuff Carl. He continues his tirade while being led away to the clerk's office next door.

When asked about the deputies' uncanny knack for showing up with reinforcements just when a situation is about to get out of hand, Judge Campbell smiles. "We have a panic button," he explains.

The emotional roller coaster of Courtroom 303-W causes the judges themselves to wobble.

"I was there for a year and a half," says Campbell, "and I want to go back. It's some of the most important work in the county court, but after a year or so, you need a break.

Campbell admits that his decision to take a break from the Protective Orders court came on the heels of his most haunting case.

In the spring of 1995, Campbell granted Terry Petrosky a temporary restraining order against her husband, Albert. Three days later, a heavily armed Albert, deranged about his failed marriage and the loss of custody of the couple's ten-year-old son, drove to the Albertsons supermarket where Terry worked and gunned her down. Two others at the scene, including sheriff's sergeant Timothy Mossbrucker, the father of six children, were also killed during the shooting spree. In a final twist to the tragedy, Albert Petrosky killed himself in jail after being convicted of murder.

"She was in here on Monday getting the order," Campbell recalls, "and she was dead on Friday."

Jacqueline St. Joan, now director of clinical programs for the University of Denver law school, says research shows that most people obey restraining orders. "There are some cases," she says, referring specifically to Petrosky, "when nothing is going to stop them. But restraining orders are effective in stopping the day-in and day-out wear and tear of emotionally abusive relationships."

Not that there isn't other wear and tear.
"Sometimes after I leave court, I don't think I'll ever get married," says Denise, a Project Safeguard volunteer. "I say to myself, 'I've got my dog, I'm fine.' The ones who really have it tough are the judges. They're in here dealing with it every day."

"I try not to take it out of the office," says Judge Manzanares. "But you end up doing so much of this that it becomes difficult not to have an emotional attachment. The frustration comes from seeing a woman finally do something to remedy an abusive situation by getting a TRO only to see her back two weeks later vacating the order when you know that time and time again, she's been abused. Sometimes the TRO doesn't even make it past the hall outside the court. I've seen people take less than thirty seconds to violate an order.

"You can't be paternalistic. People have the right to make their own decisions. Still, it's frustrating to see people deluding themselves by returning to what they feel will all of the sudden turn into a nonviolent relationship."

Lara White is living a stepmother's nightmare. Her seventeen-year-old stepdaughter, Carla, is trying to get her thrown out of the house. And even though White has three children with Carla's biological father, he sits at the plaintiff's table alongside his bleached-blond daughter.

Carla's dad has a marijuana leaf tattooed on his sinewy forearm, and the scabbard on his belt usually holds a knife. Before their hearing starts, Carla squirms in her chair while her dad quizzes her about her boyfriend.

"Dad," she whines, "I broke up with him months ago!"
Her dad laughs. "Well," he says, "that boyfriend's gone. Next!"
Lara tells him from the defendant's table to keep it down.

Carla's first witness is her best friend, Bobbi, who has the same bleached haircut as she does. Judge Manzanares swears her in (after helping her determine which right hand to raise) and asks his own questions.

"Can you tell me about the relationship between Carla and her stepmother?" he asks Bobbi.

Bobbi sits in the witness box gape-mouthed for a moment, as if she's trying to remember what she's doing in court. "Ahh," she finally manages, "they fight about food."

"Has she ever physically hit Carla?" Manzanares asks.
"Ahh, not really. She', say that Carla is fat and that, eats all the food." Bobbi leans into the microphone as if she hopes the device might suck the testimony out of her.

"Anything else?" the judge asks.
The microphone hums over the dead air for a moment before Bobbi is struck with another thought. "Oh, yeah!" she exclaims. "Lara drowned her horny toad. We come home and found Lara in the house, and when we went downstairs, the horny toad was dead in its tank."

Lara shakes her head in disbelief and tells the judge she has no questions for Bobbi, who steps down from the witness box like a rock star getting off stage.

Next up is Carla's father, who takes the oath expertly. He tells the judge about how things work out fine at the house when Lara's not drinking, but when she gets drunk, she gets upset about Carla not helping around the house, and he once heard her threaten to kill Carla.

"Was she serious?" asks Manzanares.
"Oh, no," he replies, "I don't think Lara would hurt her for real. She's just fed up."

Lara steps up to cross-examine him. She has only one question: "Did I kill her frog?"

Dad says he doesn't know.
Carla takes the stand to testify about the time, she says, when Lara threatened to stab her with a pen.

When it's Lara's turn, she tries to explain why she yells at Carla so much.
"I just get frustrated trying to work and then come home and take care of my own three kids," she says. "And Carla just comes and goes as she pleases. She moves out one month and then moves back in with her friend the next. They eat and don't do anything to help out. She's just totally selfish and messy, and when I got her a job this summer, she quit after two weeks.

"I know that I get fed up and yell at her sometimes, but I'd never hurt her. I just want her to help out, is all."

Judge Manzanares, himself the stepfather to two children, gives his decision.

"Ms. White," he says, "You've described your stepdaughter as self-centered, messy and inconsiderate, among other things. Well, you just described the typical teenager." Carla's father nods his head in agreement. "But as a society, we require adults to deal with this even when adolescents can't. So what I'm going to do is grant a restraining order with the exception that you can stop by the house to pick up your children after school so long as you avoid Carla. And if the issues of your sobriety, which have been pointed out as being a problem, are attended to, then we can modify these orders."

Lara sits at the defendant's table, puzzled.
"Now, if both parties will agree to it," Manzanares continues, "we will reset this case for review in thirty days as long as Ms. White enrolls in a program of monitored sobriety--" Carla's father raises his hand, cutting the judge off mid-sentence.

"And violence classes?" Carla's father suggests hopefully.


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