Before I resume the story of Broomstick's Day in Court a bit of background information, and a dash of history.
About six years ago an old cobbler retired. When he did so, two women bought out his two stores. At least one of them had been working for the old guy, but the point is, both women put up multiple tens of thousands of dollars to buy the business. The plan was that one of them would work in and manage the stores, and the other would continue with her regular employment but handle the paperwork and help out on the weekends. Unfortunately, neither was a particularly good business person. The paperwork was a mess, the stores were always losing money, there were employee problems, and so on. Eventually, the money ran out and then they got sued.
And that's about when the store manager discovered that there was no legal proof she had EVER owned any part of the company. She had basically handed over her entire life savings and poured six years of her life into this company thinking she owned half and discovered that in fact she owned nothing
. By that time she had also taken out a car loan for the other gal (who had threatened to close down the store and leave her without a job and out on the street if she didn't – yes, that's illegal), signed the lease for one of the stores, and gone into ruinous debt.
Then, two days before she has to appear in court for the lawsuit her long-term partner, the woman she has lived with for over 25 years and who actually legally owns the house they live in, discovered that the other party in this mess had a lien against her house. This means she can't buy, she can't sell, she can't refinance, she can't access the equity in her property. Basically, the bitch has laid claim to part of her home. The partner's reaction to this was, to put it mildly, volcanic. She throws the store manager out of her house, don't come home, you don't live here anymore, etc, etc. So now store manager has not only lost her life savings, but also her home, and now has to go to court in two days. Remember this bit, because it starts to get tragic.
I found out this backstory on Thursday night and updated my lawyer that the store manager was going to be there but might well be under duress and coercion, and certainly was in distress.
Anyhow – back to Broomstick.
We arrived at the courthouse an hour early. We had allowed twice the normal travel time to get there because, dammit, we are GOING TO BE ON TIME even if there was some sort of traffic jam or detour or act of god or whatever. The spouse was driving and I could tell he was a little worked up, too, because we did, in fact, encounter a detour in downtown Valparaiso which is supplied with one-way streets and he freaked a bit but fortunately, having worked in that town for awhile, I could direct him around the blockage and we found a parking space without trouble.
This is what the courthouse looks like:
The style is called “Greek Revival” and it's fairly common in government buildings in the US. It's actually quite attractive as these things go, and those trees around it were in full fall color, all reds and yellows.
Now, there are lots of rules around courts, and one of them is that there are no phones or electronic devices allowed inside the courthouse. As you go in there are several signs informing you of this and telling you to take that stuff back to your vehicle. Also various signs telling you to leave any sorts of weapons back in your vehicle. You enter through a metal detector, and have to put all your possessions on a conveyor belt to be x-rayed. The current courthouse dates back to the 1930's so the interior has wood doors and trim. Parts have clearly been remodeled since them but a lot of it is that era of interior.
Now, I had never actually seen my lawyer. All of our business had been conducted by phone and e-mail. He had told us to meet him on in the second floor rotunda which served as waiting area for the actual courtroom. He said he was about six foot two, would be wearing a grey suit, carrying a briefcase, and had short brown hair. I, in turn, had stated I was about five foot three and would be wearing a brown and black dress, and had waist-length braid of light brown hair. We knew the lawyer wasn't planning to arrive for at least a half an hour so we went up to the second floor to wait.
The floor had a mosaic pattern, the walls were marble veneer up to about shoulder height, and there were a few simple wooden benches to sit on. The rotunda was actually part of an inner atrium for the building that went up to the roof four stories above. You could look up and see the entrances of other courtrooms. If you refer to the picture I posted from the outside it certainly appears like each level of the building is VERY tall. Unlike some buildings, where facade might be misleading, the various levels of the interior that building really are as tall as they appear from the outside. There are only four floors in that building and other than the first level they are HUGE. It was all very imposing and orderly... which is sort of what a courthouse should be.
So we sat. And waited. And fidgeted. And waited... Other people dribbled in, about half of them, like me, clutching file folders or binders. Most were nicely dressed from office casual to business formal although a couple of tradesmen sorts had arrived in work clothes, but even those folks seemed to have made some effort to be clean and neat. This was SCC, despite the “Superior Court 4” above the door of the actual court room. There were 15 cases to be heard that day, which works out to an average of 30 minutes or so start to finish for each. As these were all civil cases of small dollar amounts, with fewer rules and requirements than higher level courts, this was apparently considered sufficient time. Just inside the door of the court room was a podium with a list of cases to be heard where plaintiffs, defendants, and lawyers were asked to sign in. My case was fourth on the list but the judge was allowed to call them in a different order than listed so yeah, being on time was important.
An American court room really is pretty much what you've seen in movies or on TV. There's a raised bit at the front where the judge sits. In front of the judge are tables where the parties to a case sit. There's a jury box to one side (unused in this case – SCC does not use juries). There is a uniformed baliff and a court reporter/clerk and, of course, both the US and the State of Indiana flags, and the seals for the Federal and state court systems up on the wall as this court room clearly served various levels of the legal system.
Behind the tables where the two parties to the dispute sit are long rows of seating for the public. There are people who simply go to court to watch the show, it is a public proceeding after all (some of these observers are actually there to keep an eye on the judges). In a situation like this, where there are multiple cases heard in a short time frame, some of the audience are people waiting to be called before the judge. Witnesses sit back there until called. And everyone is well behaved because if you aren't will be asked to leave, or removed, as necessary. In some media you see a sort of low wall or fence between the front of the court with the judge and disputing parties but in this court room there wasn't anything of the sort, just the tables then the seating behind them, in this case more 1930's era, or at least 1930's style, wooden benches. They sort of reminded me of church pews.
After I signed in I went back to the rotunda. And waited. And fidgeted. I spotted Store Manager, and I was a little puzzled that she appeared to be wearing her work jeans and a sweatshirt, which isn't exactly what one would normally wear to court, even the relatively informal (by court standards) SCC but we did not interact. Then I waited some more. And fidgeted. And waited... but yes, my lawyer did show up when he said he would and we did manage to recognize each other. My lawyer also introduced his “protege”, a man who looked about 15 years older than him who had just been officially made a lawyer two weeks prior. He was a former engineer who had decided to change his career, and was there to observe which was fine by me. Hey, I just showed up to court with TWO lawyers in tow! And I wouldn't have to pay for the other guy (who was just observing, but he definitely looked like a lawyer).
A courtroom also had satellite rooms around it, and we went to one to prep for the hearing. Actually, we used the jury room which, since there was no jury, was used as a meeting room on SCC days. A jury room is a small room with a table and a bunch of chairs around it and not much else. We went over the strategy again, and reviewed our various bits of evidence while the protege was sent to listen for our names being called. Which happened really quickly – apparently we were fourth on the list but the judge called us first, possibly because we had all signed in and maybe other parties hadn't, so she was going with who appeared to be present and ready.
Store Manager was already before the judge, very clearly alone, and my lawyer and I soon followed. The lawyer indicated I should have a seat at the table on our right and the other party took the left.
Now, we had been informed of the name of our judge the day after we filed our lawsuit, along with the time and location. That judge's name was very clearly a man's name. There was a female judge sitting at the front of the court. Hmm.... clearly there had been some last minute substitution. Wonder what was up with that? No matter, she's a judge, try to get on her good side, right? I am trying to ooze respect.
The judge riffles quickly through the papers in front of her and states that this is the case of [me] versus [name of former employer(s)]. We all introduce ourselves. The judge looks down at her paperwork. She looks up at us. The paper says one plaintiff two defendants. She counts one plaintiff one defendant. This clearly displeases her, but she asks in a polite, no nonsense manner where The Lying Thieving Cunt is. Alright, she uses the woman's actual name, but really, where is the this other woman?
The judge shrugged then says that TLTC had asked for continuance back on November 5. That's asking for the court date to be postponed. My lawyer and I had been entirely unaware of this. We were presented with a copy of the letter. The request had been refused, by our assigned judge. TLTC had stated she was asking for a delay because she was having trouble finding a lawyer. Well, yes, you piece of shit, if you develop a reputation for not paying the people who work for you
no sane lawyer is going to work for you because, guess what, they don't work for free, either
. It's not a large enough sum to risk non-payment, with a Labor Board decision in my favor her case was already weak, and the ONLY way you'd get a lawyer to take something like that on is to pay in advance
. And you'd have to pay several thousand in advance, most likely more than what the actual debt is. I imagine lawyers would either tell her to pay up and avoid the hassle and cost of a court hearing, try to settle with me, or just to go fuck herself. A lawyer is not required for SCC, quite a few people voluntarily forgo hiring one, and lack of one is no obstacle to showing up. It's not a criminal case so you aren't entitled to a public defender. You can't hire a lawyer because of your reputation? Boo-fucking-hoo, get your legally bare ass in here anyway.
I suppressed my urge to laugh.
The judge looks at Store Manager and asks if she knows where TLTC is. Nope, she doesn't know. The judge looks a my lawyer and me. Do we want to wait or go to summary dismissal? Hell, no, we don't want to wait, let's go to dismissal!
Summary dismissal means “you didn't show up, you lose.”
The judge sighs.
My lawyer does says he'd like to ask Store Manager a few questions as a witness. The judge says fine and asks Store Manager to stand up and raise her right hand. Store Manager does so. The judge asks her to “swear and affirm under penalty of perjury that everything you say here is the truth”, which is a little different than the classic swearing in, and doesn't mention god even if Indiana is a heavily Christian red state. Last time I was in a court room during a hearing, as a member of a jury, they used the classic oath but that was nearly 30 years ago. I don't know if things had changed in that time, or if SCC used a different form than a higher level court. Store Manager said “I do” and sat back down.
My lawyer then turned to her and asked if she was an owner of the shop, if she had ever been an owner of the shop, if she had an financial interest in the shop... And I have to say, this woman, standing in court in clothes she'd probably been wearing for two days, who had probably been sleeping in the shop for two days after being thrown out of her home, who had been abandoned by her so-called business partner to stand alone in court, who had lost all her life savings and had poured six years of her life into a company she thought she owned, who for months
had done the ethical thing by foregoing being paid so the people she believed to be her employees would be paid first, who was probably bankrupt due to debt she had taken on for what she thought were her obligations to this business, answered with remarkable dignity and composure that no, she did not own any part of this business, and never had, she was merely another employee and had no authority over the company accounts. This is what TLTC had done to someone she had called her best friend and partner. This is what she had done to someone she claimed to like.
This was probably one of the most horrible weeks of Store Manager's entire life but nonetheless she had arrived on time to stand before the judge and tell the truth no matter how much it might hurt. I felt sorry for her because, really, she was more a victim of TLTC than any of the rest of us.
My lawyer's questioning was polite, respectful, and straightforward. Once he had thoroughly established that she was not and never had been an owner he said he had no further questions and sat down. The judge looked at Store Manager and said that she was dismissed from any responsibility for my wages and she was clearly not an owner. Really, my lawyer did her a favor, it is now a matter of public record that Store Manager is not liable for the company fuck ups. (Remember this, it is very important - Store Manger is legally off the hook for company fuck ups) Then the judge, who was clearly very annoyed, very politely and sincerely thanked Store Manager for showing up, for her time, for answering the questions, said she was dismissed and wished her a good day.
Store Manager didn't exactly flee but she didn't waste any time leaving. As she went we did make eye contact and nod to each other but otherwise we had no interaction. We had been friendly towards each other, and really I hold no animosity towards her.
All through this the judge was clearly getting more and more angry. TLTC had not only not shown up, she had, apparently, sent a powerless flunky as stand in and to take any flack. Judges do not like that sort of thing. If you are asked to appear in court they expect to see YOU in court or your lawyer. After the questioning was done the judge asked if TLTC had shown up. Nope, still no sign of her. It's not like she could hide, she is pushing 500 pounds if she isn't already over it (that's about 225 kg or 36 stone, depending on what weight system you use).
The judge was Very Clearly Displeased.
She announced a summary dismissal for the case, meaning WE WON! YAY US! She went to the next page of paperwork, TLTC's counterclaim. The TLTC was asking for $6,000 due to “distress” she experienced by being sued and for having to take time off work, $6,000 being the absolute maximum permitted in SCC, anything more than that requires a higher court. The judge's lip compressed into a thin, knife-edge line and she developed a fierce, slit-eyed glare worthy of a quietly furious Clint Eastwood movie character. She took a deep breath and said “this counterclaim is ridiculous. It is dismissed.” Keep in mind, throughout all this she spoke in a very moderate, largely unemotional tone but her face
was a pageantry of angry expressions.
(I had received a copy of the counterclaim late last week. I said something a LOT more incendiary when I read it. My landlord heard me yelling and swearing in a different unit of the building and came over to see I was being attacked or needed help killing something. I mean, this was just bullshit – SHE was in distress? I had 1/10 of my annual income stolen. She had to take a day off work? I had to get an entirely new job! I was... a bit upset.)
The judge looked at my lawyer and asked if we had filled out a damages form yet. He said no, we had been waiting for a verdict. She nodded at that and told him to take one from the stack of forms over there and calculate the maximum penalties allowed under the law. She suggested we go to the jury room and just hand the form back to the clerk when we were done and she'd sign it. Then she squared up our stack of papers, set it aside, picked up the next stack, and called for the next case.
The lawyer and I had big shit-eating grins and we stood up. There was a minor disappointment that we hadn't gotten to use all of our wonderful evidence and demonstrate just what a lying sack of pustulant shit TLTC was, but hey, easy win. We filed out, heading for the jury room.
Just as we were exiting something caught the corner of my eye. It was TLTC lurching into the room with the aid of her cane. Something had compelled her to arrive dressed in black pants and jacket and a BRIGHT ORANGE T-SHIRT
. She looked like the county fair's grand-prize pumpkin floating down the goddamned aisle. Her face was flushed red and she was panting from hauling her bulk as fast as she could into that room. “That's TLTC” I said, and everyone in my group turned around and said who? I said the large woman in the orange t-shirt. At least one of the party blinked a couple of times and said “oh.” It's a little hard to convey the sight, it was a really poor choice of color for someone with more girth than height. It was a poor choice for anything other than a traffic safety cone warning of a road hazard. I was the only one who had ever seen her before. She was infamous for never appearing no matter what, making Store Manager the face of the business. I know she saw me.
Then I turned and walked out of the room as if she had no importance whatsoever.
We really don't know what she did after that. We don't know if she tried to ask the judge to call everyone back, or just left, or what. My spouse hypothesized that she might have been there all along, in the rotunda, and had sent Store Manager in to weather the storm without realizing the consequences. Or maybe she had just been late, but entering just as we were exiting was prime-time TV drama quality timing.
So, my lawyer and I, my spouse, and his protege, sat back down in the jury room and started adding things up. Let's see... the amount she owes me... plus twice that in damages... the face value of the bad check... plus twice that in damages... plus a $500 fine... court costs... lawyer's fees... my lost time from work... my transportation costs to get to the courthouse...
There's quite a few things you can list, actually.
When we were done the sum TLTC owed me had gone from $560+ to $3770+. It had taken all of 15-20 minutes (the judge lady was nothing if not efficient). My lawyer turned in the form, the judge took a moment from the case she was hearing to glance at it and sign it, and we were done.
[to be continued]