A true story of an International child abduction case.
(The names were changed to protect the innocent.)
Author: Monica Ray
Early on a cool but sunny Wednesday morning in late February, two young women enter the office. They walk apprehensively towards me until they’re standing in front of my desk. I say, “Hello”, then look at them inquisitively and wait for them to tell me what brought them in.
They look at each other then the younger of them speaks. “My name is Adi Cole. This is my sister, Heddy. We’re from Germany. My husband and I are separated. When he had our five year old daughter for a visit he brought her here and left her with his parents. We need a California court order so I can pick her up. We have to return to Germany Friday morning. We understand you can get a court order in twenty-four hours. You can do that, can’t you?”
I instantly think, oh my god, do they really think it’s automatic that we can get a court order in twenty-four hours? I ask, “Do you have a German court order?”
She shakes her head as if she’s happy I asked, and says, “Yes.” She hands me two documents and says, “The German court gave custody to me.” She points to the documents, “We had the order translated in English. It’s certified.”
While I read the English version of the German court order, she intermittently tries to fill me in on what’s going on. “She shouldn’t be here”, she says. “What he says isn’t true .”
Heddy says anxiously, “He’s lying.”
I look up at them sympathetically and say, “We understand. Anytime there are two contrasting stories, someone is lying.”
They tell me that their economy travel arrangements require them to return to Germany in seven days. They have to catch their return flight at eight o’clock Friday morning. I look at my watch. That’s less than 46 hours from now. Concerned, I ask, “Why did you wait so long to come in?”
They share in explaining that they arrived in San Francisco after five o’clock Friday evening and had to wait until Monday morning to contact an attorney. During the weekend, they made a list of attorneys from the yellow pages. They decided to reach out first to a female attorney whose advertisement promotes she advocates in the best interest of children. “We thought it would be good to have a woman attorney”, Heddy says. They tell me they went to her office first thing Monday morning. The secretary insisted, “you came to the right place because she’s the best attorney you could have to help you.” But, the attorney wouldn’t be able to see them until Wednesday morning. When they expressed their concern about not seeing the attorney until Wednesday because of time constraints, the secretary assured them they “will be fine”.
Adi explains, “When we went to see the attorney this morning, she said she can guarantee she can get a court order to get Etta back in one day, but she had to have $5,000. We don’t have that much money.”
I ask, “What did you say?”
Heddy says, “We told her we don’t have that much money but she said that’s what she had to have.”
Trying to come up with how I’m going to help them, to bide time, I ask, “What did you do?”
She said, “We just sat there.”
“Did she offer to come down on her retainer?”
Heddy shakes her head no. “She just kept saying she can guarantee she can get an order in one day, but she had to have $5,000.”
I ask, “Did you try to negotiate a lesser amount to try to convince her to take your case?”
She shakes her head negatively. “We left.”
I figure, if they didn’t at least attempt to suggest that she take a lesser retainer, they didn’t have any where near that much money. I’m aghast that an attorney, especially one who claims to be a child advocate, needs that much money for a one day case, according to her own “guarantee”. She not only can’t, but it’s unethical for her to claim she can guarantee the outcome of a case. Moreover, how could her secretary tell them they will be fine when papers would have had to be served on the other party yesterday to have a hearing on Thursday morning? That’s the latest they could expect to serve papers to have a hearing before the court, and get a court order in time for them to catch their Friday morning flight. I have to prepare them for the fact that they are not going to get a court order in twenty-four hours. The last thing I want to do is say something that will throw them in a panic. I try to exude a look of calm and say, “It was wrong of her to guarantee she can get a court order in that time.”
Adi looks concerned. “It can be done though, can’t it?”
I say, “Since I’m not an attorney, all I can do is explain procedure.” They shake their heads affirmatively as if to say they understand. I continue, “The twenty-four hours refers to the time required for the other side to receive notice of an ex-parte hearing. Ex-parte hearings are held at eight o’clock in the morning before the court’s regular calendar. Even if papers are prepared and served before the end of today, the earliest you can get a hearing is eight o’clock Friday morning.”
Adi and Heddy look depressed. I feel awful for them. I don’t know what I can do to help, but I can’t just send them away. I explain, “Mr. Harvey is in trial today on a matter he expects to take two days. We usually give three names of attorneys when we make referrals, but I can’t think of anyone to send you to.”
Heddy says, “Right, who would we go to?”
I call the courtroom where Barry’s case is being heard and leave a message with the bailiff asking him to ask Barry to call me as soon as possible. This is awkward for me because I’ve never had a need to interrupt my boss in the middle of a court proceeding before. While we wait for him to call, Adi explains she met Cary when he was in the United States Army stationed in Germany. She said he likes Germany so much he decided to live there after he left the military. They married when he was still in the service. In fact, their daughter, Etta, was born right here in this county. Adi shows me a picture of a thick short-haired darling with a smile that, like this case, no doubt warms the hearts of loved ones that span two Continents.
I ask, “Why did he bring her here?”
Adi answers, “In Germany, we have to be separated for at least one year before we can file for divorce. We’ve only been separated two months. During a visitation, Cary brought Etta here. She’s with his parents.”
I ask, “Is he here with her?”
She shakes her head no. “He’s in Germany.”
I’m befuddled. “He just dropped her off at his parents’ house and went back to Germany?”
Adi nods affirmatively.
“Why would he do that?”
She says, “I don’t know. He told me she’s going to stay here until everything is settled.”
“So, she isn’t with either of her parents.”
She softly nods in agreement.
I was shocked that a father would think that’s reasonable. I say, “He has to have her passport. If you get her back, how are you going to get her home if they don’t turn it over to you?”
Adi shakes her head excitedly before I finish asking my question, then answers, “I have a passport for her.”
I wasn’t sure I heard her right. “You have a passport for her?”
“Yes”, she says. “I have a passport.”
Figuring the German court order was her ticket to get another passport, I ask, “Have you seen your daughter since you’ve been here?”
Adi sadly shakes her head no, and says, “We went to his parents’ house to see her, but they wouldn’t let us.”
I ask in disbelief, “They wouldn’t even let you see her?”
Clearly heartbroken, she answers, “No.”
I’m relieved when, within five minutes, Barry returns my call. I start by apologizing for interrupting him during his trial then brief him on what’s going on while they sit across from me and listen. “I know you’re not available to help them, but I don’t know who to send them to.”
He instantly says, “Tell them to come back in an hour.”
I’m surprised. “I thought your case was going to take two days.”
“It’s going to be put over. The judge wants us to take videos of the property in dispute. I have to go back in.”
“Okay. Why do you have to go back in?”
“The Judge is still making orders.”
I look at Adi and Heddy with a hopeful eye and explain that the case Barry’s on is being put over. “He asked for you to come back in an hour.” They seem relieved, thank me and leave.
Just as I get on a roll working on another case, I have another first. My seven year old son’s teacher calls. My son fell from the jungle gym head first. “He said he’s okay”, she says, “but I notice he’s crunching his shoulders. I thought you might want to take him to the doctor to have him checked out.”
Again, I call the courtroom Barry’s in and ask the bailiff to give him a message to call me before he leaves the Court House. Then I call my son’s father. Tonight is his mid-week dinner visit. I tell him about the call from his teacher. Then I explain I need to be at the office this afternoon to help with an International parental abduction of a child case that just came in and needs to be expedited. I ask him to meet us at the hospital. The plan is for him to take him back to school or keep him until after dinner if it turns out he can’t return to school. A few minutes later Barry calls. I explain what’s happening with my son. He says he just got out of court and can meet with “the German girls” at one o’clock.
I wait until Adi and Heddy come back. I worry because they told me they checked out of their motel room because they don’t know if they have funds for lodging after legal expenses. I feel awful that I have to send them away again until after lunch. When they return, I tell them Barry can see them at one o’clock. Then I explain why I have to leave, too, and say I hope to be back in time for their appointment, but that Barry will be back in the office by then. They thank me then Adi goes out of her way to say she hopes my son is okay.
As soon as they’re gone, I rush to pick up my son and take him to the hospital emergency room. A few minutes later, his father shows up. While our son is being x-rayed, his father, an attorney, says, “The new case sounds interesting.” I give him a revealing look causing him to shamefully turn his head away. Four years earlier, he pulled a similar backhanded legal maneuver on me and my son. My heartfelt empathy for how difficult this experience is for Adi and her family comes with personal experience.
Our son’s x-ray shows he has a minor contusion on his upper back but, otherwise, he’s fine. I leave him with his father, forego lunch and head back to the office. When Adi and Heddy come in at one o’clock, Adi immediately asks how my son is. I’m embarrassed that she exerts even a moment to think about my son given her woes. I’m quick to say he’s fine and that his injury isn’t serious.
Barry interviews them behind closed doors for forty minutes. Because Adi hasn’t been served with any legal documents, she can’t tell him what kind of proceeding is before the court here that gives Cary’s parents authority to keep Etta. They assume something was filed because they know she’s enrolled in kindergarten. They suspect a guardianship was filed, but they couldn’t find anything in the court files when they made a trip to the Court House yesterday to investigate. Barry sends them on an errand to go to Cary’s attorney’s office to ask for copies of what they filed with the court. In the meantime, to make good use of our time, he dictates a draft of a declaration for me to type so Adi can review it when they return with whatever information they get.
I’m confused that she wasn’t served with any legal documents related to Etta’s supposed legal residency here. The only legal document she brought in earlier was the German court order and translated copy. It was my understanding no proceedings were initiated in Germany until after Cary brought Etta to California and that Cary didn’t participate in those proceedings. I recall how spirited Heddy said, “he’s lying”. I wonder what she was referring to. When they return to the office, they have a copy of a Petition for Legal Separation that was filed in our jurisdiction here in California. Cary’s attorney also gave her a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. It claims Etta has been a resident of our county the past five years and lived those years at his parents’ address when, in fact, she’s lived in Germany since shortly after she was born. Because the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act didn’t have a court stamp showing it was filed, I figured the grandparents fraudulently presented it to school and health officials to get Etta vaccinated and register her for kindergarten.
Adi asks Barry about requesting the court to order Cary to pay for her attorney fees, but he can’t. He’s merely using the case number on their bogus Petition as an avenue to file an ex-parte motion to have the case dismissed based on the case being filed in the wrong jurisdiction. Our supporting evidence is the German court order and Adi’s sworn affidavit. Barry suggested, when she gets back to Germany, she should ask the court there to order Cary to reimburse her for the cost of having to come to California and for legal expenses incurred.
I’m more livid with Cary’s attorney for having no scruples than I am with the first attorney they went to. Unlike the first attorney they went to, Barry doesn’t guarantee a particular result. Estimating his representation will require six hours of his time, he asks for a retainer that amounts to approximately twenty-two percent of what the first attorney demanded. He’s hired. They wait while Barry dictates further on the draft declaration Adi needs to sign. Again, Adi shares with me her concern that they’re going to miss their flight. I suggest she ask Barry to write a letter to the airline. She thinks for a second then says, “They won’t accept it.”
I say, “Maybe not, but it’s worth a try.”
We complete the paperwork and, just before day’s end, we hand serve the motion on Cary’s attorney. Barry asks Adi to come to the office some time after eleven o’clock in the morning to pick up a copy of the papers once he’s had a chance to file them with the court.
Adi, Heddy and Etta are all I can think about. I’m worried finances might hinder them from being successful should they have to stay longer. On the way to pick my son up from his father, concerned that the grandparents won’t turn over Etta’s belongings, I stop at the mall and pick up an outfit, doll, coloring book and crayons. Then, I consider letting them stay at my house to give them a place to sleep and hang out. On the ride home, I tell my son a little about Adi and her daughter then tell him I want to help them. I tell him I want to offer them to stay at our house to save them some money. Being something totally out of the norm for him to hear, he doesn’t comment one way or the other. When we get home, I put a spare house key in my purse and write directions to give them when they come in to pick up a copy of their papers.
First thing Thursday morning, while Barry is at the Court House filing the motion, Cary’s attorney calls to see if someone will be in the office so he can hand deliver his responsive papers to our motion. I figure this must be the only case he has to be able to prepare the response so quickly. Legally, he doesn’t have to submit a written response at all and has until as late as the time of the hearing to submit one. In fact, just appearing at the hearing would suffice. Angry at him, I’m unable to refrain from expressing at least a smidgen of my distain for his part in contributing to this abuse of the justice system kidnapping. Proceeding as if he has a legal leg to stand on when he doesn’t have a prayer is repugnant and unethical. In my opinion, it constitutes the epitome of child abuse. I say to him, “How can you do this to a five year old? If it wasn’t for the likes of you, he couldn’t do this.” He doesn’t respond.
A few minutes later, when he enters our office, he cautiously makes his way to within a foot or so of my desk, leans over, extends his arm, and gently places his papers on my desk. Having eye-to-eye contact, I don’t move a muscle even to look down at the papers. I exude a look as if to say: I wouldn’t believe what’s in your papers if your soul came notarized. Walking backwards, he retraces his steps while I continue to stare him down. He doesn’t turn around to walk forward until he has to descend the stairs. When I look at what he delivered, I see he signed on behalf of Cary Cole, claiming his client is out of the country. We didn’t know if Cary would come to California for the hearing. Now we know he isn’t.
There are only two departments the court clerk can assign this case to. We’re concerned when the case is assigned to the judge who’s notorious for not getting orders out timely. When Adi and Heddy come by the office to pick up a copy of the filed documents, the first thing Barry conveys to them is his concern about the judge assigned to hear the motion. Adi has a change of heart and asks Barry to write a letter to the airline asking them to extend their tickets by one more day because they can’t afford additional airfare. While they wait for Barry to dictate a letter for me to type, they tell me their motel door wouldn’t lock and they had to put a chair in front of the door to secure it.
Barry hands them the letter to the airline that briefly explains the situation and asks for their understanding and assistance. When Adi and Heddy leave the office, I wait just a few moments then slide out of my chair. Barry’s office door is open. He can see part of my work station when he sits at his desk. I say, “I’ll be right back.” I hurriedly tip-toe down the stairs and walk briskly to catch up with Adi and Heddy in the parking lot. Adi sees me just as she’s backing out of her parking space. She pulls back into the parking space and rolls down her window. When I get next to her door, I say, “I’m worried about you guys. You’re welcome to stay at my house so you’ll have somewhere to hang out and have access to a telephone.”
Adi turns to look at Heddy then looks back at me and says, “You would do that for us?”
Heddy looks at me and says, “You don’t even know us. We’re from another country.”
I give off a single motion smile and say, “I know, but you’re on a mission to get your child. I’m not worried that you would do anything to harm me or my son.”
I’m surprised when Heddy says, “We already have a motel room paid for tonight.” Then I realize their funds are probably better now that they didn’t have to put out as much as they thought they would for attorney fees. I also figured they must have addressed the issue of the unsecure door and probably arranged to occupy another room for tonight before leaving the motel.
“Oh, okay. What about tomorrow night?”
She admits, “We don’t know yet. We want to call our parents but it takes a roll of quarters to call from a pay phone. It depends on what the airline does about our tickets, too.”
I hand Adi my house key. “After your hearing tomorrow morning, you can go to my house and use my phone to call your parents.” I hand her the paper with directions. “Here are directions to my house. I’ll call you as soon as we know something. This will make it easier for all of us to reach each other by phone.” They accept my offer and thank me. I add, “Don’t mention this to Barry. He probably won’t like that I’m doing this just for professional reasons. Good luck at the airport.”
Because our professional relationship with Adi is moving so quickly, and isn’t a typical case, certain personal questions aren’t asked. I ask Barry, “Did you ask them or did they volunteer how old they are?”
“How old do you think they are?”
“I figure mom is in her late twenties and sister is in her early thirties.”
Friday morning, I’m curious about what’s going on at court but force myself to concentrate on other work. An ex-parte hearing is only given twenty minutes of the court’s time. When Barry returns to the office, I don’t waste a second to ask what happened. Except to summarize that the matter is out of our jurisdiction before submitting it on the pleadings, he argued adamantly to the court that his client needs an expedited court order due to financial and travel issues. Now, we have to wait for word from the Judge’s clerk when the order is ready to be picked up. Barry tells me Adi was able to get their return flight changed to Saturday morning. I was happy to hear that.
Before lunch, while Barry is in conference with another client, I call my house to see if Adi and Heddy are there. Just as I asked her to, Adi answers the phone. Again, I tell her I’ll call her as soon as we hear anything. When his client leaves the office, Barry asks me to call the Judge’s clerk to check on the status of the court order. The clerk tells me the Judge still hasn’t given her an order in our case yet. I remind her of the urgency of getting the order, and say I’ll call back shortly after lunch.
When I leave for lunch, another first for me is that I go home. I want to check on how Adi and Heddy are doing. They’re a little surprised to see me because I didn’t say I was coming home. I didn’t decide to go home until I was pulling out of the office parking lot. Heddy tells me the story of what happened at the airport. She said they presented the letter to a ticket agent but that their request to move their return flight by one day was summarily denied. They pled their case a little more hoping to get the agent to change his mind, without success. With nothing more to do until their court hearing in the morning, they refused to leave the airport. They walked around aimlessly while Adi cried. This went on for nearly two hours. Finally, the ticket agent motioned for Adi to come to him. She and Heddy warily walk up to him. He said, “Give me your tickets.” Heddy handed them to him. He changes their return flight to Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m., hands them new tickets, and says, “I’m probably going to lose my job for this.” Adi and Heddy are beyond thankful and leave the airport ecstatic to have something to smile about.
Heddy asks me, “What do you think our chances are of getting an order in our favor today?”
I answer, “You know I’m not an attorney but, the fact is, we don’t have jurisdiction.”
She responds excitedly, “That’s what I think. You don’t have jurisdiction.”
I say, “As far as getting a court order today, all we can do is to keep calling to ask for it until we get it. You know Barry and I are very concerned because this Judge is terrible about getting orders out. He’s a relatively new judge. I just hope he does better at getting out ex-parte orders than he is with other orders.”
Home for just fifteen minutes, drinking only a glass of milk for lunch, I have to leave to get back to the office. Shortly after one o’clock, I call the Judge’s department again. The bailiff tells me no one will be available until one-thirty. When I call at one-thirty, I’m told no one is available yet. When I call again just before two o’clock, I’m told it’s the Judge’s birthday and they’re having a birthday party. I convey this to Barry, then say, “I hope he remembers where he came from.” It takes a moment for him to get what I meant.
Nervously, I continue to call the Judge’s clerk every fifteen minutes. I worry that I might anger them for calling so often, but we’re desperate. Finally, when I call at three thirty-five, the clerk says we can come in and pick up the order. Needless to say, I’m a little pissed that they didn’t call as soon as it was available like they said they would given how late it is. Keeping the clerk on the line, I tell Barry the order is ready to be picked up. He tells me to ask her to send it down to the clerk’s office. He doesn’t have time to go to their department to pick it up and go to the clerk’s office in time to file it before they close at four o’clock. The Judge’s clerk agrees to do that. All we can do is pray she follows through.
The Court House is nine miles away. It takes fourteen minutes to get there in normal traffic. The clerk’s office won’t send him away as long as his body is inside their office a minute before four o’clock. On his way out the door, he says, “I told the German girls to call at four o’clock. When they call, tell them to come in.”
“Okay.” The minute he’s out the door, I dial the number to my house dancing in my seat, in unison, with every button I push. As soon as Adi answers, I say, “We have an order.”
She asks, “What does it say?”
“I don’t know. Barry just left to pick it up. We don’t know if the Judge signed the proposed order we gave him or if he made changes to it. Barry wants you to come to the office. He should be back around four-thirty.”
“Can I use your phone to call my parents?”
“Of course, call your parents.”
Barry gets back to the office, order in hand, before Adi and Heddy arrive. The first thing he asks is if the German girls called. I answer, “They’re on their way in.” He hands me the court order and asks me to make photocopies. I read the Judge’s modified court order. He hand wrote on our proposed order, “Further handling of this matter shall remain in the appropriate jurisdiction in Germany.” Just as I’m finishing making copies, Adi and Heddy enter the office.
Adi looks at me and asks just above a whisper, “Is it good?”
I see Barry get up out of his chair to come out to talk to her. I nod affirmatively, “Uh huh.” I hand him the orders.
He hands Adi an original certified and one copy of the court order. “You can go pick her up now. Call the police and ask for police standby.”
Adi and Heddy have unbelievable smiles on their faces and glance over at me for just a second. Adi takes a couple of steps towards the stairs, clearly jumping with joy inside. I could tell, if she released the feeling she was experiencing right now, she would be yelling, thank you, Jesus! Then she turns to face Barry. The smile never leaving her face, she reaches out to shake his hand. “Thank you. I appreciate everything you did for me.”
“Good luck”, he says. I follow with same.
Once they’re out the door, I ask Barry, “Does the other side know about the court order yet?”
“Yes. They know they have to turn the child over.”
As if it’s just another case, we spend the next few minutes finishing up then I leave for the day. Guessing at how long it will be before Adi and Heddy get to my house with Etta, barring complications, I think about what to have for dinner. My blood sugar crashing, I pick my son up from daycare then stop at a deli. We aren’t home ten minutes when I hear a knock at the door. When I open it, I look straight ahead then down and see the five year old I recognize from the picture Adi showed me. In a sweet jovial voice she says, “Hi!”
My heart melts as does my height as I stoop down to her level. “Hi.” Then her aunt Heddy’s smiling face appears from hiding around the corner. She steps into full view. I’m excited. “Hi! Come in!” I don’t see Adi. “Where’s mom?”
Heddy answers, “She went to get gas.”
That throws me a bit. The next words out of Etta’s mouth are, “Well, the vacation’s over!” I look judgmentally at Heddy to exude my interpretation of what she said. On the ride home from picking up my son from daycare, I remind him that we’re going to have overnight guests. Another first, having virtual strangers stay overnight. I also prepared him to give up his bed because we’re going to sleep on the living room floor, something we do once in a while anyway. I introduce him to Etta and Heddy.
While Etta and my son play in the living room, not wanting to talk about the events in front of Etta, Heddy and I go into the kitchen. She explains, as soon they arrived at the grandparents’ house, a friend of the grandparents came running outside. She said to them, “We have all of Etta’s clothes packed, and we’re all ready to give you her passport, and vaccination and school records. Everything. All we ask is that you wait until her grandfather comes home from work so he can say goodbye to her. He’s on his way home now.” Even though they refused to let Adi and Heddy see her when they arrived a week ago, Adi isn’t similarly malicious. She agrees to wait.
I ask, “Did you call the police to ask for police standby?”
Heddy nods her head affirmatively, “Yes, but they didn’t show up while we were there.”
“Did you have to wait long?”
She shakes her head no, “He showed up a few minutes later then they brought her luggage out.”
I ask, “They wouldn’t even bring her luggage to the car before the grandfather got there?”
Heddy shakes her head no.
I’m disgusted by how mean-spirited these grandparents were towards Adi. “They continued to pull strings when it came to turning her over even though they didn’t have to act like that.” Heddy shakes her head yes. “They probably thought Adi needed Etta’s passport. They handled the transfer as if Adi was at their mercy to get more than just Etta from them.”
Heddy nods affirmatively and says, “That’s what we think.”
Suddenly, I realize Adi had Etta in her arms less than 54 hours after they walked in our office. I wonder if that’s a world record for recovering an International parent abducted child involving the court system.
Twenty minutes after Heddy and Etta arrived, I hear Adi knock. My son answers the door. She enters still wearing her smile and hands me potted lavender mums. “These are for you.”
I’m embarrassed as I reach out to take them. “Thank you, but you shouldn’t have spent money on me.” Then I realize she went to get gas to avoid being charged the rental car company’s rate to bring the tank to where it was when they got the car.
I give them the items I got for Etta and explain that I got them in case her things weren’t turned over. Adi smiles and says, “I brought some clothes and her favorite toys.”
I couldn’t help but to laugh half-embarrassingly as myself. I thought to myself, how dumb am I. “Oh, of course you would bring clothes and toys for her”, I said.
After dinner, Adi gathers up bills of money scattered throughout her purse, pockets, and tucked in various parts of her wallet. When she has the wad of bills organized, she has what appears to be quite a stack of cash. I say, “It looks like you have enough cash for anything you might need during your trip home.”
Holding the bills at the bottom of the narrow end of the stack, she smiles, smacks the wad of cash in the palm of her other hand and says laughingly, “All ones. Thirty-one dollars.”
I laugh. “Do you have enough to tide you over during your trip?”
Adi says, “Heddy has a little money left. I’m going to get a hundred and fifty back when I turn the car in.”
Heddy says, “She has two hundred on deposit, but we had the car an extra day so she’s only going to get a hundred and fifty back. I have about a hundred and fifty left. As long as we can get to Frankfurt we’ll be fine.” Heddy tells me that her and Adi’s financial arrangement is that she was responsible to pay for the legal expenses, and Adi was responsible for travel costs, and she has Etta’s airfare set aside. Heddy’s money was originally earmarked for her and her 11 year old son to take a vacation. When this crisis reared its head, Heddy’s son forfeited his vacation so she could come with Adi to get Etta back home. Before they even embarked on coming to California, Adi put out a pretty penny to get the German custody order. Heddy has a nice job, but Adi has been an at-home mom since Etta was born. She started looking for a job after she and Cary separated. When Etta was brought to California, she had to stop looking for work in anticipation of having to come to get her. Needless to say, it was a challenge for them to put funds together to pay for all of these extraordinary expenses.
I ask, “What if the boarding agent doesn’t honor your new tickets and insists that you pay the difference in airfare? Do you have enough to cover it?”
Heddy shakes her head no. “If they do that, they’ll want another seven to eight hundred dollars.”
Adi says, “We were thinking, if that happens, one of us can take Etta home and the other can stay here until we can send money. We think it would be best for Heddy to go because she has to get back to her job.”
I want to put there mind at ease. “You don’t have to do that. Just take my phone number with you and keep it handy so you can call if something comes up. I’ll figure out a way to get the difference to you.”
Heddy looks humbled. “You would do that?”
I couldn’t tell them I would have to use my rent money to help them. I just knew I didn’t want them to worry about whether or not they would make it back to Germany together. “I just don’t want you to worry about anything. It’s not that much money to have peace of mind that all of you can go back home together.” I change the subject. “How are things in Germany now that the Berlin Wall is down?”
Heddy answers, “Not good. It’s hard. A lot of people are homeless. Work is hard to find. People urinate in the street and stuff like that.”
I nod sullenly, “I figured as much since it’s only been a couple of years. It’s going to take a while to work itself out.” Adi takes Etta to my bedroom to get her ready for bed. Still sitting at the dining room table, I say to Heddy, “Barry asked me how it was that you came to our office.”
Heddy brings her right arm up then drapes it over the back of her chair, and says, “Well, I’ll tell you how we came to your office. God sent us to you!”, she says as she points at me. I remain expressionless at that comment. She begins to describe what happened after they left the office of the first attorney they went to see. Believing every attorney would ask for more money than what they had, they went back to their motel room. Adi was clinically depressed. Heddy described her as not being able to talk. She just sat with a blank look on her face staring at the floor. Heddy was worried she might have a nervous breakdown. She said, “I had to stay strong and keep focused for her sake.” She said she perused the list of attorneys they made over the weekend. With no time to waste, she said to Adi, “We can’t give up. We have to keep trying. Let’s see if we can talk to any of these attorneys.” They checked out of the motel, got into their rental car, and started driving.
I ask, “Did you know where you were going?”
She shakes her head no. “We just started driving. After just a couple of minutes we came down your street. I saw your business sign and recognized that the name was on our list so we stopped.” Again, she says, “God sent us to you.”
I respond, “Barry did all the legal work.”
She shakes her head no, then says, “Yeah, but you made sure everything worked out.”
I finally ask a question I’ve had on my mind but didn’t feel comfortable asking before. “Why did it take you two months to come to California?”
Heddy answers, “Of course, it took time for us to get a German court order. You know how slow courts can be. Then, my boss wouldn’t let me off work until I was scheduled to take my vacation. She couldn’t come here by herself. I said to my boss, ‘I hope we don’t get there too late.’”
I’m thinking, just one more jerk in the saga, and say, “What a snot.”
She shrugs her shoulder. “We had a lot of work to do, but still.”
Bedtime comes early for the morning travelers. I show Heddy to my son’s room and say, “In the morning, you can use my son’s bathroom across the hall. Adi and Etta can use my bathroom.”
Heddy says, “I need a small pillow, I can’t sleep on a big pillow. It has to be flat.”
I’m humored by her need, but have just the thing for her. A very old but soft and flat down pillow I’ve had for years. I get it for her. “This might work but, I have to warn you, it’s very old.” I’m concerned about potential allergens.
She scrunches it for a moment, then says, “This is good.”
Before saying good night, I say, “When you get up, don’t feel you have to tip-toe around for our sake. Make yourself at home. We can go back to bed when you leave if we want to. I’m going to want to say goodbye to you anyway.”
My son and I make up a place to sleep on the living room floor. I forgot to get pajamas for us and don’t want to disturb our guests, so we sleep in our clothes. For some reason the floor seems harder than in times past. Then, again, maybe I don’t have as much fat on my bones with the lunches I’ve missed lately. My breakfast consists of coffee, so to miss lunch means I don’t eat as much at dinner because my stomach is shrunk. After a few hours of not so great sleep, at three-thirty in the morning, we’re awaken by the sound of guests in the kitchen, and the bright light over the dining table shining in our eyes. Stiff, I stretch my body a bit then crawl up on the couch. A couple minutes later my son joins me. We watch, and listen to the annoying sound of stirring chocolate syrup in a glass of milk. Then Adi gets out chocolate chip cookies to go with the chocolate milk for Etta’s breakfast. Etta says, “My daddy makes cookies like these.”
Heddy and I glance at each other as if to share the same thought - we don’t care what her daddy does - because we’re still fuming inside for what he did. Adi says, “Yeah, your daddy makes chocolate chip cookies.”
I mention, “There’s cereal in the cupboard if she’d rather have cereal for breakfast.”
Adi says, “This is fine.”
A half an hour later, their luggage is by the door and they’re ready to leave. I was flattered that Etta was wearing the outfit I got her. I get down on my knees, look at Etta and ask, “Can we have a hug?” I turn to look at my son standing next to me. “Do you want to give her a hug?” He bashfully backs off and shakes his head no. “Well”, I say, “I want a hug.” Etta and I hug. I say to her, “Be good for your mommy on the airplane, now.” She gives me an affirmative head shake.
I get up to hug Heddy, then turn to hug Adi. “Have a nice flight.”
“We will. Thank you for everything.”
I go to my bedroom and the first thing I notice is money under my telephone on the nightstand. I pick up the phone and find a five dollar bill and five ones. I figure it’s to pay for the telephone call they made to their parents. I throw the bed covers back in place and what do I find but Etta’s full-body footed winter pajamas, and Adi’s white fashion savvy, multiple holed, short-sleeve, just below the breast tee-shirt. I feel awful because Adi said Etta’s California grandparents must have bought the pajamas while she was here, so I know they’re new. I decide it’s worth it to send the garments back to her. When I don’t get a call from them from the airport by nine o’clock, I’m sure they boarded their flight without a problem.
Monday morning I take the potted lavender mums to the office as a prelude to break the news to Barry that Adi, Heddy and Etta spent their last night in California at my house. I want to fill him in on everything I learned that he wouldn’t otherwise know about. When I tell him Etta said, “Well, the vacation’s over!”, I see his first heated reaction about the case. He says, “See, that’s what makes me mad! I could understand it if she used drugs or something like that.”
I ask him, “Is the case closed now?”
He says, “I still have to write a letter and ask them to file a dismissal of the case.”
“What if they don’t?”
“I’ll have to file a motion.”
It annoys me that Adi’s court order doesn’t allow us to file the dismissal. The moving party of the initial case has to do that.
During my lunch break, I stop at the post office to mail the garments to Germany. I laugh because the cost to send them is a dollar less than the money I found under my telephone.
Barry sends a letter that day to Cary’s attorney requesting, in light of the court order, that they file a dismissal of the action and serve a copy on our office. Early the next morning, Cary’s attorney calls and asks to speak to Barry. When I say he’s in court this morning, he says, “About the letter he sent, tell him I said let’s just see where this goes.”
I can’t believe he already received our letter. We sent it out in the five o’clock mail the night before to his business street address. Our mailman doesn’t arrive until late in the morning. He called just after 9:00 a.m. I’m perplexed by his message. One of my administrative techniques is to log incoming calls on a shorthand notebook. I date stamp it daily, log the time, who called, and a brief message about the purpose of the call. When I log in this message, I quote what he said, then write next to it: (huh!?).
Unbeknownst to us, the day before, literally one business day after we won our ex-parte motion, and the court made an order declaring we didn’t have jurisdiction over the issue of custody, Cary’s attorney files papers requesting a modification of custody and visitation. He only has to give us 25 days prior notice of the hearing and intentionally holds off serving us with that motion for a week and a half. A week later, Barry files a motion to dismiss the case. He gets a hearing date of ten days before Cary’s attorney’s hearing on the change of custody and visitation motion, which we still aren’t aware was filed.
A few days later, I’m shocked to learn that Cary’s attorney filed his frivolous motion. And true to form, Cary is hiding behind being out of the country. His attorney signs and files “unverified” declarations on Cary’s behalf. This is a weasel way to lie under oath. I’m upset. Not that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell they can prevail on their reach for another galaxy motion, but because it’s so disingenuous and meaningless.
Ten days later, Cary’s attorney files a Declaration in opposition to Barry’s motion to dismiss the case. He also files an Amended Petition for Legal Separation and, for the first time, the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act document. In the face of the court already making the determination the case belongs in a German jurisdiction, Cary’s attorney still has the unmitigated gall to file a document that specifically addresses the child’s legal residency. I seriously contemplate reporting this wretched soul to the State Bar, but I can’t. As a confidential secretary to an attorney involved in the proceedings, I’m duty bound to not cross that line. All I can do is drop the idea of doing that on Barry. He blows it off. I’m shocked that Barry, or even the case handling Judge, doesn’t feel morally and ethically bound to report this flagrant liar. His abuse of the justice system is, at best, contemptible, especially when the party being harmed, if only to have to pay for unjustifiable legal representation, has done nothing wrong. This attorney is clearly operating far outside the scope of judicial ethics. I ask Barry, “Are we going to send copies of these motions to Adi?”
“No”, he says. “There’s nothing she can do. I’ll send her copies of everything after we get the dismissal.” That bothers me because I feel she should know what’s going on. It could be relevant to her case in Germany for all we know.
I ask Barry, “Why is this attorney doing this?”
He casually replies, “I figure he’s using up his retainer.”
I can’t believe he’s still working off a retainer. From what I’ve seen, an onion would cry before this attorney would exercise his ethical duty to not continue to charge for meaningless legal services. Making the statement, “let’s just see where this goes”, and not telling us he filed that motion pending wanting to serve us at the last minute, causes me to believe Cary has a plan to be a repeat offender.
If the despicable unbecoming conduct Cary’s attorney had been doing to this point wasn’t enough, he files an ex-parte motion attempting to have Barry’s motion to dismiss continued to a date post his motion for a change in custody and visitation. His ex-parte motion is denied.
In preparation of their motion for a change in custody and visitation, Barry files a declaration signed by myself stating the content of that brief conversation when Cary’s attorney called upon receiving Barry’s letter asking for a dismissal of the entire case. He attaches a copy of the page from my telephone log as an exhibit. Barry wants the court to see just how quickly Cary’s attorney took the position this case isn’t over until it’s over. He also wants the court to see what time the call came in, and my reaction to his message, for affect. He thinks Cary’s attorney must have a P.O. box and the letter from us ended up in it instead of being delivered by the street postman.
Worse than this attorney, I don’t know what to think about this so-called father. His motivation has nothing to do with protecting his child for some reason or even selfishly wanting his daughter for himself. Nor has he shown that he cares about his daughter’s psychological well-being. It’s all about putting the screws to his wife. Even more sinister is that he initiated this escapade almost immediately upon their separation.
A week before Easter, just after I get to the office I answer an incoming call. The connection is bad. I try to find out if there’s anyone on the other end but I’m not having any luck. Just as I’m about to hang up, I barely here the caller say, “It’s Adi.”
“Oh, Adi, I was just about to hang up. We have a bad connection. Do you want to talk to Barry?”
“No”, she says. Suddenly, I’m able to hear her more clearly.
“Barry’s here. I’m sure he’ll talk to you.”
She says, “No.”
I ask, “What do you need?”
She says, “I just want to talk to you for a minute.”
She sounds nervous. “Okay.”
She says, “Cary wants to have Etta for an unsupervised visit on Easter. He said he will give me his passport and driver’s license to hold if he can just have her for an unsupervised visit on Easter.”
This tells me she obtained a court order for Cary to have supervised visitation. “No!”, I screech. “Please don’t do that! We’re still working on your case. Please, don’t trust him, Adi.”
She’s stunned. “Why are you still working on the case? The case over there is finished.”
I explain why we had to file a motion to get the case dismissed, and that they’re fighting it. I repeat, “Don’t trust him, Adi.” I’m getting really nervous. “Let me put you through to Barry.”
“No, that’s okay”, she says. Then she says, “He said he will give me his passport and driver’s license and anything else I want if he can have an unsupervised visit just for Easter.”
I realize what I’ve told her still hasn’t sunk in. I want to put her on hold and get Barry on the phone but I’m afraid she’ll hang up. I say sternly, “He should be happy he’s getting a supervised Easter visit. If Etta was here where he wants her to be right now, neither one of you would be spending Easter with her.”
As if she can believe him, she says again, “But he said I can hold all of his identification.”
I say with emphasis, “Tell him he should be happy to have a supervised Easter visit. If he had it his way, she would still be here and neither one of you would have her for Easter. Adi, he has something up his sleeve. You’re too nice and have a hard time believing he can do what he does. I know you want to be good to him for Etta’s sake, but he can’t be trusted.”
She says reservedly, “I know.”
I know I have to continue to convince her not to do it. “He could have another passport for her and himself. You managed to get her another passport. He could have a complete set of documents. Even if he doesn’t, Germany’s a big country. He could hide her anywhere.” She’s silent. “You didn’t know we are still working on your case, but Cary does, and it’s because of him that we are. He’s trying to pull another fast one.”
She’s silent for a few moments then says in a harsh tone, “Fucker.”
I respond, “Um hmm.”
She says, “You’re a good friend.”
I tell her, “When Barry sent a letter to his attorney asking them to provide us with a dismissal of the case, his attorney called and said, ‘let’s just see how this goes.’ They wouldn’t be doing all of this for no reason.”
Again, reservedly, she says, “I know.”
There’s so much she doesn’t know, but Barry should be telling her. I’m upset that he didn’t want to take the time to forward what’s been filed in the case since she returned to Germany. I’m worried. I want to put her on hold and get Barry on the line, but I don’t want to risk that she’ll hang up. I knew we didn’t have her parents’ phone number in our file. It would be on my phone bill, but that wasn’t immediately handy, and I wasn’t sure I still had the copy of the bill. I say, “As soon as we get a dismissal, Barry will send you all the paperwork. Take your time and read through it so you’ll understand what Cary’s been doing. Barry doesn’t want to send the papers to you until we get a dismissal.” She’s such a push over that I know I need to say something to give her reason to not be pressured into letting him have an unsupervised visit. I say flatly, “You’re going to get another bill. Try to pay it, Adi. You might find yourself in a position to have to pull another rabbit out of the hat. If that happens, you will want to turn to Barry for his help again.”
All of this coming as a shock to her, she’s quiet. I continue to press her. “Promise me you won’t let him pressure you into giving in to him, Adi.”
She finally says, not so convincingly, “Okay, I promise.”
I persist, “I mean it. I know he’s going to pressure you.”
“I know. I promise I won’t let him have an unsupervised visit.”
Suddenly, I think to bring Heddy in on this because I’m sure Heddy agrees with me. I say, “Listen to your sister.”
“Okay. I’m glad I called.” As much as I thought, so am I, I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.
After we hang up, I’m nervous to have to tell Barry about the call. I immediately go to his office and tell him she called. He asks in a somewhat disgruntled tone, “Why didn’t you put her through to me?” I explain how I tried to, then tell him the entire conversation, including about her receiving another bill. I recollected, at one point, he made a comment that he was going to get screwed again. His contract only called for handling the ex-parte motion. The retainer he received to handle that was spot on. No funds were left to cover time he’s spending on the motion to dismiss, and defending against their motion for a change in custody and visitation. After a little more thought, I’m glad I spoke to her instead of Barry. Men and women don’t think the same about these things. I don’t think Barry would have been as observant about her weak spot to be persuasive enough to convince her to not be pressured by Cary. It bothered me that we hadn’t sent her updates. Attorneys often make judgment calls that aren’t necessarily the best. Her not being aware of what was happening was advantageous to Cary. I was sure, had she not called, Cary would have convinced her to give him an unsupervised visit and we would be right back where we started and it would have been our fault for not keeping her advised.
The court heard our motion to dismiss the entire action but held off rendering a decision until after Cary’s motion for change of custody and visitation rescheduled for ten days later was heard. As if it had a prayer to begin with, that motion was denied, and an Order quashing service and dismissing the original Petition was immediately granted.
Barry writes to Adi, sends her all the paperwork, and encloses his final bill. Its just under six hundred dollars. Adi is loyal to Barry and sends modest payments in the form of money orders until her bill is paid in full.
A couple months after we closed the case, I, my brother and a friend are standing in a circle in the Court House corridor. Sixty feet down from us, I notice a man among a group of other men looking in my direction. It takes me a moment to realize its Cary’s attorney. I’m reminded of Adi. Partially obscured by my brother standing next to me, it appears he’s trying to see if I’m who he thinks I am. So he doesn’t have to wonder, I nonchalantly take a half step back to be in his direct view. I intentionally stare him down in a fashion to infer I hope he can read my mind. When he doesn’t break eye contact, I continue to stare as if to say, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the first to break our stare down. He eventually breaks eye contact then I step back to where I was and go on about my business. My friend and brother never knew I had a mute conversation with another party while in their presence.
When I get back to the office I share the incident with Barry. I tell him what I said to Cary’s attorney the morning he called to see if anyone was in the office so he could bring by his responsive papers to our ex-parte motion. I hadn’t told him about that and want him to get the flavor of what that moment at the Court House was like.
Occasionally, I write to Adi and Heddy and they write back. I learn Adi was awarded reimbursement for some of her expenses to come to California, but she has yet to collect. I figured the court only granted her reimbursement for her and Etta’s travel and lodging expenses and not Heddy’s. Too often courts are fool-hearty about those things. I would have taken the position it was perfectly reasonable for Adi to bring a family member with her in such a serious situation, but I’m not a judge.
One day when my brother is visiting, I get a letter from Heddy. She’s a great writer. The one thing that impressed me and Barry is that Adi and Heddy speak, read and write English better than most Americans. Even Etta speaks fluent English and, of course, German. I read her letter out loud as my son and brother listen. She describes going to Florida on vacation in August and found herself butting heads with hurricane Andrew. She gives a blow-by-blow account of her terrifying experience. She was barricaded in a closet for ten hours scared out of her mind. Once I finish reading her seemingly never-ending graphic account of that horrific experience, my brother and I simultaneously release an “uh” sound. Of course, that’s followed by a laugh. She ends her letter with how she’s going to take two big empty suitcases when she goes to New York on her next vacation and shop for bargains. I’m surprised she spends so much of her vacation time in our country. After all, some of our citizens created difficult challenges for her and her family, not to mention weathering hurricane Andrew couldn’t have been a fun memorable experience.
When Christmas comes around, I send Adi and Heddy cards. As time goes by, except to exchange Christmas cards the first couple of years, I write only intermittently to see how they’re doing. Once I’m pretty sure Adi’s not likely to experience another abduction of Etta by her father, I decide it’s best for them to not be reminded of their ordeal and cease writing to them.
By the time Etta is seventeen, I’m curious about how they’re doing. After Adi and Cary separated, she and Etta lived with her parents for quite some time. I figure they’ve moved on since then. Armed with Adi’s parents’ telephone number that I was sure to keep once I saw I still had it after that fretful telephone conversation with Adi, I call to see if they can put me in touch with Adi or Heddy. A German woman answers the phone. Apparently she doesn’t understand a word of English. She says something in German then hangs up. I laugh. I decide it won’t hurt to take a chance that Adi’s parents’ still live at the same address and write individual letters to Heddy and Adi. Two weeks later, I’m thrilled to get a reply.
German notebook paper is sized different than our notebook paper. It’s wider, and almost square. Heddy’s handwriting is small. She fills the entire front side of a narrow lined sheet of paper, leaving no border. She always amuses me. She says how excited she is to hear from me and updates me about her life. She’s remodeling her house, and has a boyfriend. She refers to him as being a victim for six years. She ends by saying she has to go because Adi wants to write to me. I turn the paper over and find Adi’s letter. I finally realize they arranged to meet up at their mother’s house when she told them they had letters there from me. Apparently, their mother was short on notebook paper.
Adi, too, says she’s excited to hear from me. She’s been with her significant other for a couple of years. German children graduate high school at age seventeen and Etta just graduated. She says the last time Etta saw her father was over a year ago when he took her to Disneyland for her sixteenth birthday. She didn’t say if Cary still lives in Germany or if he returned to California to live. I assume her father took her to the Disneyland in Europe, but maybe not. I’m thinking he may have come back to California since he hasn’t seen her since her sixteenth birthday. Apparently, he didn’t attend her high school graduation.
Once a parent abducts a child, the fear of it happening again doesn’t go away until the child is old enough to play a substantial roll in what’s happening. The experience is like a serious illness that’s in remission. You keep an eye on it and forever pray you won’t have to seek professional intervention again.
Even though several years had passed since we last communicated, I was pleased Adi and Heddy appeared comforted by hearing from me and having an opportunity to update me on their lives. Now, I can put a period at the end of their untoward but, thankfully, not too long lived experience that stirred my emotions and tugged at my heart.