The Amnesia Memoirs and Diaries
September 1994 - 1/4
Thurs. 09.01: I got up around 6:30 to have the time to get ready and make the trip without any rush. I washed my hair, put on this long fitted ink-blue dress and the long jacket of the off-white suit I bought recently. In the subway I jotted down a few things I would tell the judge, but basically I didn't know what there was to argue about. The law was clearly in my favor. I got off at City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge and enjoyed the blue sky and the atmosphere in the courts area, although tan is ok. I always keep an eye out for a well dressed man or woman, an interesting fabric. I have noted that brown is a color that isn't used much in the legal profession.
As I wait to cross Worth street, a woman is standing to my left. In the corner of my eye I can see she moves her hand around her pocket, just touching the placket without putting her hand inside and this draws my attention to her. She's my physical opposite: small with long curly brown hair. When the light turns she steps ahead of me. She's wearing a powder blue suit with a long jacket and a short skirt that's about one inch longer than the jacket. Since I have discovered this new lenght for jackets on Jean Paul Gaultier in a publicity photo, and bought two suits with long jackets recently, I'm watching for this new length on people in the street, and that's what this woman is wearing. She half turns around and looks at me with a seductive smile. I observe that her lipstick is in an unusual shade of orange. I have the same at home. I am very surprised. I move to the right, to the Worth street entrance of the buildings and she goes straight ahead. But before stepping on the sidewalk I stop and from behind my shades look to the left to see what she does and from afar she turns her head again towards me.
People are getting into an elevator. The operator is a huge black woman sitting on a stool. People tell her what floor to press. When I get in I say "Two, please" and another woman enters and asks for the second floor too. Then the door closes and we start up. The door opens. The fat lady says "Three." I'm not sure I heard right. "Which floor is this?" I ask. "Three" I'm told. "But I asked for two!" I say while stepping out. "Is there a stairwell somewhere?" I ask. A woman has stepped out and she walks towards a sign that says "Exit" and I follow in the same direction. She climbs downstairs jauntily like a schoolgirl. I say to her "But several people asked for the second floor!" she smiles and says to me: "Be careful because it isn't very clean around here" I understand she's referring to my white jacket. It seems she's trying to make me feel like a fool for wearing white. I have the surprise that she goes to Part 52 just like me. A few lawyers are already waiting around for the door to open. When the clerk opens it from inside, it's 9:25. There are already three or four persons, most of them women, sitting at the counsel table. The woman who walked downstairs with me joins them and she starts talking with one of the women already sitting. The walk-down woman is a brunette like the woman in the powder blue suit but she has a strand of white hair. Otherwise the build, the hair qualities are the same. She's younger. She has a pretty chiseled face and wears a dark fuschia lipstick. I have the same shade at home. She wears a black summer jacket with thin stripes of white and terra cotta and the fitted cut enhances the striped effect. I could see all this like a show unfolding before my eyes, and I was in the middle of the second row, just next to the central alley. While speaking animatedly to the woman who had been there when the door opened, her whole torso is facing the other woman and she's talking sideways so that she's almost facing me somethimes, and occasionally she brushes away her hair from her face, including the white strand, that moves fascinatingly. Is it natural or fake?
The woman she's talking to in total contrast seems to have a stiff neck because she keeps her head facing forward in the beginning. The hair contrast is striking too: she has long blond hair in a pony tail tied by a red fluffy elastic. Since she's not moving her head I look at her hair and find it curiously lifeless, in color and in movement. You could swear it's a wig. Then she turns her head slightly towards White-Strand and I see that she has a bang on the front and it looks very stiff and lifeless too. Maybe it's a wig. I look behind her ear and at the nape and I see short blond hair in tufts that weren't caught in the elastic and now she turns her head more often and I can see all that short blond hair, a different blond, that's sticking out from underneath. So it's a wig. The woman now talks more animatedly to White-Strand and I see more of her face. She has general features not unlike me but rounder, and I can see now how fake the wig looks on her, when considering her complexion the thin short blond hair appear to be the natural ones. Well, after all, anybody's entitled to wear a wig aren't they?
A man has just sat before me at the front row and then a young woman in a flower suit arrives smiling just after him. She stands next to him in the central alley, thus obscuring my view of the bench, and I see that she's tall and a bit overweight and that she's wearing white stockings and white patent leather low heel pumps, and the dominant color on the white background of her suit is pink.
All these pretty women make me think of grown-up "Petites Filles Modèles", the heroines of La Comtesse de Ségur's girls'novels in late 18th century (I believe) France: they were well-fed, clean and healthy, happy looking, no sign of tension just like before my eyes, White-Streak the small peppy brunette, Flower-Suit the ample blond in strawberry-vanilla colors, with innocuous white stockings and shoes, and Blond-Wig.
Flower-Suit and the seated man start talking like old friends and smile to each other, the woman bending towards him and the man looking up towards her.
I get up and walk to the door to see where my case is on the calendar. Since the cases are listed in alphabetical order, I'm in the last third, on page eight or nine. I return to my seat. Flower-Suit and the man are still talking. Suddenly he stands up and smiling profusely offers his seat to Flower-Suit, saying something about ladies. People have filled the benches and there is no more sitting room. She accepts the seat.
At 9:30 sharp the clerk starts the call and after a few cases the clerk calls a name against the Transit Authority and the man raises his hand and says "Plaintiff!" While calling each case, the clerk grabs the case file and shifts it from his right to his left.
When the clerk calls my case I say "Plaintiff" and Blond-Wig says "TA." There was also a black man in a sharp suit who represented the TA. In fact most of the cases were against the TA. Blond-Wig represented the TA. She said "TA" several times when the TA was called as a defendant. Other persons at the counsel table answer "TA" too.
While all this was going on I also observed a very dumpy young woman. She walked in, wearing a grey skirt and a green sleeveless top, and white sneakers with white socks. She wore her suit jacket on her arm and when she reached an empty space in the spectator area, she put her bag down and put the jacket on, which displayed fully her potatolike silhouette. After putting her jacket on, she walked out. Then before the spectator area was compeltely full, a woman came to sit two or three feet to my left. She took off the sneakers she was wearing and put on high heel gold sling-back pumps that were quite pretty but not very court-like. And finally there was a woman who took a seat in the jury area and remained there alone until I left. She had a blank look, a blank gaze, her face unmoveable. No make-up, a scrubbed skin, hair pulled back, navy jacket. She didn't talk to anybody and nobody talked to her. What was she here for? And I was going to forget the petite woman who appeared in the chambers doorway. She looked around searchingly with the trace of a smile on her lips then left then returned one or two more times with the same demeanor.
Then Judge Lippmann walked in from his chambers. Flower-Suit went to sit at the counsel table while everybody stood up and the judge made a slight hand motion and everybody sat down. So Flower-Suit was a TA attorney! I hadn't heard her answer any call! Judge Lippmann looked mean. He climbed up to the bench, took off his jacket, showing a blue short-sleeved shirt, he pulled from his briefcase and unfolded a piece of thin black polyester that must have been his robe because he put it on. It didn't settle on his shoulder like heavy cloth would have, it kind of floated around him.
Is he or isn't he corrupt? I wondered. He must be. Otherwise, why didn't they re-assign Judge Toker to my case? They must have arranged to assign a judge who participates in the cover-up. That's what I was thinking while the first motion was being heard and then to my surprise my name was called second, when at the roll-call it had come towards the end, just like on the calendar at the door. I decided to act as if Judge Lippmann were honest and to do my best and I got up and walked to the bench. Flowe-Suit got up from the counsel table at the same time I did and that's when I learned that she represented the TA against me. If she didn't know before, which was unlikely, she learned who I was when my case was called, and it would have been correct of her to introduce herself at that point and tell me that she represented the TA in my case. The thought raced through my mind while I tried to keep my concentration: So this woman who was so chummy with a plaintiff against the TA was chummy with her adversary! and she was the one against me! Until she sat at the counsel table she could have been a colleague or a flirtatious work relationship at least of the plaintiff who gallantly gave her his seat. She had known who I was all along, and stood in front of me but she hadn't introduced herself to me and now we were standing next to each other in front of the judge. The petite woman suddenly was standing next to the judge and leaning slightly forward. The clerk was also standing close by instead of sitting at his table so that of instead of dealing only with the defendant and the judge, there were five of us instead of three.
Just before saying the first words it flashed through my mind to tell the judge that I didn't know why the defendants wanted an oral argument because there was nothing to argue about, the law was clearly on my side and the subpoena should be quashed but I remembered to introduce myself personally.
- "Good morning your Honor, I'm the plaintiff Brigitte Picart and I represent myself from now on." He looks at me with angry eyes and lips pressed together as if to contain invectives.
- "Your Honor, I continue, receiving this subpoena just before the trial was like being hit on the head with a..." and then I didn't know whether I should say a two-by-four, the caliber of a piece of wood, or a baseball bat. It's funny because I felt compelled to use language that stood me out of the legal pack and I believe it was to assert my right to represent myself without a law degree and show that I wasn't ashamed of that lack. The judge broke the pause.
- "Hurry-up because I have a lot of motions to take care of today." I knew the room was packed behind me and there were four of five people at the counsel table. But it was my turn and I had a right to a fair chance but omygod! I'm wasting people's time! I felt manipulated to make myself scarce out of shame.
-"But do you know how to proceed?" the petite woman asked in an affable tone while bending towards me. She had climbed up after I had started talking and stood next to the judge. I looked down because of course I didn't have a law degree and she challenged my right and my competence to act as a pro-se party. Now I had to defend myself against this unexpected attack by this unexpected participant. Of course I hadn't prepared my opening statement for trial, but we weren't there yet.
- "I know step by step" I said, lowering my eyelids. Then I turned back to the judge and explained with rising anger that in a stipulation of late 1991, exhibit H, number VI of defendants' cross motion, (and I showed him with trembling hands but he averts his eyes from the paper he knows too well, and while showing him I turn to my left and the lonely woman in the jury box is there having a close look at me) defendants had requested only my employment records for 1989 and 1990 and I had complied with the request as best I could as shown on exhibit C of my motion, and they had no right to request any more document after the filing of a note of issue, particularly just before the trial. I wanted to add that I was the injured party, that I had already suffered a lot physically and that I didn't need to be legally mistreated but I didn't say it.
- "I object to being subjected to compulsory measures." I said. "The proper method to obtain disclosure between parties is by a request to produce documents without leave of the court." The judge looks extremely angry. I wonder if he knows that I have this toy bus at home and if he finds it very impertinent of me to have bought it and exhibited it in my room. For a split second, the thought amuses me.
- "Your honor" Flower-Suit chimed in a plaintive little girl's voice, "she made her motion one year after the subpoena was served."
- "But I dismissed my attorneys two days after receiving the subpoena..." I started to tell her angrily because she knew I was right, but then I remembered that counsels were not supposed to address each other. But I was supposed to have my turn to speak without interruption and then she would have her turn, and I would have a rebuttal, and the judge was supposed to let each party make their statement before asking questions but obviously, once more, just because it was me, the standard rules didn't apply: I had been constantly interrupted from the beginning, and not only by the judge and by opposing counsel but also by the judge's secretary who had no business standing next to the judge and talking to me.
Instead of showing fairness by making allowance for my non-lawyer status, they broke the rules thinking I was too ignorant to know. Here I was fighting for my Fourteenth Amendment right of due process and they denied it to me by further violating it.
So whose turn was it to speak now? I didn't know any more.
- "Your motion is denied" the judge said, taking advantage of my disarray. I grabbed my briefcase and made a half turn to leave. But I was mad because I had not had a chance to say all I had to say.
"A subpoena is not a threat" he said in a mean voice after I had made my first step to leave. This bad faith was staggering. I had studied Latin for six years and I wasn't going to let even a judge try to fool me about it. Subpoena is Latin for "under penalty" and "subpoena duces tecum" is Latin for "bring with you under penalty" and if it was the only use I had for the six years I studied Latin, it was worth it. A subpoena is nothing but a threat made by the court. In case of non-compliance you can be fined or sent to jail or both so if this is not a threat what is it? Because of the judge's outrageous statement I turned around and walked back to the bench.
-"Your honor, I'm not responsible if my lawyers failed to transmit my employment records to the defendants and in any case a subpoena is not...
- "Your honor she took the case off the calendar the day the trial was supposed to start. Let's get this matter settled and then we can proceed to trial" Flower-Suit breaks in. She speaks in the same plaintive little girl's voice as if I had done her a dirty trick. I'm almost waiting for her to crush a tear with the back of her hand. As if I didn't have the right to a fair trial, as if, as a party, I didn't have the right to the ultimate controI of how my case is handled. Nobody was going to force me to commit perjury. I knew in my bones that only someone who is guilty would commit perjury and as confused as I was, I wasn't guilty of anything so I had nothing to hide and no personal reason to commit perjury.
What she means is that it's unfair of me not to take the fall. She changed the subject and got my mind off-track. She said that the controversy over the subpoena was the only thing that prevented the case to go to trial. Well, that's what she wants, but she doesn't know what I intend to do. I'm under attack again.
- "What did they ask in the subpoena?" the judge asks. But what they asked for is not the point we're discussing right now. And hasn't he read the subpoena anyway? He's asking this just to embarass me because I'm an illegal alien.
- "Tax records..." I say with my voice trailing off.
- "They have a right to see your tax records."
- "But your honor, why didn't they ask nicely, with a request to produce instead of a subpoena?
- "Because a subpoena is the most effective way to obtain documents. I have a lot of motions to take care of. Your motion is denied." the judge answers venomously. And as a parting shot he adds: "And this case isn't going anywhere as long as you don't comply."
If they ask for documents that I don't have, a subpoena is not going to help. And how about the cross-motion of defendants where they request "an Order, pursuant to 22 NYCRR §130-1.1, compelling plaintiff BRIGITTE PICART to pay to defendants ... attorney's fees and reasonable sanctions, and for such and further relief as this court may deem just, proper and equitable." Is the judge going to impose sanctions on me? This oral argument has all been a sham I know and I half expected it. I turn around. Flower-suit is already sitting at counsel table. So the defendant's cross-motion, that asked the court to sanction me for frivolous conduct is ignored. I control my desire to disappear out the door and stop at counsel table.
- "May I have your name?" I ask Flower-Suit. She pulls out a business card and hands it to me. She's Dawn Reid-Green, the one who wrote the cross-motion, and one of the several attorneys who have written motions and affirmations. I feel a need to be warm and friendly but I ckeck myself. As much as I need somebody to be warm and friendly with me, she's the wrong person to expect it from. Just to show that I am not shamefaced, I ask her one more question:
- "How many people are in charge of my case at the TA?"
- "There's also Michael Figliola. Let me write you his name" she says, handing her hand out. I give her back her business card, she writes down the name and hands me back the card. I say thank you and leave. I have read that name already in the file but there was at least one more person, a woman named Jamilah.
Before leaving the building I check again Judge Toker's part and room numbers. I fantasize a scene where I ask him at the paroxysm of desperation why he signed that subpoena and the emotional content obscures the legal issue.
I go to Federal Court and leave with the information to file as pro-se in Federal Court. After all the right of due process is a constitutional, a civil rights issue and it has just been violated once more and the constant violation of my civil rights since I was born is making my life a living hell.
Then I go to the Records room in the basement at 60 Center. There is an enjoyment at the practical experience of the architecture of these old courthouses, at reading signs painted many years ago in a certain type you'd never find today, feeling the way space is organised, learning my way around, finding shortcuts and stairways and getting the practical feel and timing of security checks, doors, computers, forms.
In the experience of space I find the same excitement I felt when I was a girl in Annecy, when me and my sister Sophie explored the municipal theatre house while our mother was rehearsing on stage. But you need good shoes. Women who wear pumps in the legal professions are at a marked disadvantage because the need to relieve the foot-ache interfere with the needs of whomever they represent. It's a whole new experience for me, an experience I hadn't sought, but since I have to deal with it as a matter of survival, I'd better find some ways to enjoy the ride. I have decided to beat the daunting effect of the court system and enjoy it instead. But not in the masochistic way that leads you to love your persecutor.
I go to the desk where appeals, subpoeanae and other filing fees are sold. I ask about an appeal. She writes down the form numbers I need and asks me if I know where White street and Blumberg's are, and I say yes because that's where I bought legal prints a few months back and the cashier had that sign that said "I'm confused, are you an asshole or a cocksucker?" So she gives me the printed sheet where she has written the form numbers and from a thick green stack in her drawer she pulls a form that's for registered mail and says to me that I have to use this when I send the Notice of Appeal to the opposing party. "But" I ask, "doesn't a notice of appeal have to be served like other legal papers by someone who's not a party with an affidavit of service?" and she says that the green form she gives me is what I have to use.
I take the subway home and on my seat in the far corner tears start to roll down my cheeks. I am deeply hurt and disappointed that my worst fear, the fear that the judge was corrupt too, had proven well founded.
Back home, in the evening, I feel utterly crushed. There is no hope from the justice system, obviously. What's left to me? Get my story published.
Sat. 09.03: These past two days I have spent reading "Frauen", a book by Alison Owings by Rutgers University Press, about the experience of German women during the Third Reich, and how they coped with it. I get a tighter grip of the notion of "Kinderreich" that referred to the wealth that children are to their parents.
While reading, the memory of the oral argument flashes through my consciousness and breaks my concentration but I keep reading, deliberately avoiding to analyze the recent events and make myself feel miserable. It is too close. I trust my mind will sort things out without my conscious intervention and all of a sudden I'll have an idea. Although I don't have the solution yet, I know I'll find it. Instead of feeling depressed, I'm in a rather good mood. And I don't want to give to satisfaction to whomever is reporting on the minute details of my life to see me looking depressed.
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