MAY 1999

Part 1/4

[Part 2/4]

Wednesday the 5th:

Court date. After I sign in, a woman approaches me and asks if I am Ms Picart. I say I am. She says that she is my guardian ad litem and has been appointed by the judge. She comes to sit next to me. The woman looks more like a scullery maid than a lawyer. She looks downright shabby with hair in need of a tint and a set, a cheap purple suit and, horrors, huge sneakers on her feet. I refuse to speak to her, then ask her if she has filed an affida- vit of consent as required by law. She gets up and goes to talk with the law secretary for a few minutes, holding a folder. Then the two of them leave the courtroom by different alleys and a few minutes later they return separately. She comes back and sits next to me. She says that she has experience as a guardian, she once was the guardian of an old lady, and another time of a young woman who wrote poems, whom she liked very much. She says that she always expects the worse so she is never disappointed (this is a philosophy I expressed a long time ago). I tell her about the motion to amend my answer that hasn't been ruled on yet after five months and I'm torn between the desire to be genuinely helped and absolute mistrust. She reads my affidavit of November 27 and doesn't comment. I ask her to promise me that she'll never make a decision with which I disagree. She promises.

When the case is called Judge Milin introduces her as Ms MacFarlane, who was sent by the NY Bar Association and had the goodness to accept the appointment of guardian ad litem pro bono (without pay). MacFarlane says that she needs about a month to study the file, then Judge Milin proposes a trial date for June 19 and MacFarlane accepts.

Outside the courtroom I speak to her about my situation, I tell her that I am starving (I hope that she'll buy me breakfast from one of the food carts outside), tell her that I am owed a lot of money by the estate of my father but that my mother always finds excuses not to give me the money. She asks how I support myself. I say that a friend gives me a little money, about thirty dollars a week. I tell her that my parents forced me to leave my country, not openly of course but by making my life impossible there, and that in New York an attempt was made against my life, and that since then my life has become impossible here too, because my mother wants to force me to return to France, and that my landlord is in contact with my mother and prevents me from working, having friends, marrying etc. to help her achieve her goal. She asks if there was only one attempt against my life and I say that actually no, there were others but I was injured in only one.

I give her my mother's address and phone number then hesitate about the language barrier, but then I say that since my mother is in contact with my landlord she certainly solved the problem on her own. Then her cell phone rings and she fishes it out of her bag and starts talking. I suspect that she's talking with the landlord's attorney but she only speaks in monosyllables so it's impossible to tell. After a while she covers the mouthpiece and tells me that she's going to be on the phone for a while so why don't I phone her next Friday? So I leave her behind.

Friday the 7th:

As soon as she picks up she asks me to hold on because she's on the other line. Then we start speaking. She sounds awfully stern and cold and inhuman. She interrupts me two more times to pick up a call on the other line. I know it's a ploy to put me in the position of a supplicant. She knows that I'm calling from a pay phone and that I am poor but obviously she doesn't care. The third time I tell her not to put me on hold again and she stops her little game. I tell her that she is an impostor and a usurper because she has not complied with the requirements of the law, therefore her appointment is invalid. She replies that she doesn't have to comply with these requirements because she is not my guardian ad litem but my law guardian. I say that I strongly doubt that she is a lawyer and ask her what law school she attended and when she graduated. She replies that a law guardian doesn't have to be a lawyer but that she is indeed a lawyer, that she attended CUNY and graduated two years ago. She says that she has sent a fax to my mother and is waiting for a reply. I tell her I have to hang up because I've run out of coins.

Wednesday the 19th:

On my way to court I was filled with dread, but as I was trans- ferring at Broadway and Lafayette suddenly the gloom gave way to a feeling of peace and confidence. I knew that I had done every- thing in my power to protect my rights, so there was no room for self-recrimination.

I had noticed my motion for the recusal of Judge Milin for June 1st because by law I couldn't notice it earlier, but it was likely that it would be heard today, since this date had been scheduled before I filed my motion.

As soon as I arrived in front of the courtroom Ms MacFarlane approached me and started to speak to me. I felt a tremendous anger and indignation rise in me. My heart pounded. "Leave me alone! You are an impostor! You have no right to get involved in my affairs!" but she stayed near me, told me that my case was the fifth in line when I looked at the schedule, as if I was incapa- ble of finding out by myself. She followed me into the courtroom and walked with me to the clerk's desk. I announced myself with the number and saw that she had already signed in as my guardian. I felt another surge of anger at the sight and sat down fuming.

She comes from behind and whispers: "You know, I am not your law guardian, I am your guardian ad litem, so I don't have to comply with Mental Hygiene Law Section 81." "With what?" I ask. I had never heard about that law. She repeats. I say nothing. In my motion dated May 17, I said that she did not comply with CPLR 1202 c), not with Mental Hygiene Law. What is she talking about?

She sits next to me, pulls some papers out of her bag and starts explaining: "This is a copy of the letter I sent your mother; this is your mother's answer..." I push back the papers. "I don't want to see these papers, you have not been lawfully appointed and I am not mentally incompetent, I don't need a guardian..." "and this," she continues, showing me two papers, "I found in your file." One is an order denying my motion to strike the case from the trial calendar, the other an order dated May 5thappointing her my guardian ad litem. "I don't want to talk to you. Leave me alone." I say, and go sit on the other side of the courtroom.

She joins me a moment later and puts the papers in the outside pocket of my briefbag. "Stay away from me," I say, "You exasper- ate me." She returns to her seat but comes back and sits down next to me and talks about her contacts with my mother. I try to block her out and relax but her constant whispering does not let me. It's a relief when the case is called.

Judge Milin does not make a direct reference to my motion for her recusal, but she mentions in passing, with a wide-eyed expression of utter amazement at my daring to state that she broke the law, that of course judges are required to follow the law. She says that although PSA has not found me mentally incom- petent, she still has the power to appoint a guardian to me. I laugh cynically and say: "It's too easy! If someone does not do what you want, you appoint them a guardian who will!" "I'm sorry, Miss Picart, but this is my order." She adds that Ms MacFarlane is only my adviser, that her function is not to replace me, contrary to her and MacFarlane's previous statements, but only to help me find a solution to my problems. Finally she says that she is sending the case to trial today, that she has no choice, that the case has been adjourned too many times.

"What about my motion to amend my answer? You haven't ruled on that, I believe?" I ask. "No, I haven't," the judge answers, "but I have no other choice but sending the case to trial." I under- stand that there is no hope left for a fair trial. "All right," I say, "I'll get it all reversed on appeal," and I get up. The judge adds that the trial will probably not take place today but she gives us a room number (855) and instructs us to go to the trial part. The landlord's attorney, the super, MacFarlane and I leave the courtroom.

MacFarlane buttonholes me in the hallway while the landlord's attorney and the super go to the elevators. She flings a sheet of paper at me. It's a copy of a fax of an order of transfer of FF 20,000 from my mother to my bank account, which has been closed six months ago because it was empty and the monthly charge put me in the red. So the money is going to be returned to my mother. MacFarlane says, with put-on rage "Listen, you spoiled little brat" (or something of the kind) "I didn't want to show you this right away. I wanted you to understand that PSA could help you find some place to live, and I wanted you to accept their help. Now if you have money it's going to be even easier for them to help you!" I say that PSA has found that I am not mentally ill and has closed the case, and that anyway, FF20,000 (about $3,200) is a pittance if one has to move and rent a new apartment, and eat. She tries to convince me to settle out of court and repeats and repeats the same argument ad nauseam. After about ten minutes I say that we should go to the trial part otherwise a default judgment might be entered against me.

The landlord's attorney and the super are already sitting in the huge courtroom on the ground floor. I ask a bailiff what we are supposed to do when a case is sent to trial. He tells me to wait. The sitting judge processes three cases while we wait. Meanwhile MacFarlane tries again to convince me to settle before trial but I know that if I don't get a fair trial the judgment will be reversed on appeal so now I WANT to go to trial. She pesters me so that two or three times I get up an go sit some- where else in the courtroom to get away from her. Several times she leaves the courtroom, so does the landlord's attorney, and when she re-enters she comes to sit next to me again and starts again her entreaties.

The third time she whispers "If you go to trial you're gonna get evicted. If you go to trial you're gonna get evicted. If you go to trial you're gonna get evicted." And the word "evicted" coming from her mouth sounds even more loathsome than usual. She keeps repeating the same thing, it's ridiculous. I sneak a look at her while she says "evicted" and she looks totally evil and venomous, and suddenly I understand: while she and the landlord's attorney were out of the courtroom a minute ago, that's what they had decided to do. To brainwash me with the conviction that if I went to trial I would get evicted. So it's the landlord who does not want to go to trial! So all thes requests for trial, and the judge insisting that the case HAD to go to trial were only histrionics to frighten me into aettling out of court! I look at MacFarlane with a bright smile while she keeps repeating stupidly the same sentence.

She gets so much on my nerves that, after all my requests for her to be silent fail, I go to the bailiff and tell him that the woman is harassing me. He tells me to sit inside the well and I do, with my back against the waist-high partition. Immediately the landlord's attorney comes to the bailiff and speaks to him in a low voice for a moment. After he has returned to his seat I go to the bailiff myself and tell him: "I know that this man told you that I am crazy..." "No," the bailiff says, "he told me that this woman is your guardian." I feel a surg of anger again. Now I know that I look crazy! "But she is not! She has not been lawful- ly appointed!" I say in an urgent but low voice. But I know it is pointless and return to my seat in the well.

MacFarlane slips me a note. The woman won't leave me alone! The note says:
1) I am handling this case on my own time. I do not have a job. I am not getting paid. I do not have a mother to send me money."

There is no 2). Considering that I can't get my hands on the FF20,000, that it's so little money, and that my father's estate owes me about $400,000, she's got to be kidding when she says "I do not have a mother who sends me money". I don't either!

I'm thinking about what I'll say at trial. If I'm prevented from raising my affirmative defenses and counterclaims, at least I can say that a lot of repairs are needed in my apartment: water damage in the kitchen, exposed wires, leaky faucet... but it's a dangerous strategy because the landlord might extract from me a commitment that I'll pay the back rent after the repairs are done, and if I don't have the money, I'll get an order of evic- tion.

I see the landlord's attorney getting nervous. He paces around, goes out and returns. So does MacFarlane. Then she stands behind me and asks if I read her note. "Yes." I say. "So?" "So what?" I ask. "Do you expect me to cry for you?" She pinches her lips. The compassion ploy has failed. The landlord's attorney asks me: "Do you want to adjourn this?" I shrug my shoulders. "If you want to, it's ok with me." I say finally. MacFarlane again: "The landlord proposes that if you leave within thirty days, he'll give up his claim on the back rent. That means that you won't owe him anything." "If the landlord does not want to go to trial," I reply, "he'll have to make me a better offer." "What do you want?" "I'll have to think about it." She steps back and leaves me.

Now the landlord's attorney is at the entrance of an office. I walk there and so does MacFarlane. I hear the attorney say to a court officer "If she wants to act loony it's ok but not here!" and he continues in the same vein, using various synonyms for "crazy" while MacFarlane stands next to him and does nothing to interrupt him. Then the court officer (the plaque on his office says "Expediter") after a brief phone call tells us that every- thing is ready, we may go to room 855.

On the way to the elevator MacFarlane asks me how much I want to leave my apartment. I have to think fast. "One hundred thou- sand dollars" I say. "How about fifty?" she asks immediately. "There you are, bargaining me down!" I say with a wry smile. "By the way, tell my mother that if I'm evicted I'll report to the French tax authorities the ten to twelve million francs that were in a suitcase when my father died." "If you do that," MacFarlane replies immediately, "she'll blow the whistle about you to the Immigration." I smile and say "You speak like my mother. You see, that's the type of relationship we have: threats and counter- threats." I stop walking for a moment and say to her: "What you, the judge and the landlord's attorney call 'mental illness', everybody else calls 'fighting for one's rights'. That's all I'm doing. I fight for my rights to due process and to free speech." "But this is Housing Court!" she exclaims, as if people didn't have constitutional rights in Housing Court. Like third rate justice. But she's wrong! She's wrong! I read a recent court decision to the contrary that says that people have a "liberty interest" in having a roof over their head, and this interest is protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Therefore, if due process is not strictly observed before the State, repre- sented in this case by the judge, reprives me of my abode, I can get the judgment reversed on constitutional grounds.

The four of us enter room 855, surprisingly small after the two courtrooms we have just left. "Oh, I've already been in a courtroom like this two years ago." I think to calm myself. The bench is empty. There's a sluttish-looking woman sitting on a table to the left of the bench. She's on the phone. Her long hair has this just-out-of-bed tousle with a six month old tint. Her light blue sweater with a deep V neck hugs tightly her ample bosom and her thighs threaten to burst the seams of her short skirt.

A black woman is sitting at a computer and the landlord's attorney says pleasantries to her and she smiles, while we wait standing. Finally the first woman hangs up the phone and comes to us. The landlord's attorney introduces MacFarlane to her, saying that I am mentally incompetent and he elaborates on the subject. She looks at him and does not speak. Finally I ask her "Who are you?" She looks at me with a frightened look and says defensive- ly: "I am the judge's attorney. I have to do what the judge says." MacFarlane does not say a word while the landlord's attorney sullies me with his allegations of mental incompetency.

Finally the woman walks away and disappears into the chambers and Judge Klein appears. He's a white man in his sixties, tall, and has plump lips. The four of us go sit at counsel table. The landlord's attorney begins by reciting the history of the case and strongly emphasizes the numerous adjournments, about twelve of them, none of which I requested. Then he says that the land- lord is charged one thousand dollars in legal fees for every court appearance and that whoever loses this lawsuit will have to pay the bill. I chuckle inwardly at this scare tactic. Why do they keep treating me like a little girl? At the end the attorney says that the landlord is willing to give up all the back rent if I move out within thirty days, and that if there is a trial and I lose, I'll have to pay not only all the back rent but also the legal bills, and I'll lose the apartment too.

Now MacFarlane stands up. First she says that she has been in contact with PSA (Protective Services for Adults) and is trying to get my case re-opened. When I hear this I think I'm going to have a heart attack. They found me ineligible for their services because I was not mentally incompetent and now she wants them to change their opinion! She explains that PSA would help me find an apartment if I was under their care. Then she says that she has exchanged faxes with my mother and hands them to the judge. In her fax my mother says that one building of the estate is being sold at auction on that very day she's sending the fax, May 11th, and that "Owing to Brigitte's lack of cooperation, the situation has become rather complex." What my mother calls my lack of cooperation is my refusal to give her power of attorney in the settlement of the estate, and all my efforts to protect my rights. MacFarlane says that it's too early to tell what amount of money will be available and when, but that in any event I am entitled to a part of it. Finally in a great show of solidarity she asks the landlord's attorney if he could grant me an extra ten days to move out "because it's already May 11th." The attor- ney does not answer.

Now it's my turn. "Your honor," I say, "this woman is making my blood pressure rise. She has no right to be involved in this matter because she has not been lawfully appointed. Besides, PSA has found that I was not mentally incompetent and that I could take care of myself, so I do not need a guardian ad litem." I hand him the PSA report. The judge says that MacFarlane said that the reason PSA closed my case was because I did not qualify for financial assistance. He reads aloud the paragraphs that have a check mark: "PSA has determined that you are ineligible for protective services. PSA's determination... is based upon your failure to meet the following criteria: Your physical or mental dysfunction does not render you unable to manage your resources, carry out the activities of daily living or protect yourself from neglect or hazardous situations without assistance from others." He looks up and repeats: "Your physical or mental dysfunction does not render you unable..." "Yes, your Honor, I have a slight physical disability." I say. "But," the judge says, "the report by PSA has nothing to do with the appointment of a guardian. They are two independent things." I am taken aback and do not answer.

"Now," he continues, "this case should go to trial as soon as possible but today is a bit late to start, it's already past noon..." "Your Honor," I say, "I have made a motion to amend my answer and I argued it last December 16, and there is still no ruling on that motion. I believe that this case will not be ready for trial until I have a ruling on this." "On what grounds do you want to amend your answer?" the judge asks. "On the grounds that my landlord's staff is preventing me from working, which is the reason why I cannot pay my rent." "What kind of work are you talking about?" "I started a hat business. I was making hats and selling them in the street, they sold very well..." "What!" the judge exclaims,"You were manufacturing hats inside your apart- ment!" "...and when I tried selling them to stores, I found that I was boycotted." "And when was that?" the judge asks. "It was from late 92 to around May 94." "That's too remote," the judge says. "But it happened again last fall! I re-started my business because a friend was willing to help me sell my hats, I still had a large stock, but that friend broke up with me under flimsy escuses, and a staff employee, at the same time, stole the mail I received from the State Tax Registration Department..." "When I say it's too remote," the judge interrupts, I don't mean in time, I mean in terms of causality." "You mean," I say in disbelief, "that you don't see the connection between the fact that the landlord prevents me from making a living and the fact that I cannot pay my rent?" "That's what I'm saying" the judge answers. I shake my head.

He gathers papers on his desk and says: "Since Ms Picart's mother wrote that a building of the estate was being sold on the day that she wrote, I'm going to adjourn trial to June 9 due to this exceptional circumstance, and I hope that by then the share of the monies that Ms Picart is entitled to will be made avail- able. So you come back here on June 9, Ms Picart. Here, in this courtroom." We all get up and leave.

Outside the courtroom MacFarlane wants to speak to me.

[Continued to 2/4]