CHAPTER 12 - TACTICS
I called a number of attorneys. By now the going fee varied from $100 to $150 per hour. I had just about recovered from the expenses of the last fight. The thought of paying these fees again was horrifying.
Why can’t I file without an attorney? I wondered. I knew that most motions and petitions start and end with a certain set format. All one had to do was find the format and then fill in the guts of the thing with what you were trying to say. I decided to go down to the courthouse, pull the old file from my first custody bout, and photocopy every single form filed. Then all I would have to do was pull whatever was needed at the analogous phase of this fight. Why pay someone else a fortune to do something as simple as that?" I thought.
Maria wasted no time before hiring one of Miami’s most expensive and best-known attorneys. Karl Schmidt, the man she retained, was a heavy-set German immigrant who looked like the kind of fellow you’d expect to find making his living as a professional wrestler. Maria must have liked the fact that he was German. Although Schmidt had no strong feelings about Jews, she probably hoped I would fear him as a heartless Nazi. She was entitled. After all, when I hired Oskowitz in 1980, I liked ihat he looked like a shark. You don’t want someone representing you that looks like a pussy cat in a fight like this. Maria made sure to cram Schmidt’s calling card into my hand the next time I came over to pick up my son for visitation.
I had a gift for her as well. It was a list of demands coupled with a well-phrased threat. Maria took the papers and went inside to read. The first page read:
We can avoid court if and only if the following conditions are met:
(1) The old visitation schedule of three weekends per month at my house is resumed. There should be compensatory time on the weekend that you have Bobby.
(2) You will not dictate where I take him on vacation.
(3) You will not force him to attend church against his will, and you will respect his right to call himself a Jew.
(4) You will not force him to eat ham or any other non-kosher food against his will.
(5) You will not continue to take him on my days without notifying me of your intentions. Said notification should be as it used to be, namely in the form of a request with accompanying discussion of compensatory time.
(6) If these conditions are not agreeable, I will hire an attorney by the end of the week, or I will file the papers on my own.
The second page was a list of Bible verses coupled with a threat that I would teach them to Bobby. The verses were those that Christianity had always found most embarrassing.
Each verse was described in a positive way. It would be necessary for the full verse to be read to the Court before my motives for selecting it would become clear. That was precisely what I wanted done. I was at war now not just with Maria alone, but the Church, and with the past nature of my own mistakes as well. The list prepared read as follows:
The Way To Salvation (According To Jesus)
Fulfilled Prophecies by Jesus
Luke 14:26, Luke 12:51-53, Matthew 10:34-36
Unfulfilled Prophecies by Jesus
Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27
The Definition of a False Prophet
Deuteronomy 13:1-4 and Deuteronomy 18:20-22
Adultery as Defined by Jesus
The Consistency of Paul
Galatians 5:3 and Acts 16:3
The Love of Jesus For Gentiles
The Love of Jesus For His Mother
Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:20-21
The Strength That Faith In Jesus
Gave To Paul
The Faith of Christ’s Brothers
An Appraisal of Jesus By His Followers
Jesus' Claim to Perfection
Mark 10:17-18 and Luke 18:18-19
The Awesome Punishment Waiting Those Who Speak Against Jesus
The Consistency of Jesus And Paul on Matters of Law
Matthew 5:19 and Galatians 3:10-13
Protestant Identification of the Mother of Harlots
Revelation 17:3-9 (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Page 1517)
Ashamed that I had backed so many Christian teachings about Jesus in my old book, I now sought to redeem myself in an American court. I would pit my God, known to Christians as the Father, against their falsely deified Son. Bobby would be placed upon the altar of American justice in an effort to prove that Jesus had no more power than Baal. In my own zealous mind, I would need to become both modern Abraham and Elijah all wrapped up in one.
Kathy cautioned me against taking such a tact in court. She knew Hickey was Catholic. The Protestant Commentary referred to in my letter to Maria quoted Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and others as identifying the Vatican itself as the Mother of Harlots. She couldn’t understand how I could possibly hope to win by insulting Hickey and his faith. But I figured it would be easy to move for a mistrial and throw Hickey off the case if he revealed any Catholic-based prejudice against me.
On the next trip to Theresa’s to pick up Bobby, I encountered Raul outside again. Maria was late delivering the kid so we sat down for a chat. We had both worked to restore good relations during the years that had passed since the previous custody fight. Neither wanted to return to the old hostilities.
“Look,” I said, “I’ve contacted the Mediation Unit of the Court and asked them to set up an appointment for Maria and me. Do you think she’ll attend, or do you think she wants a knock-down-drag-out war again?”
“You know these women when they get religion in them,” Raul said with a laugh. “Look at my wife and what a fanatic she is! I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be too hopeful if I were you.”
“I’ll be filing my own pleadings initially,” I said. “You know how I feel about lawyers.”
“How’s that?” asked Raul.
“Well, for starters I almost agree with what Shakespeare had to say: The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers! Look, that last battle got pretty nasty, and I did some things to hurt your family that I wouldn’t want to do again. I don’t want this affair to go down like the last.” Raul was relieved to hear me talk that way, and promised hat he wouldn't get involved this time. Maria had moved in with her boyfriend and was, so far as he was concerned, living in sin. She'd have to handle this one on her own. We shook hands on the agreement and separated just as Maria drove up with Bobby.
I knew now that I was in good shape. If Maria refused to go to the mediator, it would again be to my credit that I had tried to reconcile the differences while she refused to budge. If Maria’s family wouldn’t back her, more could be made out of the fact that she was living out of wedlock with Ricardo. Now I was the one who had the stable home life. I was married. Maria was only shacking up, and there were no kids for Bobby to play with anymore as there were when he was living at Theresa’s. Maria had also just quit her job with the airline. I knew she would argue that she was home more now to take care of Bobby. But Schmidt was very expensive. My strategy was to go it alone for as long as I could without hiring an attorney. I’d try to drain Maria and Ricardo of as much cash as possible through Schmidt’s bills, then hire an attorney only when the trial itself was about to begin just to be sure that I had the proper mouthpiece. Thus I wouldn’t be seen as a nut, which is how judges often perceive those who never hire a lawyer.
Sure enough, Maria refused to attend mediation. I didn’t care. She had to pay her attorney to notify me of her decision. The mediator was sympathetic enough to tell me how to phrase my initial petitions to the court. There were three that I filed: a Petition to Enforce the Original Agreement Regarding Religious Upbringing of the Minor, one for Modification of Visitation Rights, and another for Modification of Final Judgment.
Once they were typed, I had felt proud. They were good enough to get the ball rolling, and I had just saved myself not less than $500. I drove down to the courthouse to file them, mailed a copy to Schmidt, and hand-delivered another to Maria, who had told Bobby that I wasn’t smart enough to do the job on my own.
I couldn’t sleep. Like a chess player trying to guess his opponent’s next move, my mind kept playing out a likely sequence of events that would follow. Maria would probably run right over to Schmidt, wanting to know if the packet I had given her was any good. Schmidt would likely tell her that it was, but not to worry.
He would want to see anything she might have that could be used as evidence. What would she give him? The letters that I had written to her? A copy of my book? Both seemed likely.
The thought of a hostile attorney leafing through The Great Christ Debate gave me pleasure. I hoped he would realize I might not be as easy to shake off as he had first suspected. Schmidt would probably tell Maria I would hire an attorney eventually. He’d be right.
What would Schmidt’s advice be on the verses? He needed something to build a case on, but to include the verses would mean he would have to argue I had no right to teach Bobby about the Bible. That could turn the case into something that appeals courts might be interested in. . . the kind of case that could be worth lots of money and prestige for an attorney. It would give me publicity, too . . . something quite useful for an author, but something also good for increasing my own level of stress and Bobby’s, too. Not so good.
I assumed Maria would want to include the verses in her case. It turned out that I was right. Schmidt used them to try to show that I was poisoning Bobby’s mind.
What, I worried, would Maria tell Schmidt about the circumcision? She might insist that, although she was present, the whole ritual was conducted in Hebrew. Much of it was, but not all. Cantor Lipson had explained everything to her in English. She’d probably stress what was common knowledge about being born Jewish or non Jewish . . . our law says it’s the mother that counts, not the father. God, that’s gonna be a tough one to argue around. Some Reform rabbis want to modify the law so that if either parent is Jewish, the child can be so recognized, but they really haven’t gotten anywhere with the idea yet, and I doubt that they ever will, I thought (today I wouldn't even consider the Reform opinion).
Schmidt would want to know about Bobby leading services at the Homestead Jewish Center. She would tell him the truth about that one. She knew that he was going to synagogue, but had not known about the boy’s leadership until she read about it in the Petition. That’s got to make her angry, I thought. She could argue that the six-year-old posing as her son was really a complete stranger. If so, she’d be certain to play up the alienation angle.
What would the lawyer tell her to do about Bobby’s lack of a baptism? I stressed that in my Petition. I warned Bobby to never let anyone pour water on his head, but could he stop it if they try? What would Schmidt advise? If he’s smart, I thought, he’d caution her not to do anything radical, but he could tell her that once it’s done it would be a fait accompli. They could say I tricked her into the circumcision when Bobby was too young to have a say in his destiny. Why couldn’t she, as primary residential parent, return the favor? Questions, Questions, Questions. God, a man could go nuts from thinking about all this, I thought.
Time would show that the fruits of the meeting envisioned by me would include the necessary counter-petitions along with a Petition to Terminate Joint Custody and another to restrict visitation rights. Schmidt must have known the former petition would fall on deaf ears. He probably suspected that the latter would fare no better either. But he had a responsibility to mount the best offense possible for his client, and he wasn’t about to let me rest for even a moment if he could help it.
Something else probably came from Maria’s meeting with Schmidt that day. The attorney must have recommended that a psychologist be put on the case to do an evaluation of Bobby. It seems likely that Maria, fully aware of Bobby’s sentiments, would have hesitated in going along with the idea. Yet from what followed, it is apparent that she must have reluctantly consented. Schmidt was undoubtedly fishing for material to use, and he could have argued that an unfavorable report could always be kept their own little secret. Besides, a good report would help him understand the dynamics of the case that he was about to take on. If Bobby’s mind was being poisoned by me, the psychologist would certainly uncover evidence of it. That could make all the difference in the world.
Schmidt’s initial strategy involved hitting me with a blistering legal attack. The documents his office spit out at me were designed to keep my head spinning, to push me into the financial burden of hiring an attorney early in the battle. But if he spent any serious time studying my book and the verse list that Maria had brought in, he should have known that I was not one to be frightened easily. Any man who will sell his house or give up a wife for a cause is either a bit nuts, a serious adversary, or both.