Episode 130 – The Custody Hearing

The next morning, Karen had gotten over her angst and seemed almost calm as she joined her attorneys at the defense table in the tiny hearing room. The lawyers surrounding her ex-husband didn’t seem quite so calm, Sharon thought.

Judge Weltzer came in and called the hearing to order. Watanabe’s lawyers began their closing argument, pushing hard on the claim that Karen had poisoned Kira and Allie against their father. In fact, they pushed so hard that Weltzer broke in.

“Do you have any proof that the defendant poisoned the children against their father?” Weltzer asked testily. “This is a court of law, not a court of what we wish were true.”

Sharon bit her lip to keep from laughing. Watanabe’s lead council, however, was not deterred, choosing to put Kira’s own attitude forth as proof.

“Please,” Weltzer snarled. “I’ve been on this bench long enough to know what it sounds like when a kid has been poisoned against a parent by the other parent. You guys have bupkes. How about some proof that Dr. Tanaka has been abusing or neglecting her kids? Oh, wait, you can’t bring that up without some serious challenges that Dr. Watanabe was always working when his girls were there for a visit.”

“Sir,” the lead council interrupted, “there’s an excellent reason for that. Dr. Watanabe didn’t want to take a chance on being accused of improper behavior by his ex-wife. She did manipulate him into letting her take the girls to Washington, DC.”

“Yeah, funny thing about that,” Weltzer scratched his forehead. “She was going to expose some behavior on her ex’s part to his superiors. Sexual misconduct, according to Ms. Kira Watanabe. And she had proof of said behavior. Dr. Tanaka, can you explain why you haven’t brought this up in the hearing?”

Karen gulped. “It was my understanding that as long as Dr. Watanabe’s improper behavior stayed at work, it didn’t fall under the confines of this hearing.”

“Hm. I understand that your boyfriend just moved in with you and the girls.”

“It’s a committed relationship, sir,” Karen replied. “Nor did we make the decision lightly. My daughters seem happy to have Hideo there.”

“Hm.” Weltzer waved at Watanabe’s attorneys to continue their argument, but didn’t seem to be listening to them. Nor did he pay much attention to the defense presented by Karen’s attorneys.

He dismissed the court for a short recess, then convened even before the two sides could start eating lunch, let alone finish.

There was a tense silence in the hearing room as Weltzer shifted in his seat and adjusted his glasses over and over again.

“First up, Dr. Tanaka,” the judge drawled slowly. “I have to say it’s pretty admirable that you haven’t said anything against your ex-husband. But you haven’t exactly been backing him up, either. You may want to think about that. Sometimes it’s the sins of omission that hurt the most.” He paused, adjusted his glasses again and shifted his papers.

Sharon looked over at Kira, who looked like she was about to go after the judge’s throat.

“Not in this case, however,” Weltzer said, speaking up just in time. “Dr. Watanabe, if your daughters have been poisoned against you, then you’re the one who has done it.” Weltzer waved his hand, stopping the vocal protest from Watanabe’s attorneys. “As I frequently note, I have been on this bench a very long time and I’ve talked to a lot of kids. So, Dr. Watanabe, it is saying something when I tell you that your daughter is one of the most angry young women I have ever met. She told me yesterday that she would take her sister and live on the streets rather than live with you, and I believe that was no idle threat. She even had a plan – not a great one, mind you.” Weltzer looked over the top of his glasses and glared at Kira. “But she had one. I assure you, it’s pretty easy to tell when a kid has been coached to say something – and your daughter had not been coached.”

“I wonder how true that is,” June whispered to Sharon.

“Don’t know,” Sharon whispered back. “It probably depends on the kid and the judge. He believes it, and that’s what counts right now.”

“I want you to understand, Dr. Watanabe,” Weltzer continued, “that your daughters are almost grown up. I am legally required to listen to and give due weight to their preferences regarding which parent they want to live with, and they have made it clear that under no circumstances do they want to live with you. You’ve got a lot of work to do to mend that relationship. So while I cannot give you custody, I will give you some hope. Dr. Tanaka will retain full custody of your daughters. But you will visit your daughters every month, under the supervision of a trained counselor and you will travel to where they are to do it. Those girls are almost adults and you can send them into adulthood believing that their father doesn’t love them, or you can work your backside off to mend what you broke. And I’m telling you, it will only get harder to fix this relationship.”

Sharon could see Karen fighting to keep her face free of emotion. Watanabe, on the other hand, was speaking angrily to his attorneys. Weltzer interrupted a couple times to clarify instructions and other points, then instructed his clerk on how the order was to be written up, and then finally gavelled the hearing adjourned. All stood as he left the bench. The quiet lasted only long enough for the judge to leave the hearing room. Then it wasn’t quite cheering, Sharon thought, but the noise was joyful as Karen was quickly surrounded by her mother, June, Kira, Allie, Tiffany and Jodi. Watanabe started to leave, then walked up to Kira and Allie.

“I only wanted you to be good Japanese daughters,” he told them. “You have no respect for our culture.”

Kira folded her arms, glared at him, then answered him in Japanese. Karen pressed her lips together very tightly, as did Watanabe, though for different reasons.

“What did she say?” June asked Sharon as Watanabe stalked off.

“That she respects her culture. He’s the one who doesn’t because to respect the culture, he must respect his daughters, and he does not.” Sharon tried to stifle her giggles.

“That girl is getting pretty scary,” June said.

Sharon nodded.

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