The seven-year old was small for her age. Her long blond hair hung over her saucer blue eyes as she crouched in the seat next to her mother in the courtroom. Her mother, legally unrepresented, had brought her to court to testify against her father in a Domestic Violence Injunction Return Hearing. Lawyers, clients and bailiffs milled around the courtroom. My client, the little girl’s father, desperately tried to get his daughter’s attention; mostly to console her as he could see the terrified look in her eyes. However, the mother told her daughter not to look at her father and for the most part, she complied; but every once in a while, she would sneak a slight smile at him.
Since the mother was not represented, I decided to let her know that the Family Rules of Procedure prohibited parents from bringing their children to Court to testify without the Court’s permission. She was defiant and said she would let the Judge decide.
When our case was called she left her daughter alone in the courtroom while the rest of us went into the Judge’s chambers. I immediately told the Court that my client’s seven-year old was here to testify. The Judge asked why and the mother said that she was a witness to the abuse. “So let me get this straight”, the Judge barked, “You think it is more important to win this hearing than to have your daughter think positively about her father?”, “Yes” The mother said. “And the fact that your daughter may feel guilty about testifying about this means nothing to you?” He queried. “No” the mother intoned.
The Judge was furious at this response and continued the hearing a week, telling the woman that she needed to get her child out of the courtroom, now. The Judge told her that if she was going to represent herself she needed to read the rules that stated that children may not come to Court and testify without the Judge’s permission. He further stated that he could not under any circumstances see how he would give permission for that.
When we came back the next week the Judge denied her Injunction request.