A Divorce Hearing and Crime 
While waiting in court, I occassionally have the opportunity to observe other matters being presented to a judge. Such an event occurred a couple of weeks ago in Jack County when a routine divorce proceeding possibly provided an insight into the origin of crime.

A young couple seeking the divorce stood before Visiting Judge John Lindsey. They didn’t have an attorney, which is appropriate so long as they present a correctly proposed Decree of Divorce and testify about a handful of insignificant facts.

Such a scenario happens all the time. Sometimes the divorce is granted – sometimes it is denied. It all depends if the individual(s) are properly prepared.

In this case, the man, who bore a tattoo, earring and long hair, was no more than 19 years of age. His wife appeared to be about 18. They had been married three years. It was apparent that they had not spoken in quite a while.

It also became apparent to Judge Lindsey that the proposed Decree of Divorce was flawed. Consequently, no divorce could be granted. But Judge Lindsey, always the patient gentleman, explained to them that if they could get their paperwork in order by 5:00 p.m. that afternoon, he would give them another opportunity to “prove up” their divorce.

Nevertheless, the man began to argue.

“I got the form from a law book – it’s right,” he said.

Judge Lindsey patiently explained to him that it was not correct, and he needed to find a different book or consult a lawyer.

The man persisted.

“It came right out of the library,” he stated.

This, for a moment at least, got the attention of Judge Lindsey, who asked him where he had found the book.

“At the library at the State Jail,” the young man confidently stated.

The proverbial light bulb appeared over the heads of the courtroom spectators. The young man had recently been paroled from the State Jail facility in Jacksboro, which ironically bore the name “John R. Lindsey State Jail”.  So, in summary, we had a convicted felon, who had yet to see his 20th birthday, who was now desirous of becoming a divorcee as well.

The man began to be combative so Judge Lindsey looked through the file to try and get a little insight into the couple. While reading from the file, Judge Lindsey noted that the young woman (who had not uttered a word during the hearing) had filed a handwritten answer. As he read through it you could hear the shock in the Judge’s voice when he read a portion of the document which made reference to a child.

“There’s a child?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” the man said without the hint of embarrassment or responsibility. But sensing trouble, the man did ask if the case could be transferred to Dallas.

Judge Lindsey ignored the request.

“Your petition for divorce didn’t say anything about a child,” the judge said, his voice becoming sterner. “What about child support? Have you folks agreed on child support?”

The couple looked at each other in search of a mutually agreeable lie, followed by the man uttering “yeah”.

“How much?” Judge Lindsey asked.

“We haven’t decided on that yet,” the man stated.

With that, the hearing was done. Judge Lindsey, although having every right to be upset and throw them out of the courtroom, simply concluded the hearing and advised them that they might wish to seek counsel if they couldn’t handle the divorce themselves.

The couple quickly left the courtroom – the woman following sheepishly behind the man at about a five pace length.

I was watching all of this from about 20 feet away. Despite the couple being the focus of everyone’s attention, I couldn’t help but think about the child who had been only a casual reference. I don’t know his name, but I do know, for all intents and purposes, he would not have a dad throughout his childhood. Further, his mother, who will probably be the only authority figure for the child, had already proven to be prone to poor decisions. After all, the mother didn’t exactly distance herself from the criminal element when she chose to get married.

I could be wrong, but I’m betting the child doesn’t stand a chance. As I told the assistant D.A who was with me, it would not be surprising if, 16 years from now, that child was involved in the criminal justice system.

Of course, a miracle might happen and the child might be an overachiever who lives a long and productive life. However, the odds are against him. And if he does become the target of some prosecutor some day, I suspect he or she won’t care about why or how the “defendant” came to be the person he is. Cries of “personal responsibility” and “locking him up” will permeate the air.

Strangely, I almost have a desire to determine the child’s name and date of birth and hide it away in a safe place. Then, in the year 2015, pull it out and “run” his criminal history which by that time will probably be available to everyone via the Internet. If I were to do so and by chance find that he was incarcerated in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, I would almost be compelled to visit him and tell him, “you never had a chance”.

But by that time, I probably would simply be telling him a fact that he had known for a very long time.

Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.

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