The PFH process in the Maine judicial system can be a joke
One day I had an old friend of 37 years. The next day I didn't....though it was much worse than losing a friend.
It was June 2009. Steve and I had met at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It wasn't unusual for us to meet, though we always kept it under the radar per Steve's request. I'd brought a couple of Diet Cokes; we sat at a picnic table looking at the sea on a gorgeous summer day.
Getting down to business, he told me that his wife Liz was "obsessed" with me, and that that could be personally dangerous for me. At first I wasn't concerned...I admit that at that that time I felt I had no reason to be fearful. After all, I was involved with someone else, who would become my husband. And Steve and I had parted ways a long time prior, both amicably and mutually.
He then told me what was, at the time, a bizarre story----that on at least one occasion when their doorbell had rung, Liz had screamed "It's Marjorie!". I had never in my life been to their house, near their house, nor even seen a photo of their house. Steve agreed, but stated that his wife was so obsessed with me that she was seeing me everywhere.
We got past that conversation, and Steve reminisced about how he had learned to swim at Fort Williams Park. It was a lovely day and we lingered as long as we could. He hugged me and kissed me (platonically) as we parted, even opening my car door for me.
A few days later he phoned me to continue our conversation. All these years later, I still have that cheap old cel phone that shows the date of his call---please note he called ME, not vice-versa. I recall that I was in the car-park of the Hannaford supermarket at Mill Creek.
Our discussion centered around the impending foreclosure on his marital home, and what I might do to prevent that. They'd received their Notice of Foreclosure on September 16, 2008, so time was really running out. We had already discussed that I was willing to buy the mortgage from Bank of America; and at that time I had already contacted Bank of America's attorneys in order to stop the foreclosure process. Bank of America indicated that they would likely do so for a small earnest-money deposit by me, if I did so quickly.
Thus the discussion between Steve and me that day was what legal form of ownership I would take, and what his legal rights would be. I do not think that before that discussion Steve fully understood that if I bought bank of America's mortgage, I would be stepping into B of A's shoes. What I proposed to Steve was: (and these emails were later entered as exhibits in the court proceeding, so I can certainly prove the conversation took place in the manner I am describing it):
1. I would allow him and his family to continue to live in the home, WITH NO PAYMENTS WHATSOEVER TO ME, for 2 years or until after his son was not longer a student in the Gorham schools, whichever came last, and;
2. That I would work with him after the two-year period on a payment plan that made sense for him and allowed them to stay in the home.
Steve told me that he'd have to try to sell this plan to Liz. He told me in no uncertain terms that he felt she would not go along with it, in spite of its generous terms (rent-free for TWO years????? And then a mortgage work-out instead of foreclosure? And he didn't think she'd go along with it? Good grief, what did she THINK she was entitled to)? He stated, "I can hear her now----she'll say she'd rather live in a tent than have you as landlord".
We went on to discuss unrelated things about a mutual friend, Matt Gilligan, and as we ended the phone call it was on a light note: Steve said, "I don't know whether I ought to get Liz drunk first to break this to her, or tell her about it and then get her drunk" We both laughed, and I definitely presumed his statement was a joke.
We agreed we'd be meeting again on Tuesday (the phone call was on a Friday) and I went into Hannaford to do my grocery shopping, with the McCuskers' problems already out of my head.
You cannot imagine my shock when two days later the police arrived at my door, serving Complaints for Protection from harassment----one from the woman I'd been told two days earlier by her husband was "f---ing crazy" and "obsessed with [me]". So I wasn't overly concerned, as I could see that the allegations she made in her Complaint were patently untrue.
But I nearly fell over when I saw that there was a second complaint.....from Steve.
In Maine, a Complaint for Protection from Harassment must contain 3 separate incidences of harassment. How is it even possible that a man who had initiated a meeting with me 3 days before; who had hugged/kissed me after that meeting; and who had phoned me fewer than 48 hours prior asking for financial help to the tune of 6 figures, suddenly felt I was "harassing" him?
Once I stopped hyperventilating, I called my attorney. He immediately pointed out that I had recently begun attempting to collect from Steve on his Promissory Note to me----a few years earlier I had loaned him a significant amount of money. My attorney's take on the matter was that between collecting on the Note and Liz McCusker's wish to get me out of their lives by any means possible, nothing would work more quickly than a Protection from Harassment order. I would be immediately barred from attempting to collect the debt, and of course Bank of America would not want to deal with me on the mortgage.
It's also interesting that the Complaint that was allegedly from Steve was entirely in Liz's handwriting.
Steve's subsequent behavior proved my attorney correct. His story to my attorney changed with every email.
This was basically the equivalent of Steve's shooting himself in the foot---they would be in their own home today if they had not instituted that stupid, stupid action. Cutting off communication with a lender is NEVER wise-----especially one who has already agreed to offer you generous terms. But at that time I didn't really understand the strange, strange dynamic in the McCuskers' marriage. Not sure I do now for that matter. But what seems apparent is that Liz comes up with some really cockamamie ideas about things, and kind of beats Steve over the head with them until he gives in just to get some peace [he's actually stated this to me].
Harassment is a serious charge. Steve knew the charge was untrue (he recently stated to me that he felt so guilty over his 11-year affair [with another woman, NOT with me] that he felt at the time that he had to go along with whatever Liz wanted....he actually used the word "kowtow" to describe his feelings at the time). But to my mind it's a very weak man----and doesn't say much for the marriage----- whose need to keep his wife happy extends to lying and attempting the ruin of the reputation of an old friend.
Steve's harassment charge changed a lot of things in a big hurry. It is my opinion that he didn't think it through very well. I went to the Clerk of Court and asked for a continuance so that I could take my family to France (where I am a citizen)----I was terrified of Liz. Steve objected but the Judge who happened to be standing there found Steve's rationale inadequate and immediately granted my Continuance. I hustled my family out of the U.S. in less than 24 hours----Liz was so crazy in her accusations that I remember actually being at the airport and nervously looking around----I felt it was entirely possible (and later proven) that she was stalking me.
So the court hearing finally came around, and of course we drew Judge Moskowitz. For those of you reading this blog who are not in Maine, this is one of the major points of this web site-----that access to the judiciary in Maine is a joke. Judge Moskowitz is not known for his great intellect. He was a prosecutor in York County, and some wags around the courthouse have a running joke about whom he had to sleep with to get the judgeship-----though they use a different phrase than "sleep with". He in fact made national headlines about a year ago for instructing the press that they could not report on what was going on in his courtroom, which of course is a constitutional violation on a couple of levels. Needless to say, both the print and television reporters present defied him (since apparently they'd actually read the Bill of Rights more recently than Judge Moskowitz had) and he was made a laughing-stock.
Liz McCusker, during the hearing, went on and on to Moskowitz. She even made crazy accusations that I was constantly driving by her house in a "grey mini-van"---this in spite of the fact that in her written complaint she had said I drive a blue Saab, which for that matter is also untrue. That accusation at least is always the cause of great merriment among my Roger Bill friends, who well know that German cars are my passion and I literally have not actually been in an American car in decades.
I attempted to get into the record that Liz is mentally ill, but she objected and Judge Moskowitz allowed it. In subsequent lawsuits against her, such as the defamation case, she has used her illness as an excuse for her behavior. So I wanted to ask, "which is it Liz?"
But I didn't get the chance. Moskowitz listened to Liz (who could not control herself and went on for over 14 minutes) and then listened to Steve....who looked at the floor, and spoke to said floor for a grand total of 27 seconds.....I guess he wasn't too passionate about the whole accusation. Then Moskowitz turned to me and said, "You have three minutes".
I said, "Your Honour, please, I have to respond to two separate accusations, and have prepared statements to do so. Three minutes isn't adequate; nor is it as long as you gave the Petitioners".
Moskowitz looked at me and said, "Now you have two minutes".
Access to the judiciary. Two minutes?????
It is also important to understand that Judge Moskowitz did not have a court reporter in the courtroom that day. I spent over 25 years representing abused children (which I did for free) and so have a lot of courtroom experience. It never dawned on me that a hearing wouldn't be recorded, because in 25 years I'd never had that experience.
So when I wished to file an appeal, I found that Moskowitz had not required a record of the hearing. What one does in that situation is ask the judge to write his recollection. It took Moskowitz approximately 6 months to complete that task; yet when he did so he stated that he recalled the whole thing perfectly. By the time he wrote his "recollection" he had heard well over 100 PFH complaints---and had of course granted a full 100% of them. But he claimed to the Law Court that he somehow "remembered" this one precisely. Oh really?
Thus we come around once more to the nexus of this web site. Steve and Liz got their protection orders---as did I against Liz, which she seems to have conveniently forgotten in the ensuing years (There is more on this the Appendix containing her depositions----not yet available on line). LIZ MCCUSKER WAS FOUND TO HAVE STALKED ME. 54 people in the courtroom similarly were granted their petitions that day. What is the likelihood that 100% of the people that day had the legal right to be granted those orders? What is the likelihood that Judge Moskowitz was actually listening to evidence and making considered judgments, versus just rubber-stamping every petition that crossed his bench?
For the record, Moskowitz did ask Steve if he would back up Liz's claims of harassment and stalking. While Steve (by his own admission) has done quite a bit of prevaricating over the years; under oath, before Moskowitz, he refused to back up his wife's claims about me.