January 16, 2017

The cost of safety: filing for a restraining order in California

Some of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen some bits about this already, but I thought I’d share the unpleasant experience that derailed my last week. You know the horrible neighbor who escalated to making threats? He came back. Yes, that’s AFTER the police told him that we hadn’t done anything wrong and that he needed to stay away from us.

Utterly exasperated by his increasingly aggressive behavior, I called the police again, and on that visit they strongly recommended that I visit the superior court to file for a civil harassment restraining order. They told me that they would again advise him to leave us alone. If we file that order and he harasses us again, he’s subject to arrest.

I tried searching online but the only information that I could find on the process was the Clerk’s office hours, so I packed my bags and headed out, much to Seamus’s concern and dismay. He doesn’t like it when I abandon him immediately after his breakfast, it disrupts our whole routine. I don’t like it either, pup! So here’s how the day went…

Step one:  Get the paperwork

My first visit to the Hall of Justice took an hour and all I was able to do was pick up a quarter-inch thick stack of paperwork. The very bored clerk instructed me to fill out 15 pages, then return at 2 pm to see the judge. Totally inefficient! I could have just downloaded this paperwork online and saved myself a trip! But that would mean someone would have had to organize the documents with instructions, and put in updates for the judge’s court house. Somehow I doubt anyone’s inspired to make life easier that way.

But paging through the documents, I could see there was information that would be easier to provide from the comfort of home, so off I headed to get a few hours of work done and complete the packet.

There was a lot of repetition as I filled out the confidential information with my personal information, and the restrained person’s information that I knew, then transferred much of that to the three documents that would go to the court, one of which would go to the restrained person informing him that he was under a temporary restraining order. They asked for an extraordinary amount of information: his height, weight, hair color, eye color, date of birth, full name, phone number, email address, place of business, hours of work, type of car, license plates. I understand why they want to be as detailed as possible to be sure they’re identifying the right person but who asks their harasser for their birth date? I don’t even give that out to colleagues I like.

They asked about the latest incident, then for the history of the incidents. This is where my experience as a manager, or watching way too many episodes of Bones, NCIS, and courtroom dramas, came into play. As much as I wanted to shred all physical evidence of his attacks on us, feeling like they were a contaminant in our home, I filed them away. The ones that I did discard were documented in emails, so we had dated documentation, as well as physical evidence of his escalations, and I didn’t involve the police until a clear threat was made. That made it easy to carefully, and as dispassionately as possible, describe the incidents for the filing, taking extra pages as allowed, to clearly establish the pattern.

The keys the judge needed to file in our favor was a clear or compelling threat of violence or harm, or a history of harassment, both of which I was able to provide with my records at my fingertips. The threat of harm was also the reason that both the filing and the service of the restraining order by the sheriff were free.

Step two: See the judge

Back I went to court for the 2 pm courtroom hearing. I didn’t know what to expect so I’d come prepared with the filing, my written proof, a battery pack for my phone, and a book. The judge stayed in chambers the entire time, and a lawyer would present each case to her for a decision. It was a relatively efficient way to process the dozen cases presented in the 90 minutes allotted for “ex parte” cases. Mine was dead last so I waited for an hour and 20 minutes before the attorney came to ask some clarification questions.

I had to explain our neighborhood geography and the timing of the threatening note, but otherwise the judge was satisfied to grant a temporary restraining order good until we have a formal hearing at the end of the month. I can’t tell you what a huge sigh of relief that was, at least for a few weeks, to know that we have *some* recourse if he comes to harass us again.

Step three: File the paperwork

With the signed paperwork in hand, I had three more destinations. If only I’d known, I might have worn my running shoes!

  1. Clerk’s office for filing. Quick pause for me to drop off the papers and run out into the cold, pay the meter, and run back in and go back through security for the third time that day. The clerk took 20 minutes to process my paperwork
  2. Then off to the Sheriff’s office for another 40 minutes of paperwork and filing so that they’ll actually serve the orders.
  3. You’d think I’d be done, having hit every floor of the courthouse, but no, I had to then drive to our local PD and give them the paperwork to file as well.

Temporary restraining orders are only effective after the restrained person has been served so you have three choices: pay a process server ($20-100) to serve them, have the sheriff serve them (free if there’s threat of violence), or ask any adult over the age of 18 to serve them. That last was a new one on me – as long as the adult isn’t a named protected person in the paperwork, and are willing to fill out the proof of service form which you also have to schlep to the police department, you can just ask a friend to do it.

Alas, I have no friends in the area that I would be willing to ask to serve in this capacity and I wasn’t about to involve either set of coworkers’ in our home issues, so I had to leave it up to the sheriff.

The frustrating thing about that is that the sheriff’s office prefers to wait 1-2 weeks to even try to serve the papers so the neighbor still doesn’t know he’s subject to a restraining order right now. Thankfully, the police department informed me that should he harass us again, they will serve the papers while they respond to the call. They won’t take the initiative to serve the papers since that’s rightfully the county sheriff’s job, but they have a copy of the paperwork in case they have to respond to a call in the meantime.

Step four: Go home and collapse

The entire ordeal, from the morning visit to the last visit to the police department, involved 75 miles of driving and 7 hours of my day.

The courthouse is only open between Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Between the business hours, and all time required to pass each hurdle, the process of getting even sketchy legal protection is incredible. When I worked the night shift, I would have been hard-pressed to be able to manage this. I was able to take the time to deal with it but I paid a huge physical toll the following several days, in exhaustion and pain, which I’m still reeling from. Hiring a lawyer to deal with all of this was an option, according to the paperwork, that just emphasizes how money buys you privilege.

Step five: Go to the actual hearing (pending)

This happens in three weeks.

This is where the judge decides whether to keep the restraining order and for how long it stands. I don’t know how this part will go, I’m unhappy at the prospect that he’s going to show up to the hearing and I’ll have to deal with him there. The filing states he’s not allowed to communicate to me there, and I’m not precisely afraid of him but I’m highly concerned because we’re fully cognizant that he is not operating within the bounds of civility and has been happy to defy authority to continue to harass us. He may  escalate as a result of the hearing or after the hearing. Fat lot of comfort it’ll be that he can be arrested if he manages to hurt one of us or damage our property.

It makes me wonder how people who are subjected to less clear-cut harassment manage to get any protection. And so far, our harasser has not been the brightest bulb in the lot. Most harassers are smarter than to be writing up their intentions and literally handing them to their targets, and most are smarter than to admit to the police that they ARE doing the harassment they’re accused of. He actually tried to justify it!

It seemed more prudent to wait until this was all over, or at least the hearing is, before posting about it but I really could use all the good positive thoughts because the fact that this isn’t going to be over for a long time keeps repeating in my head.

The judge could rule to discontinue the restraining order, and he would feel emboldened to escalate further. The judge could rule to keep it in place, and he could choose to violate it. Whatever happens, the headache continues.

We’re thinking about security systems but this mess honestly made me go look at homes online again and debate whether it’s worth spending the kind of money we’d have to spend to put miles between us and this guy.

The fact that nothing guarantees our next neighbors won’t be just as bad is holding me back, along with the horror of a new mortgage, but it’s coming down to a matter of safety.

Update to add step six: realize that a restraining order isn’t protection 

Four days after he was told to leave us alone and that a restraining order was forthcoming, he left another threatening note hinting that the officers have to go on vacation “anytime now.” He’s so fixated on his revenge and bullying – as if we live in Mayberry and we only have one sheriff and deputy, and boy howdy when they go on vacation the rest of us citizens should quake in our boots because he’s coming after us! There ARE other police officers.

He’s been served with the order as a result of that note. The next time he approaches us, or attempts to contact us, he’ll be arrested.

Nevertheless, I don’t take any confidence from that because a) I doubt he’s going to be prosecuted unless he does something egregious that we can prove was him. We’re working on that, but b) he’s clearly flung all common sense to the winds and I’m not about to become a statistic.

It utterly upends our saving and retirement planning but our family’s safety is most important so we’re moving up our timeline on moving. If it were for any other reason, we’d tough it out, but it’s now about the safety of our family. How many times have you heard people say, “I knew he was mad but I didn’t think he’d go that far”?

Folks, I believe he would go every bit as far as you can imagine if he can find a way. He’s got all hours of the day free to plot, and he’s obviously using them to do so, so we’re marshaling our resources and making plans.

I hate this utter derailment of our financial plans.

My next few months: security and finding a home we can afford.

Naturally, it’s taking a very long time for my latest severe fibro flare to calm down, it’s being fed by several forms of stress. I haven’t taken time off since 2014 and I’ve had to take several days off just to recover. Seamus senses my feelings but thinks that all I need is a 100 lb dog on my lap. Thanks, dog.

:: Have you ever used a home surveillance system with cameras and recorded footage?  Something like Ring? Recommendations are welcome.  Positive wishes for both a good result at the hearing and our decamping safely are also greatly appreciated.

October 30, 2015

Tell me your daydreams: 2015 edition

2000: I was a kid making minimum wage.
I had a high school diploma.
I dreamed about buying a house for my parents, and a house for myself. I dreamed about a career, and happiness, and dogs, and success.

2005: I was a 20-something making an entry-level salary.
I had a college degree and a toehold into my industry.
I dreamed about buying a house for my parents, and a house for myself. I dreamed about being able to afford insurance for Mom, and paying for my Masters / PhD in cash. I dreamed about the day I’d pay off the last of the debt.
Confession: There was some grumbling that my parents should have been more strict and some regretting of my life choices. “Do what you love,” they said. “You should pursue a degree in something you enjoy,” they said. Sure I was glad they weren’t the typical, high-pressure “You’re nothing if you’re not a doctor” immigrant parents but couldn’t they just once have said, “you can do what you love but what you love may not love you back”? I would have taken the hint!

I guess not. We didn’t talk about love.

So instead, after obtaining my hard won degree, I was toiling away, making not-engineering money. (Engineering runs in the family but the bug skipped me.)

2010: I was a 20-something making more than $50K/year.
I had a college degree and enough years of experience in my career field to make it to management. I had been audited by the IRS twice because apparently it’s weird for someone in their 20s to claim both their parents and a sibling as dependents. But it’s all legit. They didn’t hassle me after I submitted all the proper documentation.
I dreamed about buying a house for my parents, and a house for myself. I dreamed about being able to afford full health insurance for Mom, and being able to afford any comfort she could ever want.

2015: I’m in my 30s making more than $50K/year.
I have a degree, years of experience, and the respect of the right people so that for the first time, I made a career transition to a job created for me based on my strengths and potential to grow. Combining incomes with PiC gave our net worths a huge boost, and for once, I could comfortably pay for my own existence as well as my family’s. Comfortably is not the same as easily. Every penny has to be accounted for at the end of the year and I’d like to see 10% more going into savings. It won’t happen while more than $10K/year goes home, though. We’ve had reality-bending and I can’t shake the feeling that my happiness is built on the shambles of my old life.

I’m dreaming about an even more independent career, making real money. I’m dreaming about how to grow our first million, and how that becomes the next few millions. I’m dreaming about how those millions will lay the foundation of a Foundation, to help those in need. I know money isn’t always the answer but sometimes it is. I’m dreaming about how to ease Dad’s later years, but I don’t know how to do that without being dragged down the Brother’s Keeper Lane. Taking care of family is just not the same. Not now that we have a small child. I’m dreaming of building a school that functions how schools should: providing education, safety, and opportunity. A school that pushes every student to excel, not just the chosen few, not just the favored. A monument to education that embraces change and experimentation and doesn’t bow to the almighty standardized testing. I’m dreaming of helping kids stuck in the foster system, that broken system, a system that forces kids to scramble to survive and makes an enemy of those who should be there to help.  We live in a culture that will idolize a guy who can hit a ball but social workers who actually help kids are overworked, underpaid, and afforded no respect. Everywhere around me, I see broken systems and something has to change.

::Have your goals and dreams evolved very much over the past several years? What do you want to see change? What do you want to change yourself?

 

January 28, 2013

Irony, in follow-up and business breakdowns

I almost have to laugh.

Immediately after my health and fitness update, feeling like stopping all my pain meds including the anti-depressant intended to reduce and manage the pain was actually working out pretty well, everything hit the skids.

Two days of flu symptoms: fatigue, sore throat, cough and dizzy head, enough so that I, le Workaholique, called off work early both days, followed up by the most incredible fibro flare I’ve had in months.  Tiny trains of pain running over my limbs, taking one out at a time so that by 10 am I was a sniveling wreck. And lest wandering right off the balcony was on my mind, the better to end my misery, my brain would quite literally tighten up and spin every time I stood for more than 90 seconds. Timed.

The most I could handle was a few episodes of West Wing, bless PiC for figuring out that’s what I’d want because heaven knows I was barely forming real words, and then trying to sleep it off.

I’d like to redeem a coupon for one lost Saturday, please. 

Sunday was blessedly slightly better, standing upright was not proscribed so the massage previously scheduled for noon stayed on. This is the first time I’ve had one so close to a flare and it was a bit worrisome how it’d work out.

As usual, she hurt me. But it was for a good cause. My usual mental litany of “what the crap is going on with my muscles?” and “how do you get knots like that?” lasted for about half the massage, and half was just good and relaxing. Which meant I had time to start thinking about things like money.

I pay an astronomical $95/hour. I buy gift certificates at 10% off, but tip well so it may as well be $105. The base cost of the service is reimbursable from our FSA because this is for a documented health condition, so the money is pre-tax after reimbursement. Oh, how I love FSA!  (And how I hate that it’s been capped.)

I was paying half that for a lot of places in the area but none of them were any good, I always came out of the appointments feeling vaguely dissatisfied and rumpled. Here, I have the services of one amazing masseuse who tailors every single treatment to my needs, pays attention to what I say, asks how the pressure is every single time, and exerts an amazing amount of pressure. She’s working hard for her money! And, I think I mentioned the luxury of the spa itself before. It’s non-essential, obviously, but the lotion, hot towels, lounge with snacks, water and tea, and a shower with fresh towels are all perfectly lovely. And cost money. As does the hire of the person to attend to the laundry, cleaning the shower after each person and stocking the snacks in the lounge. After a good maundering think, I supposed that it’s quite possible the masseuses are really taking home about $40-60/hour at most, because the business has more overhead than a more spartan establishment and has to make a profit as well.

The things that make me feel better, honestly.

As upset as I was on Saturday, the breaking of the good streak, the feeling that no good streak will ever last, the fear that I’ll have to keep living in fear or worry no matter how hard I work at eating healthy and keeping fit … I do really have to be grateful that I’ve only been feeling ill and in pain on and off for about four days so far this stretch and the fibro part relented after a couple days. It really could easily have gone for ten times that long. Knock wood that it doesn’t but I will be grateful for every improvement, no matter how temporary. Not cheerful, but grateful.

September 26, 2012

Words that strike fear into a dog-mom’s heart

“If money is no object…”

It’s actually not the money part that terrifies me. Rather, when you hear that, you know that what comes next is going to be a serious treatment or procedure that is going to cause your baby additional pain and no little anxiety and fear.

Doggle had a mini-vacation with friends he absolutely adores and they utterly adore him, therefore spoil the stuffing out of him. And we appreciate that to no end.

Unfortunately, he came home with a hurt back, a reprisal of last year’s limping pain, only worse because this time he’s actually vocalizing pain when he sits down too hard, he’s hunched up most of the time and can’t really bear weight on his rear legs.  This from the stoic dog that doesn’t emit a peep when he runs into things, gets stepped on, has had children swinging on him, accidentally smacked his head into cabinets, whacks his head on the kitchen table with a THUD every other day.  He’s in real pain.  Seeing him shuffle or scuttle, afraid to walk normally, slipping and falling when he least expects it, hearing him trip and fall when he turns too hard is just killing me.

We took him to the vet for an exam.  The results were alarming. He had a physical and the interpretation of the x-rays from last year was much more strongly worded.  As usual, Doggle didn’t react to the physical exam, but the vet felt the physical confirmed what he felt he saw in the x-rays: a serious disc/vertebral issue.  This was definitely not what we were told last year and put this way, I would have proceeded to the suggested more aggressive follow-up route last year, the one the other vet said wouldn’t be necessary if he responded to pain meds, because “a serious back problem” says he is a high risk for recurrence, instead of just a one-time oddity that is life as usual with a relatively senior dog.

While we opted to take a more conservative approach last year and that resolved well enough, the last thing I wanted was for this to recur, and to run the risk of causing serious neurological or neuropathic problems!

I didn’t bring home this dog to start losing him less than two years later!

This is my puppy. He’s my heart now. I can’t bear the thought of … well.

So we’re drugging him for two weeks to alleviate the pain and discomfort. He’s loving that. (No, he’s not. He’s already accidentally chomped my finger while trying to spit them out while I tried to shove the pills back in his maw. We were a bit of a mess.  Normally I’m great at pilling him so that he doesn’t taste the nasty ones but I let myself get all distracted and wrung out over the what-ifs & screwed it up spectacularly.  So I have a sore ring finger/nail to show for it.)

Meanwhile, I’m asking for a second opinion, and another recommendation for a good place to go in case this is the right thing to do. And checking the treat stash to see which other ones I can feed him while he dissociates his favorite ones with disgusting meds. We (I) may need to mix up some special Mom’s baby food and rice dinners for a few days too while he gets used to being on medication. He’s having enough trouble standing physically speaking, I don’t know if he’s going to be able to mentally muster the motivation to eat.

I really really don’t want him to hurt anymore, I really don’t want this to happen again and I hate that it did this time. This is breaking my heart.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the end, the money part scares me a bit too. I live in the Bay Area now and not only do I not have any kind of friend, professional or any other kind of animal health care discount that might have slightly defrayed costs in the slightest, pricing is between 25-50% higher than it is down south.  – heart attack –

An office visit alone goes from $30 to $50.  I go into the vet office and come out $160 poorer, 90 minutes later.  Going to a specialist?  I’m not joking when I anticipate the office visit alone starting at $100 and treatments starting in the thousands.

Back in my youth, teens and early twenties, I could only afford as much vet care as we needed for my dog pack by working really hard and being creative. (Not that I didn’t just repurpose my own pain meds for Doggle today. This is totally legitimate. He was getting prescribed the same meds I can no longer use and they are exactly the same thing.)

But now, if we’re going the specialist route, we’re paying for it straight up, and this will sting.  *deep breath*  Wish us luck?

**  11:30 pm: That was fast. The second opinion consultation has already come back. Get us to a specialist now before the damage is irretrievable. Ok.

October 19, 2009

Opting out, and why

As the weeks go by, engagements are piling up right and left, and my travel obligations are too.  New York, Hawaii, New York for a wedding (?), Greece for another (?), and now a fishing trip?

I had to say no.  Though, it was my own darned idea!  I haven’t gone fishing, properly fishing, since I was eight. And I hadn’t seen these friends in 3 years, they wanted to go fishing, perfect, no?  But I didn’t realize that even though the timing was right, a 24-hour fishing trip in Ensenada, the money was not. It was estimated to run right around $75 or more, and this after I’d already committed to a thing on the East Coast in two weeks, and Hawaii two weeks after that.  The travel fund is already gasping, I don’t have the extra $75.

And if I did, honestly, I’d rather it went to Rina’s best friend who just lost her husband.  The donation I could send seems too paltry.  So even though it was my big mouth that started the ball rolling on planning a fishing trip, you’ve got to pick and choose sometimes, and this is one of those times. And every other invitation that involves more than $10 a pop will likely be one of those times, too.

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