DEAD BEAT DADS
While on the Juvenile bench, dead beat dads were the bane of my existence. It is a wonder I did not stroke out while dealing with them.
First, let me explain who Dead Beat Dads are. They are the scoundrels who refuse to support the children they sire. They have every excuse under the sun why they cannot contribute even a modest sum to help support their children. They are the bar room cowboys who saunter into their favorite watering hole in their designer jeans, Stetson hats, and five hundred dollar western boots, (though they have never set astride a horse in their lives) to entertain their good-for-nothing friends. They assert without fear “I will never give that bitch a dime of my money no matter what that stupid judge says.” They don’t mention that “that bitch” is doing the best she can to raise the three young’uns HE fathered.
When they do appear in court, they arrive in a more modest attire, but they cannot resist wearing their gold necklaces, expensive watches and having a package of cigarettes in their shirt pockets. I never understood their stupid need to display their jewelry, but they do. I have seen fishermen from Lafitte wearing enough gold around their neck to drown them should they fall over board from their shrimping boats.
When I explored the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes, I found this unhealthy habit cost almost enough to feed their kids. Who knows the costs of booze they consumed to salve their conscience for not feeding their kids?
When dead beat dads appear before the bench, they have every excuse in the world why they cannot afford a paltry sum to help feed and clothe their children. After my first year on the bench. I had heard every excuse the human mind could invent. After that time I began offering the offenders before me this out: “If you can provide me with a valid excuse I have not yet heard as to why you cannot support your children, I will consider it. Otherwise the only valid excuses are if you are dead or so mentally or physically ill you cannot work. But since you have made it to court here today, the first excuse is out.” I never did hear a new valid excuse.
To the utter amazement of the DBDs before me I frequently asked the question, “How many time a day do you eat?” After fumbling for words, the response that usually came from the obese person before me was “I only eat once a day.” My response would be, “Well most of us here in the United States of America, including your children, have gotten into the habit of eating three times a day.”
To my utter amazement, some DBDs would try to explain away their conduct by telling me that they had a new girlfriend to take care of. My retort would be, “You can have all the girlfriends or even boyfriends you want, but you still have an obligation to help support your children–which I intend to enforce.”
Those who thought themselves to be tough when they swaggered around their bar room friends were not as tough as the run-of-the-mill criminal who populated our local jail. I used jail sentences for Contempt of Court sparingly and only for short terms, because our jail was overcrowded with real bad guys, and locking up a DBDs gave him an excuse for not finding a job. But short stays in The Gretna Hilton, as we called our jail. was necessary for some.
I remember one hapless lad who informed me that he had no intention to pay the back child support he owed because he had a new girlfriend who was now with child herself. I found him in Contempt and ordered him to spend ten days at The Gretna Hilton, with the intent to release him in a few days. When Ronnie, my bailiff returned to Court after escorting the young man to jail, he told me that as they entered the jail, a large fellow from one of the top tiers yelled down to the somewhat puny DBD, “You gonna be mine tonight.” Ronnie said the DBD turned white and asked permission to call his girlfriend. That afternoon a very pregnant girlfriend showed up at court with $650 in back child support, asking for the release of her soon-to-be spouse. I told her we appreciated the money, but her beloved would have to spend two more nights in jail just so he could sort out his options.
We collected weekly from DBDs. Early on, when it came time to set an amount and time at which we could expect the money in our court, the DBDs would offer every excuse why the money could not possibly arrive on a day certain. I finally adopted the procedure of simply asking the DBD, “You name the day we can expect your money.” After much hemming and hawing they would finally give me a day.
After a couple years of remonstrating with DBDs I decided to create a magistrate system to deal with these contrary folks. I persuaded the Louisiana Legislature to create the magistrate system for my court. The magistrates would wear black robes and look like judges. They would deal directly with the DBDs and make recommendations to their sitting judge as to the amounts of and times of payments. Of course, the sitting judge routinely accepted the recommendations of the magistrates and signed an order to that effect.
The magistrate system worked well. My first magistrate was Felicia Higgins, better known to all as FiFi. FiFi was the mother of a young child, and a former school teacher turned lawyer. She was married to an attorney. FiFi’s father was a retired Coast Guard Commander who also had a law degree. FiFi had the advantage of attending such fine schools as Sweetbriar while her father was stationed in Washington. Being smart and a military child, attending fine schools and living around the world, FiFi had seen and heard it all. She was stern, but fair with DBDs and suffered not their lame excuses. She was dogged about collecting child support.
We hired Jay, a local attorney as a second magistrate to deal with DBDs. Energetic about his responsibilities almost to a fault, Jay invented creative ways to milk money from the hapless dads appearing before him. Once he reached deep into the legal arsenal of Black’s Law Dictionary and came up with an obscure, and not-necessarily-on point, writ which he employed to have the bailiff to remove the gold chains from a DBD’s neck in order to satisfy delinquent child support. Our Court now had gold chains in our possession. We could not figure out how to convert them to cash to send to the destitute mother, so I had Jay make a deal with the DBD to return his gold in exchange for currency.
When I left the bench, our Court was collecting and disbursing to needy mothers and their offspring in excess of twelve million dollars a year. I guess DBDs still clutter up the dockets of Juvenile Courts all over this affluent country of ours, while I enjoy the company of grandkids here in paradise.