Here’s the first chapter from my – yes it’s coming – book, My Journey Through Other Peoples Lives.
1. Mail Order
The place to start is with the case that made me think – seriously – about walking away. Not just from family law but from the law. Pack it up, toss the casebooks and procedure manuals, and do something – anything – else.
This is where every lawyer reading that paragraph says ‘yup, been there’ while everyone else wonders when attorneys acquired feelings.
Here’s how it went.
Budd was quite simply a good old boy in al the senses of the term. A bear of a guy, the kind you’d have a few Buds with on a rainy Saturday afternoon to comfortably watch any sporting event from baseball to the Olympics to NASCAR, have a solid time, realize when you get home that the two of you may have spoken a combined dozen words all day.
A nice guy. Unfortunately, the exact kind of nice guy Leo Durocher was referencing when he said, “Nice guys finish last.”
You would probably not be surprised to learn that Budd was a lonely guy. Hard working, solid guy who desperately wanted female company of a permanent nature, with attendant family.
He married a Japanese mail-order bride. Early on, apparently – it’s a little hard to reconstruct now – they got along fine. Budd was … happy. More so after they had two children.
Remember Ferris Bueller? There’s a line late in the movie where Ferris looks into the camera and says this about his best friend, Cameron, “He’s gonna marry the first girl he lays, and she’s gonna treat him like shit, because she will have given him what he has built up in his mind as the end-all, be-all of human existence. She won’t respect him, ’cause you can’t respect somebody who kisses your ass. It just doesn’t work.”
Budd was that guy. His wife didn’t so much walk all over him as stomp on him. Hard.
He went along with it. All of it. Cooking, cleaning, paying every bill, doting, doing everything for the kid while Ishii watched soaps and hung out.
So, when Ishii started locking her and the kids in a room when he was home, Budd took it in stride, adapted, and began to deliver meals to the door. Later, he’d go back and collect the dirty dishes, wash them, start all over again.
Budd communicated with Ishii via notes he’d leave in the food trays.
I’m sure it bothered Budd, but he was never going to complain to anyone about the situation, as a matter of fact, I think he was constitutionally unable to complain about anything.
There’s no telling, then, how long this would have gone on, but it did stop – Ishii upped the ante one day.
Budd left a meal and a rather bland note for her one morning and headed for work. Ishii took the note and added a death threat from Budd to her on the bottom of the page, what we had was:
Hey, hope you guys like the French toast, headed out to work, thinking about spaghetti for dinner. Have a good day. B.
FYI, I am going to kill you as soon as I can.
Ishii called the police, handed the note over, pressed charges while pointing to the fact that she locked herself and the kids in a room whenever her husband was around. We assume she left out all the stuff about his catering meals, though the first part of the note – the part in his handwriting – pretty much gave that away.
Budd was arrested, charged with threatening, child protective services were notified, they immediately launched an investigation.
It was somewhere around here that I became involved, representing Budd as the child protection investigation got underway.
The criminal matter was dropped. The police said they thought Ishii was lying, had forged the note, the prosecutor agreed, the charges were dropped. This, though, did not stop the child protection investigation from continuing.
Budd popped home just long enough for Ishii to claim domestic violence. Another criminal investigation was launched.
With the previous arrest, despite being dismissed, on top of the pending domestic abuse allegation, the court considering the child protection case couldn’t afford to be anything but cautious. The judge ordered that Budd could only have supervised visits with his children for the time being.
The plan was that when the domestic abuse investigation was completed and no charges were levied, Budd would upgrade to unsupervised visits. Which was all that Budd wanted. In life.
The domestic abuse case was dropped.
Ishii refused to comply with the court order, refused to let Budd visit with his children.
We filed a contempt motion in court for Ishii’s failure to comply with the judge’s order. We went to court, Budd and I sat together and watched Ishii’s lawyer fire her:
“You lied,” the lawyer said, “I’m gone, I’m withdrawing. Now.” Mic drop and out of there.
Without a lawyer, Ishii asked for a continuance. To hire a new lawyer with Budd’s dwindling supply of money and regroup.
The judge really had no choice but to grant it, ruling while she didn’t have a lawyer was only going to come back on everyone at a later date.
So, no decision, Ishii has her continuance and goes home with the kids, Budd’s stuck in law purgatory.
A few days later, Budd drives by the house, probably in the hope of glimpsing the kids for a few minutes. First thing he notices is that the outside water is on and his lawn is a small but growing lake.
He pops out of the car to turn the water off, looks in a window, the house was completely, totally empty.
Ishii took off with the kids and every one of the marital possessions doing to Budd what the Baltimore Colts did to Baltimore when they slunk out of town in the dead of night for Indianapolis.
There were two mysteries: no one saw a moving van, so how’d she get everything out; where did she and the kids go?
The later took a bit of research, before we confirmed that Ishii had fled to Japan. A little more digging and we found out that, unbeknownst to Budd, somewhere along the line she got the kids Japanese passports.
Once we figured that out we discovered, after Budd looked at his credit card and bank statements, that Ishii had quite simply shipped all their stuff to Japan piece by piece. Like the guy in MASH who mailed a jeep home to Idaho.
Let me take the suspense out of the rest of this story – we couldn’t touch them in Japan. Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention and does not honor or enforce court orders from the United States.
We got the U.S. State Department involved, through their Japanese Embassy they found Ishii and the kids at her mother’s house. The kids were fine.
That was that, it was all the help they could offer. Someone from the Embassy could look in on the kids, they were, after all, at least for the time being, still American citizens. But, that was and is the extent of it.
Along with this – if Budd flew to Japan to see the kids and Ishii objected and called the police … well, he’d be in a really bad spot.
At this point you may be wondering why this case? Why is this the one that hit me so hard? After all, there are worse sets of facts in some of the other stories in this book.
Because this: talking with Budd while trying to see if there was a Hail Mary we could toss, here or in Japan before we accepted fate, Budd told me that after Ishii started to lock him out of rooms, he pulled his sponsorship of her visa. Which then expired.
Ishii could have been deported if she did not voluntarily leave the U.S. She’d have to leave the kids, U.S. citizens that they were, in joint custody of mom and dad.
There is, however, an exception – for women who claim abuse. They are automatically stayed from any State Department action (or most certainly were in 2008, when this all happened).
Her allegations started the stay. Budd was removed, however temporarily, as a parent with full custody rights. With no contact with them, he was out in right field while Ishii went about arranging Japanese passports.
Ishii had a male friend in Maryland. Phone bills showed they talked and texted a lot. We discovered he was an immigration lawyer.
Suddenly, nothing the Ishii said or did, looked like it was serendipitous for her, it looked completely, utterly, perfectly planned.
She wanted to ditch Budd, take the kids and whatever assets she could grab, and move back to her real home.
As it began to sink in I felt like the detective at the end of Wild Things, standing in the parking lot as the brother of the woman she assumes is dead explains, “Old lady had her tested once. They said her I.Q. was way up there… around two hundred or some such . . .She could do just about anything she put her mind to.”
Ishii was so far ahead of us she was playing a different game.
Every step of the way, right down to getting the continuance and the time she needed to wrap it all up without interference.
She left the water on at the house just to let Budd know she was gone and he had lost.
We did everything we could do under the laws of North Carolina to do the right thing, get Budd time with his kids, work things out.
Obviously, those were never Ishii’s goals. Ishii was thinking long term. Ishii knew what she wanted and played to win.
From an emotional standpoint, we felt powerless and used, with me wondering for months if there was anything else I could have done, anything I missed.
Bill Murray’s attorney character figured it out in Wild Things, why didn’t I?