I gathered up the boys at 8:30 and got them loaded in the van. We had a meeting at 9:30 with Benjamin and I didn't want to be late for it. The traffic was heavy going into San Antonio but we got to the court house in plenty of time. In fact we got there before Benjamin. We only had to wait for about ten minutes before he showed up. He wanted to discuss the various filings that he had prepared to present to the court so we headed for the snack bar to have a place to sit down. This immediately met with the approval of the boys. Although they had eaten less that two hours before you would have sworn that they hadn't eaten in a week.
Benjamin found a couple of tables where he could use one to spread out his papers while I took the boys through the serving line to get them a snack. The workers were just bringing out a pan of fresh cinnamon rolls as we started through the line. These had that gooey white icing dripping off the tops of the rolls. The boys each had to have one. I agreed if they promised to try not to get any of the frosting on their clothes. They all had one plus a pint of milk. I was tempted to get one they looked so good but settled for a cup of coffee. I also got a cup for Benjamin.
The boys sat at one table eating their rolls while Benjamin and I sat at another one next to them. He went over the various papers and did his best to explain to me exactly what each one was for. He might as well have been trying to explain nuclear physics to me for all that I understood. What I did understand was that he had prepared a petition to the court for me to adopt all five of the boys. That was all I was concerned about.
"Is there anything that we have forgotten?" I asked. "I have this terrible feeling that we have not done everything to assure that everything goes right."
"Look Crane, I have been at this a long time and I have an exceptional staff to look after the details that you are afraid we overlooked. I can assure you that from the standpoint of having all of our ducks in a row they are standing in rigid military formation.
"What I am about to ask you may sound a little strange but I want you to put a dollar bill in this envelope."
"All I have is a five. Will that do?" I asked.
"Yes, that will do fine," he said as he placed the bill in the envelope which I saw was labeled 'Retainer'.
"What is that for?" I asked.
"Just a little insurance," he said. "You have just retained a civil attorney in case it becomes necessary. There will be a colleague of mine who practices civil law who will be sitting in the gallery."
"Why do I need a civil attorney?" I asked. "I'm not suing anyone that I know of."
"Let's just say that my contacts suggest that there may be need for someone to advise you about civil matters," he replied.
I just looked at him with a bewildered expression on my face. "Okay, I trust that you know what you are doing."
As it was approaching ten o'clock, I started to get the boys' faces cleaned of all traces of their encounters with the gooey cinnamon rolls so that they would be presentable to the court. Thankfully they had heeded my admonition not to get any frosting on their clothes.
The bailiff outside Judge Riley's courtroom told us to go on in that we were first on her docket. We took our seats at the table dragging chairs up so that all seven of us could sit at it. Darcie came in right after we were seated. The boys ran to her and gave her a group hug. They hadn't seen her in a couple of weeks. She gave each one of the boys a hug and a smile before she came over to Benjamin and me. She shook our hands and chatted for a few minutes before Gary Everett entered the courtroom and sat down at the other table without even acknowledging either Benjamin or me.
It wasn't long before the court was called to order as Judge Riley entered the room. The bailiff read the particulars of the preceding for the record before the Judge spoke.
"Miss Levin, Mr. Everett if is good to see you again," she said before turning to our table. "Mr. Cross it is a pleasure to see you also. How is that talented wife of yours? I saw some of her paintings displayed at a private showing a couple of weeks ago. I wish that I could afford to buy one of them but a judge's salary doesn't permit that," The last was said with a twinkle in her eyes.
"Thank you Your Honor, I will tell Linda that you remembered her and appreciate her work," Benjamin said.
"Good! Let's get to this matter before us. I assume that you have prepared the adoption petitions for the boys, Mr. Cross," the judge stated more than asked.
"Yes ma'am, I have all five of them here. They are the standard petitions with added addenda containing the financial statement of Mr. Johnson and his business. There are also a number of letters of reference from several well known members of the community. Statements from the boys' school, their doctor and Joel's psychiatrist have been provided," Benjamin concluded.
"Miss Levin, what is the position of CPS in relation to these petitions for adoption?"
"Your Honor, as their case worker I have no problem with or opposition to the petitions. That is not the position of Mr. Everett, however. I will let him speak to his opposition," Darcie replied.
Judge Riley looked sternly at Gary Everett as he stood up to speak. "I hope that you are not going off on one of your religious tirades again, Mr. Everett. If you are you might as well sit down right now and not waste the court's time. I have had it up to here," she indicated with her hand raised over her head, "with using religion to bolster untenable positions. If you have some legal reason why these petitions should not be granted I will listen to your arguments. Otherwise sit down and save your breath."
Gary stood there staring at the judge. His mouth was trying to form words but nothing came out. After a moment or two he sat down knowing that she had shot down his arguments before he could make them.
"Very well," Judge Riley started. "I need to speak with the children individually. Ms. Ramirez, it is good to see you again also. Would you be so kind as to help me with the boys while I talk to them?"
"Yes ma'am" I heard Hildy reply. I had not noticed when she had entered the courtroom but was glad that she was here.
Hildy rounded up the boys and led them into the judge's chambers followed closely by the judge and her court reporter.
The courtroom was quiet for a while after the judge left. Benjamin looked briefly at his pager and then excused himself to make a phone call. I looked around the gallery to see who was present. There was one well dressed gentleman sitting a couple of rows back behind us who I suspected was the civil attorney I supposedly retained earlier. To my surprise Joyce Gehrig and another rather rotund man were sitting directly behind Gary Everett and whispering to him. Darcie was not participating in the conversation.
"Darcie, how long do you think the judge is going to take talking to the boys?" I asked.
She got up from her table and came over to ours before she answered. "That's not easy to answer. I have seen her take as little as ten minutes or as long as half an hour. I don't know whether she is talking to each one individually or all at once. I would guess it will be at least half an hour."
"Oh, I hope it doesn't take too long. By the way what do you think about Eric working on that project in Dallas?"
"He knew that he would probably have to travel when he took the job. I think I will enjoy watching JR once in a while. He is such a great kid. Of course I'm prejudiced," she said laughing.
"No you are right. The boys really like having him to play with after school every day. I hope that works out for you as well when you look after him. I never asked Eric, but I just assumed that you would be staying at his house the days he was out of town."
"I think that makes the most sense rather than having to get JR up an hour or so earlier just to get him to school," she said. "I'm not an early bird myself and having to drive him all the way from my house to his school even if it is only one day a week is not something I would look forward to doing."
Benjamin came back shortly and stopped to talk to the man I presumed to be the civil attorney before he joined Darcie and me at our table. We chatted a while before I started getting worried. It had been almost an hour since the judge took the boys to talk with them. My mind conceived of all sorts of horrible things that were happening or about to happen. Darcie and Benjamin tried to allay my fears but to no avail.
Fifteen minutes and several fingernails later Hildy and the boys came back into the courtroom. I almost collapsed from the relief that I felt. I had time to give the boys a group hug before the court was called to order and the judge took her place at the bench.
"Mr. Johnson," Judge Riley began "those are five of the most delightful young men I have met in a long time. They seemed to have grown and matured so much since the last time they were here three months ago."
"Thank you Your Honor," I replied. "They are the light of my life."
"I'm going to ask Ms. Ramirez to take the boys to the snack bar while we discuss the petitions before the court. I'm quite sure that the boys will not mind that," the judge laughed.
"Can I have another cinny roll?" TJ asked as they left the courtroom.
I just shook my head in disbelief as the five bottomless pits hurried toward the snack bar.
"Now then, let's see if we can get this matter settled quickly. Mr. Cross, I have reviewed the petitions that you filed with the court and find them to be in order. Do you have anything further to add?" she asked looking at Benjamin.
"No, Your Honor," he answered.
"Mr. Everett or Ms. Levin does CPS have anything to add to these proceedings before the court grants the petitions?"
"No, Your Honor," Darcie answered.
"Yes, Your Honor," Gary spoke up.
"Mr. Everett, you have been cautioned by this court. I hope that whatever you have in mind is germane to this hearing."
"It is Your Honor. I have just been given information that directly bears on Mr. Johnson's fitness to adopt the children."
"Tread lightly Mr. Everett. Whatever information you have had better be factual and able to be corroborated," Judge Riley said with an almost evil grin.
"Ahh... ahh... ," he stammered. "I received this information from sources that I believe to be very reliable but I have not had sufficient time to verify it personally."
"And just who are these sources?" she interrupted.
"I would rather not divulge them at this time Your Honor."
"Mr. Everett, I don't have time to mess with you. If you want to introduce derogatory information concerning Mr. Johnson's character, I want to hear it from the 'horse's mouth'. Now either put up or shut up."
"But Your Honor these are allegations of sexual abuse of the children in question. Isn't it worth the courts time to make sure that Mr. Johnson if a fit parent before he is granted custody of them?"
"Mr. Everett, you will reveal the source of these allegations or I will hold you in contempt of court and have you held in the county jail until you reveal them. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he barely whispered. Gary turned to Joyce and the fat man sitting behind him before turning back to the judge. "My sources are the two people sitting behind me..."
"Ah, yes I see. Ms. Gehrig and Judge Clinton I believe. I want to get this on record. Ms. Gehrig, would you take the witness chair please?"
Joyce looked like a deer trapped in the headlights of a car. I don't think that she had expected to have to testify to the allegations.
Judge Riley's bailiff administered the oath to Joyce. Then the judge began, "Ms. Gehrig it is the understanding of this court that you have information that is of a derogatory nature with respect to Mr. Johnson. Is that correct?"
"Yes Your Honor."
"Tell this court what that information is and the source of it."
"One of the boys had made an outcry of being sexually abused by Mr. Johnson. The outcry was made in my presence."
"And what type of abuse was it and which one of the boys made this allegation?"
"It was the oldest, Joel. He reported that he was repeatedly raped by Mr. Johnson."
"Tell me, Ms. Gehrig, are you still employed by CPS?"
"No, Your Honor, I left CPS about three months ago."
"Hmm. Mr. Cross would you like to question Ms. Gehrig?"
"No, Your Honor, not at this time."
"Thank you. Ms. Gehrig, the court will give the information that you provided all the consideration that it deserves. Judge Clinton, would you please take the witness stand?"
After he took the chair in the witness box, the bailiff administered the oath to Judge Clinton.
"It is a rare occurrence indeed when I have a member of the bench as a witness in a proceeding before this court," Judge Riley said. "Now what information do you have that bears on the fitness of Mr. Johnson to be granted custody of these boys?"
"Thank you Judge Riley. It is a pleasure to be in your court. I was also present when the child made his outcry of molestation and I couldn't in good conscience permit it to continue."
"Then you corroborate Ms. Gehrig's statement?"
"Mr. Cross, do you have any questions?" Judge Riley said with a broad smile.
I was sitting there not believing what I was hearing. These people were obviously lying. I was totally floored by what was going on but too stunned to do anything except sit there with my mouth open in disbelief.
"Yes I do have a question or two for Judge Clinton," Benjamin said turning to me and giving me a wink. "Judge Clinton, have you or are you willing to give a sworn statement elaborating on the time and place and the exact nature of the outcry that you allege that Joel gave?"
"I have not put the details to paper but I am prepared to do so."
"I assume that you have medical evidence of this abuse. Is that true?"
"We have not yet received the medical records from the examining physician."
"What is the name of the examining physician and when did the examination take place?"
"Dr. Lewinski was the physician and I'll have to check my diary for the exact date," At this point Judge Clinton was beginning to squirm slightly in his seat and a sheen of sweat droplets were showing on his brow.
"That is very interesting. Didn't Dr. Lewinski appear before you charged with lewd and lascivious acts in public?"
"That is possible."
"What was the outcome of those proceedings?"
"Ahh... I don't recall. I see so many cases that I can't be expected to remember every verdict."
"Very well, you allege this abuse has been going on for the last three months. Is that correct?"
"Sir, are you sure that everything that you have told this court is truthful?"
"Mr. Cross, that is an insulting question. I am a respected member of the judiciary."
"I'll take that as a yes. As far as being a 'respected member of the judiciary', were you not given a verbal reprimand from the senior presiding judge for issuing a warrant for Mr. Johnson's arrest based on what you knew to be a false accusation?"
"That is outrageous. Mr. Cross, you have stepped over the line. You are in contempt..."
"Just a minute, Judge Clinton, this is my courtroom and I will decide if anyone is in contempt," Judge Riley spoke sternly. "You are a witness in this matter. You left your robe behind when you entered the witness stand."
"Judge Clinton do you see that gentleman behind Mr. Johnson?" Benjamin asked as he indicated for the man to stand.
"You may not know who he is so I will tell you. His name is Ezra Bernstein. He is Mr. Johnson's civil attorney. He is prepared to file a civil suit on behalf of Mr. Johnson based on information that we became aware of several weeks ago that you and Ms. Gehrig were going to make false allegations against Mr. Johnson. I am sure that you did not expect to have to testify under oath and for that I am grateful to Judge Riley for going along with our plan.
"Thank you Judge Riley. I have no further questions," Benjamin said and sat down beside me and gave me a pat on the back.
Clinton seemed to shrink as he sat in the witness box. He knew that he had been caught in a lie and that his false testimony under oath would probably cause him his judgeship.
Judge Riley broke the silence, "Judge Clinton, is there anything that you would like to say before I dismiss you as a witness?"
"No Your Honor," he said barely audible.
"You are dismissed. For the record this court finds that the testimony of Ms. Gehrig and Judge Clinton is not credible. Furthermore this court will forward the transcript of this hearing and other information that the court has to the District Attorney's office with a recommendation that they pursue possible perjury charges against both of them.
"Now, as for the petitions of adoption before this court they are granted. Congratulations Mr. Johnson you are now the father of five boys. And I might add good luck. You are surely going to need it.
"There is only one matter to be resolved and for that we need the boys here. Bailiff, will you bring Ms. Ramirez and the boys back into the courtroom?"
Benjamin shook my hand and congratulated me on my official parenthood. I was in a state of near shock with all that had gone on in the last couple of hours.
The boys hurried back in with as much decorum as they could muster and quickly took there seats at the table. Hildy was beaming, her eyes clearly starting to show tears forming in them.
Judge Riley cleared her throat which brought everyone's attention back to her. "Joel, Chris, Larry, Lenny and TJ, I have good news for you. Crane Johnson is now officially and forever your father..."
All the boys jumped up from their chairs and they all landed on me nearly knocking me and the chair over backwards. After a round of hugs and kisses, I was able to urge them back to their own chairs.
"There is one more matter that you boys must decide before you leave here. That is: do you wish to have your last names changed to Johnson from Andersen and Martin?"
"YES!" came a loud chorus from all of the boys at once.
"I take that to be unanimous," the judge chuckled. "It is a great day for this court when I can keep siblings together in a single unit and not have them split into various homes with the probability that they will lose track of each other as the years pass. It is also a happy occasion when I can place a youngster in a home where he will have brothers who love him and a father who loves him and is able to provide a quality of life undreamed of in his previous home. I congratulate you again Mr. Johnson on your new family. The court also lifts the requirement that you provide it with an accounting of the trust fund for your son."
"Thank you, Your Honor, for the courts information I have set up identical irrevocable trust funds for all of the boys in the amount of $2.5 million. The monies will be made available to them for college expenses upon their enrollment in an accredited college. They will gain unrestricted access to the trust upon graduation from college or when they reach age 25 whichever comes first."
"Ms. Ramirez," Judge Riley said, "these boys love you as much as they would love their own grandmothers and I know that love is returned by you. If it were in my power, I would let you adopt them as your grandchildren. Unfortunately the law does not allow for that."
A few minutes later after all of the legal niceties were wrapped up we got up and started out of the courtroom. Hildy was surrounded by the boys as we left.
"Did she say you were our grandma?" Joel asked Hildy.
"Not exactly, honey. But I think of you as my grandsons, all five of you," she said putting her arms around all of the boys.
"Come on guys, let's go home or better yet let's go get some lunch," I said knowing that this would get them moving.