The Season of Goodwill is With Us…..
It has to be…the difficult neighbour has not…yet…cut off the water supply to the thirty households and businesses which use it.
He is a gentleman predictable in some ways – general bloody mindedness – while unpredictable in others – you know he’s going to do something but when and what is another matter.
He was his father’s favourite and in order to cut out the rest of his brothers and sisters from the inheritance the father sold him the main family finca of over two hundred hectares at an undervalue.
That was some twenty years ago and in that time he has managed to reduce the number of hectares from two hundred to eight and makes a living by transporting cattle from the local auction.
Still, to mark his status as a landowner he wears a hat…not the floppy sombrero of the worker, but the crisp white hat with curly brim worn by those buying and selling the cattle he can now only transport.
However, while of impeccable Costa Rican lineage, his attitude to property and money is closer to that of Papua New Guinea…where you might well agree to sell your property but when you have spent the money brought in by the transaction you want the property back.
After all, it was an exchange, was it not…money for land? So when the money no longer exists you get the land back.
Simple when you think about it.
So he thinks of himself as the owner of the one hundred and ninety two hectares which have been sold off over the years to fuel a life of drinking in bars, entertaining ladies other than his wife and consequently being obliged by the courts to support his illegitimate children…….. while those legitimately occupying the one hundred and ninety two hectares are, in his eyes, squatters.
Every so often the injustice of it all overcomes him…especially when his current lady friend has deprived him of her favours until his financial affairs improve…at which point he goes for the water supply.
This supply was originally put in by his father, who had a state licence to extract water from the spring high up on the mountain which dominates the three valleys below.
It originally served only his finca but, as land was sold off, each new proprietor had access to the system, through a series of tanks and pipes, carefully categorised by inch, half inch and quarter inch rights.
There are a number of users, as the original plots sold off have become split up in their turn as families expand and build houses for their children. A pig farm has been set up and one chap breeds tilapia.
By law, the owner of the licence cannot charge for the water supplied to others…water is a natural resource…and the neighbour became frustrated when even those unwary enough to have paid him once were put wise and refused further payments, so he decided not to pay the annual fee for the state licence…a sum so small as to be risible.
So, the current state of play is that no one has any proprietorial rights to the water…but his view is that the water, like the land, is his to do with as he pleases so when vexed with the injustices of life, when the contrast between the status denoted by a crisp white hat with a curly brim and the reality of driving a lorry for a living gets too much he takes action.
If he is fuelled by drink, he just goes up to the top meadows and opens the taps in the field used for cattle…thus cutting off everyone below including himself.
If the dibs are not in tune and he cannot afford drink, then he goes right up to the source and blocks the main tank….same consequences as to water cut off, but this gives him the chance to work down the mountain from tank to tank, pushing wooden bungs into everyone’s pipes so that when some of the men go up to clear the first blockage, all the others remain, with all the consequent problems of air in the pipes to be cleared before everyone is supplied again.
He is a perfect pest.
He has always reckoned to get away with this because in Costa Rica it is next to impossible to take regular court action unless he has been seen by someone..and he is always careful in this respect….but he has not reckoned with the domestic violence courts, set up to protect women, children and the elderly…courts set up to combat the machismo element in Costa Rican popular culture.
These are relatively new…so had never entered his consciousness….and when one lady had had enough of not only the water problem but also of his shouting insults at her and took him to court, a whole box of troubles opened for him.
The insults, the threats, the O.K. Corral scenes with machetes and revolvers, the contamination of the water supply, the blockages….the baggage of years came tumbling out as one person after another joined in to support the first lady.
While a lot of it was not admissible in evidence, the lawyer representing all parties managed to get a lot in under the line.
The neighbour was beside himself.
How dare these inferior beings, wearers of sombreros, confront him, the wearer of the crisp white hat with a curly brim which, inevitably, he was wearing in court.
The first duty of the court is to seek reconciliation and when the judge turned to him to ask him if he were willing to participate in a reconciliation process he threw a fit, shouting insults and abuse…his lawyer was so worried that he would attack the judge that he physically held him down in his seat and told him if he did not control himself the lawyer would leave him to his fate.
His conduct made all the points needed for the judge to provide everyone concerned with protection orders, forbidding him to enter their property or to speak to them.
He will, of course, because he has no control of himself….but, for the moment, peace reigns upon the earth in our small corner of Costa Rica.
Thanks to the anti machismo courts.
He Has a cunning Plan…..
The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with the curly brim, has come up with a cunning plan…several of them, in fact.
Last seen the subject of an order forbidding him to pester his neighbours, he has been lying low and while life for those around him has been tranquil, it was, inevitably, too good to last.
The Baldrick of Costa Rica has been applying his brain – or turnip – .to the problems besetting him and has come up with interesting answers.
Local opinion is that he owes a lot of this inspiration to the current live in ladyfriend who has an agenda of her own, but whether it is down to Baldrick or Baldricka we have had ‘events, dear boy, events’.
The insult to his status of having been hauled up in court has decided him that the judicial way is the way to go….so he has laid before the court a claim that everyone who gave witness as to his activities was lying. Here, it is thought, lies the influence of the live in ladyfriend, who was severely warned of the consequences of perjury by the judge at the first hearing.
He’ll have to look further afield for someone to represent him because no local lawyer would touch him with a bargepole after his bravura performance in court when his lawyer had to restrain him from attacking the judge…quite apart from the sure and certain knowledge that he will not pay the bill.
Excited by the prospect of the humiliation of the untermenschen in floppy brimmed sombreros who had dared to rise up against a superior being in a crisp white hat with a curly brim, he was just in the mood for the week long town fiesta…..drinking, helping to transport the bulls, drinking, dancing, drinking and strutting his horse’s stuff at the tope…the traditional parade of horses and riders through the town.
Returning home, fired up and full of beans, he decided to show everyone who was whom in the local pecking order.
He took his cattle lorry out onto the road into the valley, drew it across so as to make any car wishing to pass slow to a crawl, and attached a hosepipe to the standpipe nearby…..then amused himself by aiming the hose at the open windows of the cars trying to pass, soaking the occupants.
He was still playing happily when he did it once too often…to the occupants of the police car sent out in response to furious ‘phone calls from the drenched.
Not best pleased, the police made him put his lorry away and carted him off to the local nick for a full and frank discussion of events.
It seems he claimed that the occupants of each and every passing car had insulted his mother’s reputation…. and although I’m pretty sure they didn’t when dry I wouldn’t mind betting a fair few of them did when wet.
We await the decision of the judge as to his fate…as several of the drenched were among those with protection orders.
Still, this has been only one facet of his interaction with the law.
For what follows you need to know that he still holds eight hectares of the initial two hundred which he bought from his father…..and only five of these are registered.
No one wants to buy unregistered land because of the time and costs involved in verifying ownership.
Now for the next two, or even three, cunning plans.
We were having a coffee in town weeks ago when we were approached by one of the chaps who specialise in putting together buyers and sellers of property.
His office is his mobile ‘phone in the pocket of his jeans.
We were having a spot of bother with The Neighbour, were we not?
We were…and so were others.
But the others don’t have much money.
Neither do we.
This was shrugged aside…everyone knows that Gringos have money.
Well, wouldn’t it be worthwhile…just to have peace and quiet…if you were to buy his land…he’s keen to be off, that court case shook him up.
Oh yes? And what’s he selling? All of it, or is he keeping the house?
All of it…..all the five hectares registered and the three not and the house. He’s even leaving the cane crushing machine.
And the price?
Only three hundred thousand dollars……
Noises of incredulity in English which, although not being a student of that language, it was clear that he understood.
It’s only money…isn’t a quiet life worth it?
He was given to understand that it was not.
The great pity is that the Scots’ reputation for being close with the bawbees has not entered Costa Rican culture, so the explanations were necessarily longer than in cultures where you could just say you were a Scot and that would be an end to the matter.
About the same time, people saw bulldozers at work on The Neighbour’s property…on the unregistered bit. They were laying access roads and levelling out a building plot.
Then a monk surrounded by adoring ladies appeared to inspect the site…and speculation was rife.
Dona Estrella came up with the goods. One of the adoring ladies was a cousin goodness only knows how many times removed…who told all.
The Neighbour had got in touch with the monk’s order…though they sounded more like friars to me as they used to bring the Word to the more benighted areas of the country in the time of The Neighbour’s father.
He had told them that he wished to make a gesture to show his thanks to them for the services their order had given local people in the past, in honour of his father’s memory.
Hew was, however, a poor man.
All he could offer was a three hectare plot of unregistered land for them to build a church….if they would see to the registration process, he would give them the land and help them with all the information he could to assist in the registration.
It is a beautiful site….high above the river with a waterfall below…and the monks, as we shall call them, agreed to the deal.
It appears that they have a church over on the Caribbean side of the country where the donations pile in and the chance to expand on this side must have seemed heaven sent.
The rainy season was approaching fast and The Neighbour encouraged the monks to go ahead with the levelling works, before the rains closed down work for a year…thus the bulldozers….while they got on with the registration.
Now, Dona Estrella has heard from her distant cousin again…..the monks will not be coming after all.
The Neighbour had waited until the registration process was nearly complete…he was, after all, the source for most of the information involved….then took his copies of the paperwork off to the National Registry and registered the land in the name of a new company he had set up for the purpose.
The monks had paid for the legal work and for the levelling….and The Neighbour now had a piece of land that was sellable…and a ready made site for building a house.
Now, had we been interested in handing over wads of the folding stuff to The Neighbour to get rid of him, we would have been sadly disappointed……if we had bought his eight hectares for three hundred thousand dollars we would have checked the National Registry, found the five registered hectares and assumed the rest was still off the list.
With the result that we would have found ourselves with five hectares for which we have no use at a vastly over rated price…..and for a neighbour we would have had The Neighbour…..busy building himself a house with our money on the three hectares we had assumed we had bought!
A cunning plan or two indeed.
Says Dona Estrella
And to think he’s in church every Sunday!
Well, he is, but it’s more to pick up women than to commune with his Maker…the local church seems to be a mini version of St. Paul’s in London before the Great Fire from what I gather.
However, he owes it to his status to behave as a prominent citizen so every Easter he takes part in the re.enactment of the Passion which passes through the streets of the town on Good Friday.
He is, inevitably, a Roman soldier.
From the Oak tree to the Stinking Toe
Saint Louis, Louis IX of France, might have been a disaster as a crusader but was regarded as pretty hot stuff as a judge, to the extent that his subjects would approach him to settle their problems while he held court under an oak tree in the park of the royal fortress of Vincennes.
Current common view is that the local judge….hereinafter referred to as Licenciado Luis to protect the guilty…has a fair way to go before he approaches the reputation of the sainted version.
Farther than the romero (pilgrimage) to the Basilica of Cartago for the feast day of La Negrita – taking in Fatima, Lourdes, Compostela and Jerusalem en route.
The only resemblance is the presence of a tree….not an oak, but a stately guapinol…the stinking toe.
There has been trouble at t’molina in the three valleys lately and, of course, The Neighbour is involved, messing around with the water supply that comes from the spring high up on the mountain.
While he normally contents himself with blocking pipes to create a temporary nuisance, this time he has been re routing the system, leaving a number of fields and coffee plantations with out any water at all, but, equally seriously, he has been changing the diameter of supply pipes, reducing the supply to the tanks which serve the houses and businesses in the area.
There have been a few unpleasant encounters and a number of people have hauled him off to the court where Licenciado Luis officiates, waving protection orders, the deeds to their properties and statements from lawyers.
The first duty of a Costa Rican judge is to achieve reconciliation of warring parties and in this respect L. L. cannot be faulted.
Under his benign influence The Neighbour promised to undo that which he had done and the aggrieved parties accordingly agreed not to take matters further.
Unfortunately, The Neighbour, never one to spare a thought for sins of either omission or commission, nor wasting time on respecting agreements one minute after making them, has not undone that which he had done.
He has, in fact, continued on his merry way.
There have been more unpleasant encounters and it was felt that it would be wise to make a joint submission to the court, rather than approaching the matter piecemeal….particularly as Don Armando has come up with the goods.
One man has been buying plots of land at the very far end of the last valley…the one in which I live.
Or rather, he has been giving loans to other people to buy them at exorbitant interest rates and then foreclosing when they could no longer make the payments.
Working in one of the local banks, as he did, he was well placed to know who would be likely to come up for a scheme like this…..the hopeful poor.
As a result, he has accumulated a neat holding of flat land, ideal for building, at minimal cost.
However, to get the local equivalent of planning permission he has to show how he will get water and power to the site. Particularly water.
Thus it is that he has ’employed’ The Neighbour to do the dirty work so that he can show the appropriate authorities that there will be a sufficient supply for the number of construction sites he plans to sell.
Thus all the reductions in supply.
How did Don Armando find out?
His sister’s daughter in law works in the same bank.
A meeting was called at Don Freddy’s quinta…..the Costa Rican weekend retreat, with a building for shelter, loos and a kitchen set in enough land for the kids to play, horses to graze and fruit trees to grow, neatly to hand for making cool drinks.
People had gathered and Don Freddy was summing up the situation when another car drew up.
The Neighbour. And he was not alone.
Accompanying him was Licenciado Luis.
L.L. said that he had had enough of the situation…he was sick of hearing about it…and had decided to attend the meeting to try to settle things once and for all.
Clearly, he said, The Neighbour also wished to settle things, since he had had the good idea of telling him about the meeting, so he was happy to do his duty by listening to everyone’s point of view and trying to achieve a lasting settlement.
He pulled a chair into the shade of the guapinol and prepared for action.
There was a lot of it, so it was lucky that we were still in the ‘little summer’ that breaks up the rainy season or the guapinol would not have provided adequate shelter from the afternoon rains.
The litany of trespass vi et armis, insults, threats and loss of income both actual and potential went on all afternoon, until eventually Licenciado Luis held up his hand.
‘I don’t want to know about the past.’
Thus consigning legally protected property rights to the dustbin of Costa Rican history.
‘I am here to try to manage the future.’
With ambition like he was wasted on us. He should have been on a plane to Washington D C to have a word about defaults in the shell likes of Congress, Senate and President.
‘It is clear that the new development will bring benefits to all of you.’
‘Like a properly made up road.’
Oh. People used to the unmade up road whether travelling on it in 4×4, ancient car without a licence, motorbike, horse or on foot take a lot of persuading that a made up road compensates for loss of water on the land where they have grazed their cattle for years.
‘I have the solution.’
Washington D.C. again.
‘You should form an association to manage the water supply, and then you can pay this good man for all the work he has done to make your futures better.’
For a moment there was silence, as no one recognised The Neighbour under the guise of ‘this good man’. Then, as the muttering turned to indignant shouting, Licenciado Luis rose to leave, The Neighbour clearing the way, hand on the hilt of the machete at his waist.
One woman stood in his path. Dona Mery, all four foot nothing in a flowered pinny.
‘You’re a disgrace! Associating with something like him!
Chin jerked towards The Neighbour.
‘You can’t speak to me like that! I’m a judge! I demand respect for my office. I’ll call the police!’
‘You do that! But they can’t touch me!’
‘No one is untouchable!’
‘Well, I am this afternoon! The two policewomen are off duty and the men aren’t allowed to manhandle women….so get off out of here! We’ll go to San Jose with all this….and then we’ll see who’s untouchable!’
A committee has been formed, the next full meeting arranged and a preliminary plan of action has been agreed upon…
Never a dull moment.
Licenciado Luis and the Last Chance Saloon
Things are pretty warm in Costa Rica at the best of times, but in the three valleys things are hotting up even more and, as you might imagine The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with a curly brim, is in the thick of it.
He has managed to sell his three hectares of unregistered land for a vast sum to a purchaser connected to the chain of Chinese restaurants in the local town.. and has sold it with water rights.
Water rights that The Neighbour does not own.
So he has been busy re routing the water again to the fury of those affected…including me. The area down to coffee is now without a water supply, which is distinctly inconvenient.
The whole matter has gone to law…in San Jose, not in the local town where Licenciado Luis is still presiding over the courts, as for some reason based on experience it is felt that an equitable solution is more likely to be found in San Jose.
But Licenciado Luis is a judge in a hurry.
A cold draught is curling about his feet and for a man with power he is in the state so wonderfully described in ‘1066 and All That’……
‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a throne.’
For rumour has reached him that the Three Valleys committee have reported him to the judicial disciplinary board for his total disregard of property rights when last The Neighbour started playing with the water supply.
And if the head of Licenciado Luis is uneasy, even more so the head of the banker, who is relying on L.L. to crush any legal challenges to future attempts to develop the land further down the valley…and, it appears, the uneasiness has also affected the chop suey merchant.
The restaurants with which he is said to be connected deserve a description to themselves as they are a success story worthy of emulation.
This is a small town yet it boasts five of them.
Only one ever has any customers…and they are there for the spit roasted chicken.
The others are empty, day after day, night after night……but all five produce tax returns…right on the button…showing that they are doing great business.
Vast quantities of oyster sauce, noodles and chopsticks are shown on their books……customers bills go through the till not under the table…..but no one is sitting at those tables and there’s nary a thing in the dustbins.
Even the stray dogs have cut them from their itinerary.
I asked Don Freddy about this phenomenon.
Well, I suppose they thought it best to run their funny money through restaurants……even the police here might have woken up if they’d set up a chain of laundries…
So we have two powerful men who want results in a hurry before Licenciado Luis is posted somewhere where the sun shines all too much and the pickings are few, and L.L. is happy to oblige.
After life in rural France, I am accustomed to the bizarre ways of local courts, so when the court bailiff arrived with a summons I was only mildly surprised to find that there was no mention of the whys and wherefores on the form presented to me for signature.
Only the name of The Neighbour as the person I had apparently accused of whatever it was we were to go to court about.
Any idea what this is about?
Search me, I only deliver the stuff…
Up to the court house the next day to ask for the dossier.
The clerk produced a file entitled
‘Settlement of the water question’.
Inside was the dossier….which concerned a complaint I had made six months earlier about The Neighbour trying to attack me with a riding crop through the window of the car.
This case had long bitten the dust at the hands of the local prosecutors as the two policemen present at the scene apparently suffered from blindness coupled with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Nothing about the water issue.
But the prosecutor’s office refused to proceed with this case.
I suppose new evidence has come to light.
What new evidence?
Search me, I only file the stuff…
Costa Rican legal procedure requires communications about legal dossiers to be faxed to a lawyer…so I walked down into town to see the lawyer I use for odds and bits.
Yes, she had the fax.
No, the case about the riding crop was closed…this is about the water issue.
So why is there nothing about water in the file?
I’ll ring the court and find out.
Well, it seems the judge would like the affected parties to get together and make a joint application to the court about the water. I’ll organise a reunion.
Fine. What about the assault?
I’ll ring the court and find out.
No, it’s all about the water.
I contacted the lawyer hired by the committee of the three valleys, a busy young woman in San Jose.
I’ll be on the bus this afternoon. Do nothing, sign nothing until we meet.
That afternoon, over coffee in a local caff, we determine that no new evidence has emerged about the assault…at least, not anything figuring in the dossier and that the whole thing is an attempt by Licenciado Luis to get the water question into his own hands, rather than in the hands of the court in San Jose.
Still, there’s always the attack…we can’t ignore it…it’s the only document in the dossier.
She proposes interviewing the two policeman, and we go to the police station.
They are on night duty, so are at home.
My lawyer gets talking to the duty officer, a woman, and in no time they are on to the open sexism of the bosses of the local station and the complaints the woman has had to make which have effectively backsquadded her career.
We emerge with a copy of the daybook for the date in question and the addresses of the officers.
The daybook is written in gobblegook…no way of discovering when who did what with which to whom, so we drive off to visit the policemen.
The younger one emerges yawning and, once prodded, starts to remember being there at the time and witnessing the incident. The lawyer calls Danilo over to listen in and then returns to the car, busy scribbling.
Got the bastard.
How so..he’ll never turn up to give evidence.
No problem. I’m not only an advocate but a notary too…so I’m writing up his statement as an official notarised document with Danilo as witness. We can introduce this in court.
The older policeman plays hide and seek for half an hour before announcing that he doesn’t remember a thing.
I wonder you can stay employed with Alzheimer’s, says the lawyer and we drive back to town.
The day of the case dawns, we turn up and are ushered into Licenciado Luis’ presence…all very informal.
He sits at a desk and introduces the young man beside him as a law student sitting in on proceedings to gain experience.
The young man bears a close resemblance to a basset with piles….distinctly lugubrious.
The clerk with his computer sits behind them, withdrawn from the protagonists.
The Neighbour (wearing his hat in honour of the occasion) and his lawyer are already esconced and we take our place alongside them on the sort of sofa you need a grab rail to get up from.
The lawyers exchange glances and The Neighbour asks
Who’s she? We expected the local woman…
His lawyer tells him to shut up and Licenciado Luis begins.
With the water.
As the neighbours haven’t got together about the water, he thinks it best if he makes a decision to settle the matter once and for all.
The lady lawyer indicates that she wishes to be heard by raising her forefinger.
With all due respect, there is nothing about water in the dossier, judge.
He produces the cover and shows it to her.
Look, there….settlement of the water question….and the neighbours have done nothing…
Agreed, judge. But the only documentation inside the folder deals with an assault.
With all due respect, advocate, you are from the big city, San Jose. We do things differently here…in a neighbourly fashion.
I have parties to a dispute here, and I propose to settle it.
I raise my forefinger.
With all due respect judge, not all the parties to the water dispute are here.
Well, senora, you are and he is and that’s enough.
The lady lawyer raises her forefinger.
With all due respect judge, that may be how you settle things here, but it is not a method in accordance with Costa Rican legal procedures.
Take your client outside and discuss this….
So we leave and are discussing the nature of the judge’s parentage in English when he and the basset pop out into the corridor and head…very slowly…for the loos.
We suspect that the basset understands English and elaborate our suppositions.
Judge and basset return, eyeing us in no friendly fashion.
We go back to court.
Well, is your client ready for conciliation over the question of water?
No, judge. We are here only to discuss the assault.
He turns to me.
Senora, coming from a different culture you perhaps do not understand that here in Costa Rica we try to conciliate, not be antagonistic.
With all due respect judge, I understand the process of conciliation all too well.
I and other people affected by his activities have come to conciliation several times.
He promises to mend his ways and just carries on as before, so, again, with all due respect, may we turn to the assault he made on me?
The Neighbour is now up on his hinds…you’ve got to give him marks for agility getting up from that sofa….
I never assaulted her and anyway it was on my property and what’s more…
His lawyer pulls him down and tells him to shut up. He bounces up again
And anyway nobody saw it…
The lawyer raises her forefinger.
The facts are as stated in the claim in the dossier and I have here the witness statement of the policeman who saw the whole incident…
Thr Neighbour is on his feet again
Well all right then, I did it and it was on my property and I was justified and she deserved it and what’s more I’d do it again…
His lawyer pulls him down and this time he stays down.
Licenciado Luis and the basset look at each other….clearly the lesson has not gone to plan.
All right. He admits it and that’s an end to the matter. Fined court’s costs.
The Neighbour and lawyer leave at the gallop….The Neighbour starting to shout as they hit the corridor about how much he paid the policemen and what he’ll do to the one who blabbed…
We rise to leave….and behind the basset’s back the clerk grins and raises a fist in salute.
Is that all he gets for trying to hit me with a riding crop?
Well, here it is, but I’m just lodging notice of appeal…we’ll see what San Jose thinks about it…
Back in Court…
After the adventures with Licenciado Luis, I found myself in court again this week, as a witness for my husband who was seeking a new protection order against The Neighbour, the old order having expired.
A different court….the family court…and a different judge, a young man newly in post.
We had been walking up the road from our house to meet the telecoms engineers who were rerouting the telephone lines after the storms when The Neighbour’s car appeared, heading towards us with a woman in the passenger seat.
We moved to the side of the road to let him pass…always a good idea with The Neighbour whose driving is erratic at the best of times….only to find that he was aiming his car at us…swerving away at the very last moment, laughing.
His passenger was white in the face with shock.
The old protection order having lapsed, my husband sought new measures of protection and, accordingly, we arrived at court this morning , as did The Neighbour and his lawyer.
He might have done better without his lawyer, because left to himself he would just have denied the whole thing, but his lawyer presented photographs of the scene which clearly showed that there was ample room to manoeuvre on that section of the road while the lawyer claimed that The Neighbour was obliged to pass within an inch of our bodies in order to advance and also because the lawyer saw fit to bring up the judgement against The Neighbour in the matter of trying to hit me with a riding crop through the window of the car as being totally unfounded…when it might have been better to remain silent on his client’s violent ways.
The judge delivered his decision.
Protection Order granted for one year.
The Neighbour should be ashamed of himself, attacking someone old and ill and, furthermore, The Neighbour should be warned that this was not someone who could be cowed.
The British, said the judge, had a respect for the law….and any and every time The Neighbour overstepped the mark, the British would come to court for a remedy which the judge would be only too pleased to grant, so…in the Scots phrase, The Neighbour should ca’ canny.
Silent throughout proceedings, The Neighbour rose in his wrath.
He had witnesses.
Where were they?
He didn’t know he was coming to court.
Yes he did. He had had the proper notice.
I never! And, anyway, the foreigner buys my witnesses! He buys them up!
Who were they?
My daughter who was in the car with her baby! As if I’d drive like a madman with my grandchild in the car!
You had proper notice…and are you suggesting that your daughter could be bought by the complainant?
No, I did not know….(turning on his lawyer) You must have known and did not tell me!
An empassioned dialogue between lawyer and client ensued while we rose to leave.
The Neighbour and lawyer rose to leave as well, but the judge put up his hand.
No, senor…..you stay here.
Why? What for? I’ve work to do, I have to earn money to pay this useless lawyer…
That’s your problem, senor…..but there are another six cases of protection orders to be heard against you today and ten more tomorrow….so you would do well to sit down and wait for the next complainant.
In the waiting area, chairs under the porch of the court building, we met up with Dona Mery, very fine in a new flowered pinny.
The next complainant.
Don’t you have a lawyer, Dona Mery?
No need….The Neighbour hasn’t paid his guy, which is why he didn’t tell him he was coming to court……
The Neighbour has accused me, together with my husband and a police officer, of depriving him of water by turning off the tap to his property one afternoon in March, so accordingly I, together with said husband and police officer, attended court today.
The staff are becoming old friends, but there was one well kent face missing….that of Licenciado Luis who has been translated to a drug ridden hole on the Caribbean coast where his challenge will be to prove to the narcotraffickers who make children pick dope rather than go to school that he is of use to them before they decide to show him he should be by shooting up his house.
Instead we had a middle aged judge who had the air of one happy to swap the shoot outs and drug raids which form the fodder of the central courts for the fresh air and bucolic charm of our little town.
Since this case might touch on the general water dispute which is waiting settlement in the capital, I thought it best to engage as my lawyer the inspector of water rights for our canton who has been a tower of strength in the battle against the developer.
However, come the hour to enter the court…no lawyer.
His secretary said he was in court somewhere else and would arrive as soon as he could.
The judge asked The Neighbour if he would wait…..inevitably the Neighbour would not.
He was, after all, a busy man, too busy to be hauled into court for all this nonsense and he didn’t have time to wait for overpaid lawyers.
But Senor….you brought the action…no one is hauling you into court. You brought yourself.
Nomatter…the busy man could not wait so the case proceeded.
His lawyer…surprisingly enough the same one as in previous proceedings….announced that the whole thing was simple. His client only wanted peace and liberty to go about his affairs and he, the lawyer, believed that all other parties wanted the same thing.
The policeman said he didn’t want anything of the sort. He had carried out his duty and he wasn’t accepting being accused of anything.
At this point the judge noticed that he was wearing his gun and told him he should have removed it before coming into court.
The policeman replied that in that case all the other parties should be frisked in case they were carrying concealed weapons.
Uproar from The Neighbour….much ado about something….?
A telephone call to the police station revealed that no female officers were available to frisk me. If I couldn’t be frisked no one else would agree to be so we went on with the case.
The lawyer resumed. He believed that The Neighbour and ourselves had come to an agreement and that now all could be forgotten…we could shake hands and make a new start.
The policeman said he wasn’t going to shake hands with the Neighbour. He knew what he was. He had…
The judge intervened to tell the policeman that he wasn’t included in the hand shaking.
The policeman asked what he was included in then…..he’d been accused and he wanted vindication.
Well you can’t be vindicated just like that…we have to hear the case.
So what’s all this peace and love stuff, then?
The judge asked The Neighbour whether he wanted to press charges on anyone, on someone or on no one.
The Neighbour’s lawyer replied that there was an agreement between the parties and that all it needed was the judge’s fiat to have it recorded.
Echoes of Licenciado Luis’ last attempt to settle the water question arose in my mind….so I asked the lawyer what the agreement might be as I had heard nothing of it.
It was a settlement in this very court.
The judge asked for the dossier number and sent for the file.
I asked why, if it had been settled, would the judge’s fiat be needed now.
The judge said he’d read the file.
It appeared that Licenciado Luis had managed to get Don Alexandro into court with a dodgy dossier and got him to agree that the Neighbour could cross his land, allowing him to move the first part of the water system’s pipes.
But what has that to do with us?
It means that a judge has said that it’s all right to move the pipes. You accept that and my client will drop the charges.
No. Let your client justify the charges he’s brought against us…that’s why we’re here. Not to discuss a case that’s before another court.
That’s right, from the policeman. Get on with it.
But, said the Judge, isn’t the water problem at the base of all this? If we could just settle it….
With respect, Judge, it is being settled elsewhere.
A tap at the door and my lawyer entered. Handshakes all round and a resume of progress from the judge.
The whole thing is simple, said my lawyer.
The Neighbour has brought charges. He has to justify them. Has he any witnesses?
The Neighbour surged to his feet.
Yes..he had…the judge had the list…he could see…it was as plain as the nose on his face that with all those witnesses we had to be guilty.
Yes the judge had a list. We had a copy…..it included the alcalde, the priest, four cousins, the lady friend and his lawyer.
But your witnesses need to be here, Senor. It’s not the job of a judge to go and haul them out of their houses to appear.
And you, Senor Lawyer, were you a witness,, because if you were these proceedings are void.
No, I wasn’t a witness.
Explosive noises from The Neighbour, hat thrown on the ground. What sort of a lawyer was he if he wouldn’t be a witness? What was he paid for the Neighbour would like to know!
Would you say you are a violent man, Senor? asked my lawyer.
Fists raised, The Neighbour headed for him only to be pulled down by his lawyer who kept a firm hold on his arm while he made noises resembling those of an exploding boiler.
Case dismissed and The Neighbour bound over to keep the peace.
But my lawyer had something more to say.
He agreed that the main case was to be heard in San Jose…but he had a suggestion to make which might address the question of water use to defuse future problems and which might be of assistance to the court in San Jose.
He proposed that, wearing his hat as inspector of water rights for the canton, he would arrange with the council to make a formal inspection of the springs, water volume and water use in the Three Valleys area and call for all parties involved to produce proofs of their various claims.
Crook! Bellowed The Neighbour and headed for the door, only to be restrained by the policeman.
Good idea! Said the judge and wrote it up as part of the proceedings.
As we left after signing the judgement, the judge was sitting by the window wiping his brow.
His clerk came out while we were waiting for the copies to be handed out and asked
Just out of interest, the judge wants to know whether you did cut off his water….
It was the day the planning inspector was to see if the developer had enough water volume for his proposed estate….The Neighbour had cut off our side of the valley so Dona Mery asked us if we would go up and check the taps on the pipes further up….taking the policeman who had come out to answer her call for assistance.
We opened the tap to supply water again, but not so much as to deprive the new line completely of water.
But why did Dona Mery call you?
We had the car.