Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bringing Order to People Behaving Badly: Judge Manoukian's Court on an Average Day

Superior Court Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian in his chambers.

Pete Manoukian was hoping to become a U.S Marine. Instead, he ended up with the far more arduous job of serving as a modern Solomon for people who threaten to: a)  kill those they once loved; b) throw things at their husbands' girlfriends; c) beat up high school chums and put the video on YouTube; and, d) send threatening text message to their landlords. Among other things.

In his courtroom, Superior Court Judge Manoukian is presently presiding over cases of Civil Assault. Here, those who have been uncivil, or have come across those who have not behaved well, can seek (or oppose) Restraining Orders. It is a court devised to resolve simple neighborhood disputes--without the need for attorneys. But the conflicts have become increasingly more violent in recent years.

Santa Clara County's Old Courthouse, now in the National Register of Historic Places, is where you'll find Judge Manoukian's chambers.

I've known Pete since junior high and high school. When you are thirteen and look over at the boy sitting at the desk next to you, it is difficult to imagine he will one day be a Superior Court Judge. But the job seems to fit the man perfectly. He is kind, intelligent, and, most of all, has common sense. The defendants and plaintiffs before him as I sat in his courtroom today, all seemed in need of a good dose of that.

Young Socrates Peter Manoukian, in his graduation photo. We graduated from Los Altos High School in the same class.

Pete was born in Beirut, Lebanon and came to the US with his mother and father when he was two months old.  His remarkable father, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, was an orthopedic surgeon.  After training in Chicago, the Manoukians finally settled in the Santa Clara Valley. I can't claim to have been a close friend of Pete's growing up. He was ten years old when his family moved to California and we attended different grammar schools. But everybody in school knew who he was. You can't miss a kid who has a name like Socrates!

I suspect Socrates Peter may have had to defend that name a time or two with his fists. Knowing Pete--which is what we called him in school--he learned to disarm foes with a smile. If only the rest of the folks in this county could learn that!

His father passed away shortly before my own father died. Pete and his wife--who is also a judge--still live in the family home, in Los Altos Hills today. 

He dealt with seventeen cases of Civil Assault today before he took a lunch recess. A woman who said her old boyfriend was harassaing her asked for a restraining order; a business manager at an apartment house wanted a tenant to leave her alone and, by the way, not take a hammer to the headlights of her car again; a meek man stood by while his new wife and his ex-wife traded insults over visiting days for the children; the wife of a local cop asked for help in avoiding obscene text messages from her husband's cast off lover. 

The entire morning was a lesson in things one should not do. It was evidence--if one needed it--of the very practical reasons behind the Ten Commandments. Follow them and you can pretty much avoid standing before Judge Manoukian.

And he added a coda: something I've been trying to learn all my life:

As two young women before him agreed to a mediation of their heated dispute he looked over his glasses at them.  "Is that all," he asked, and they both nodded silently. "Good," he added. "Some things are best left unsaid. Aren't they?" 

That's not all from Judge Manoukian's court--I've left a few things unsaid--so I will have more on his story in my second installment. 

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Janet Grunst said...

Interesting post, Robin. And he did all that before lunch. Wow!

Robin Chapman said...

Nice to know a civil servant who loves his job and works hard. Do you remember him from LAHS?

Janet Grunst said...

No, I'm sorry to say I don't. I didn't know many people in your class. But then, I found out when I went back for a reunion, many in my class didn't remember me.

Ginny (Gilmore) Brown said...

LOVE this! And so jealous...one day I will make the drive from Butte County down to His Honor's courtroom. I am sure he is fun to watch!

Robin Chapman said...

He's a really sensible person, and brings in logic where emotion has gone wild. It is really delightful to watch. More fun than reality TV. And it probably prevents a murder or ten!