Monday, October 22, 2012

First-hand Hansen

It still needs some edits , and I'll get around to it; but our internet's down -- again -- and I'm just gonna get it posted for now.


1. the quality or condition of being intense.
2. great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence, etc., as of activity, thought, or feeling: He went at the job with great intensity.
3. a high or extreme degree, as of cold or heat.
4. the degree or extent to which something is intense.
5. a high degree of emotional excitement; depth of feeling: The poem lacked intensity and left me unmoved.
6. the strength or sharpness of a color due especially to its degree of freedom from admixture with its complementary color.
7. Physics . magnitude, as of energy or a force per unit of area, volume, time, etc.
8. Speech .
        a. the correlate of physical energy and the degree of loudness of a speech sound.
        b. the relative carrying power of vocal utterance.

Friends, the views I express here are often strong ones, and that’s because I need to feel strongly enough about something in order to write about it.  For me, intensity leads to inspiration, which in turn leads to creation…and whereas the banal path often leads to writer’s block, the intense road will cause the words to pour forth from my fingertips like rushing water. 

Watching something happen to someone else causes us to feel empathy; experiencing something for ourselves causes us to feel…well, to feel memory, I suppose.  Pain, time and repetition can intensify a memory, but whether good or bad:  intense memories are the soul’s time machines… able to transport us through years, across time and beyond space, returning us to that moment to relive the experience in essence.

I’ve thought about writing this countless times before, and couldn’t…or didn’t; wouldn’t.  Indeed, I might not ever have deemed a time as right for sharing this story with you, had current events not mandated me to write it now. 

What follows is my memory of the most intense year of my life, the 2004-2005 timeframe; the memory of a long-ago mistake and the haunting impact it continues to effect upon my me.  It’s a memory perfectly preserved…pickled in a brine of pain; and on those oft occasions when I’m reminded anew, part of me relives it again and again and again. 

Years ago, Judge Karla Hansen determined that I owed a debt to Society, and I paid that debt in full; evenso, a spiritual interest accrues in my soul unceasingly.  If consequences were residuals (and I, good with numbers, math and money), then perhaps I could quantify the amount I continue to pay amount due, which I pay in installments with little bits and pieces torn from my soul…and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.   

Judge me if you must; cast stones, if doing so seems to soothe you.  What’s done is done, I can’t change the past (but, o, how I would if I could!)...besides, there’s nothing you can say to me that hasn’t already been said – if not by others, then by myself.  But make no mistake, friends; this is not payback:  no, this is my civic duty.

* * * * * * * *

The Year of the Cat

My husband and I met at Palmer High School in 1982 at the age of 15; we graduated in 1985, and were still occasionally dating when I moved out of my parents’ house at the age of 18 and adopted first one and then two cats. 

Baby was such a funny, friendly kitten, so jaunty and dapper jumping about in his black and white tuxedo.  Monka was tiny, and fit into the palm of my hand like a big black cottonball, that day when I was working as a temp at USAA and she was found inexplicably in the median at Academy and Chapel Hills Drive.  She grew up long and sleek …loath to be in the company of strangers, but so affectionate to those in our immediate circle.  Those cats had accompanied me to CSU and back; they were right by my side during my wildest drunken nights and darkest dawning days; they saw me merry, marry, and bring forth three children.  I loved those cats – we all loved them -- and that love was surely requited. 

In 1995, we bought a house in Cragmoor, and lived there for nearly a decade; we were living the American Dream.  But in 2004 – after I lost my $50,000 MCI job and my husband lost his $50,000 Compaq job – the bank foreclosed on our mortgage.  We held on as long as we could, but could only stave it off for so long...and after the foreclosure sale, we had thirty days to get out. 

So, it’s Summer 2004, and in order of appearance:  my husband and I were 37, Baby Cat was 20, Monka Cat was 19, the kids were aged 13, 11, and newborn.

Homeless and middle-aged with two cats and three kids, we stayed with friends for several months in their big house; but eventually push came to shove.  Under pressure to move, we took what we could afford…buying a mobile home in Falcon and moving it to Stratmoor Valley (aka Hell-on-Earth Springs).  

In the days immediately preceding our move, Monka became suddenly paralyzed.  I still remember the intense look in her eyes and the frightened sounds of her cries, and the sad way she stopped eating and drinking.  On the eve of our move – just moments prior to my rushed return from a mandatory food stamp appointment – Monka died…and all I could do was hold her small, stiffening body and weep.  I asked the owner of Coaltrain Liquors for a wooden wine box (which he gave me once I explained why); I wrapped that sweet black cat in a tissue of linen and placed her inside her small pine coffin.

There she lay, awaiting transport to our new home for her burial, when I stopped at Cimarron and Nevada to call my husband from a downtown pay phone.  Baby spooked and slipped away from the car unseen while my back was turned…and at first, my mind could not accept what had just happened;  but after driving about and calling his name for an hour, it became apparent:   Baby had run off.  How I grieved and hated myself.  With heavy hearts, we buried Monka in that hard Stratmoor ground behind that trailer, and I am still sometimes brought to tears to think of her so interred in the belly of that wretched Valley. 

A week later I found Baby inside a Humane Society cage – someone found him, walking in the area of my first apartment more than ten miles away -- and I kissed and hugged him ‘til he frowned.  When the Humane Society learned of his advanced age, they marveled, amazed that he was in such great shape for such an old cat.  “You all must really love and care for him,” the lady commended…and she let me take him home without charging me any of the associated fees.

I must say, I did not adequately research the subject of mobile homes; I thought we would just back the thing up onto its lot and plug it in – good to go.  But mobile homes are fraught with permits, codes and regulations; utilities would not be turned on until the home was “leveled” and had passed inspection.  We paid three different outfits to do the work; each one of them stole our money; yea, and verily, we were ripped off a lot then, by many people – but what else can you expect, living in the white man’s ghetto? 

Gamely we made a go of it, with only a wood-burning stove – no running water, electricity or heat.  Depending on their mood and our food stamps, the people behind us would let us fill up the master bath and sink once per week and run a long extension cord to their shed.  At first, it was like camping and Little House on the Prairie – boiling water, cookin’ vittles over the fire – and we managed to keep the kids fed, dressed and in school. 

Eventually, though, the stress took its toll; and when the frame buckled and bent as he tried to level the home himself (taking out several windows in the process), my husband became overwhelmed, threw in the towel, and walked away – leaving me to figure things out on my own.  Stunned and staggered, I hobbled through to November before deciding to send the oldest two kids to stay with a close friend.  For the next two weeks, it was just me, the baby and Baby – huddled before the stove in one lump on the sofa, beneath several layers of blankets.  My estranged sister offered to take the baby…and though I was still breastfeeding him, I could only accept, and handed him over on Thanksgiving.

I spent the next two months in that dark icebox alone…all alone, except for Baby.  I vividly remember gazing into the fire, searching for answers.  I feared the cat and I would both freeze to death; it all seemed so hopeless that I seriously contemplated suicide…but God and Baby helped me make it through that desolate dark night of my soul.

Behind the scenes, my husband found a job at Current…saved up some money, and came to my surprise rescue in January – I will never forget how happy and relieved I was to see him, and of course, we reconciled.  Still, various obstacles reared their heads as we fled Stratmoor Valley… namely our lot landlord Luella Holton, who’d said (when she didn’t know I was listening) “would never have rented to [us] if [she’d] known that gal [me] was black.”  To hasten along our inevitable end, she called DHS to report a mother with three children living without utilities – I had to act fast to shut down that investigation.  When we finally gave up on the mobile home, Ms. Holton cruelly tossed *all* of our belongings into a gigantic roll-off dumpster; and when I offered her $100 cash for just ten minutes in that dumpster, she pointed a Parkinson’s addled hand and told me to get the Eff offa her property or she’d shoot me first, and call the police later. 

And so, we just walked away from it.  Though we survived that harrowing experience, it nearly cost me my marriage, my family and my life…and we pretty much lost everything we owned:   car, clothing, jewelry, furniture, washer, dryer, wedding dress, photographs of Christmas and cats past…which simplified considerably our family’s February move into the shabby one-bedroom apartment near the Citadel Mall that for the next six months we’d call home.  The quarters were snug, to say the least…and discovering that we were again pregnant at age 38 did not help matters… I’m so proud and amazed to look back and see that my family survived and endured it all, together, intact…and without killing each other.

* * * * * * * *


A friend in need is a friend indeed, and such is my girl Bess, who used to live next door to us in Cragmoor; our kids grew up together.  Bess is always there for me, and I for her – best friends forever, no matter what.  She was one of the very few who’d take us to do the big grocery shopping, no matter how long it took and never asked us for gas money.  Her mother in New Mexico gifted her with a car, her brother drove it up to Colorado, and Bess had the car less than a week when she allowed me to borrow it to go grocery shopping.

Once-monthly grocery shopping for a family of five takes a lot of time and means a LOT of food, and I was at the 19th Street King Soopers for two hours with our one-year-old.  By the time we checked out, he was cranky, crying and so tired…pulling and squirming as kids often do when they’re sitting in a shopping cart having a temper tantrum.  With the help of an employee, I rolled my two carts out to the car and immediately secured the baby into his car seat, then loaded up the car up with all our groceries, started the car and drove home.

I was in the left turn lane, only a block from the apartment, when I realized I hadn’t stopped at the PetSmart while at King Soopers.  Dammit!  All that food for us to eat, and nothing for the cat! Good old Baby was by now slowly dying from kidney failure; the only food he could eat was Prescription Science Diet, and we were all out.  There was a PetSmart right there at Citadel Crossing – so instead of turning in at the apartments, I continued on down and across the street to PetSmart.

I parked and turned to look into the back seat; the baby must have fallen asleep within seconds, because he was conked out.  He sighed after catching his breath like babies do after falling asleep in the midst of crying…and nestled in his car seat amongst all those grocery bags, he looked just like an angel sound asleep on top of a cloud

I would only be in the store for a minute, and we’d be home a minute after that…he was so tired and resting so sweetly…and I just could not bring myself to wake him. 

It was a bright, crisp April day, the temperature in the low 60’s; 1:30 in the afternoon, and Bess needed her car back by 2:00.  The prescription cat food was right up at the front of the store, and I’d parked right up front as well – I’d be able to see the car at all times.  I considered covering the car seat with a light baby blanket, but decided against it; cracked the front windows, locked the doors, and hurried past some customers to enter the store. 

I grabbed several cans of cat food, and some cat litter from a display that stood near the cash registers, then stood in line.  There were two people in front of me…then one; she tried to pay with a credit card, then tried writing a check, both of which were denied.   “MwaaahMwaah muwahh muwah wah,” came a voice over the intercom; I sighed with impatience, keeping my eyes on the car. Finally, I was next up – the cashier rang me up quick and I was out the door…

But I hadn’t been quick enough…hadn’t been able to see all of the vehicle’s back end; because I exited PetSmart eight minutes after entering to see a police cruiser parked behind Bess’s car, blocking me in.  The policeman had just exited his vehicle and was looking into the backseat of Bess’ car.

“Officer…Officer…that’s my car; that’s my baby…” I said, approaching and forcing a smile.

“This is your car and your baby,” he repeated, considering me skeptically.

“Well, actually it’s my best friend’s car; she loaned it to me so that I could go grocery shopping.  See all the groceries here?  We live right around the corner; I only stopped here because I forgot the cat food,” I nervously laughed, unlocking the door.  “He was so tired, I couldn’t bring myself to wake him; I’m so sorry, I was only gone for a minute.”

“A minute longer, and I’d have shattered the glass to get him out,” said the cop.

“Oh! Really?”  I was a bit incredulous – it seemed somewhat of a drastic response, considering I’d been in and out of the store in less than ten minutes.  I learned later he’d been idling in the parking lot when the call came in, reported by the patrons I’d rushed past, and was on the scene in two minutes.

The policeman looked me over.  “License, registration and proof of insurance, please.”

I opened the glove box – it was empty.  I silently cursed the situation and myself.  “I’m sorry, it’s my best friend’s car, and I don’t see any of that paperwork,” I said haltingly.  I fumbled about in my purse for my license, then remembered tossing it along with my King Soopers card into one of the many grocery bags at checkout.   The officer eyed me suspiciously as I stammered explanations, beginning to rummage through the bags.

“Step out of the vehicle please, ma’am.”

I did so and stood, patiently, trying to remain calm; it was 2:00.  I didn’t have a cell phone – I couldn’t call Bess. Curiosity seekers ambled past.  Twenty more minutes passed as the officer ran the plates…  Twenty minutes turned to forty; it was now nearly 3:00. 

The baby stirred.  Trying to stay upbeat and obedient, I first got the officer’s ok before retrieving the baby from his car seat.  I changed his diaper and gave him a bottle which he took laughing, hugging me…looking around questioningly at the police and then at my face.   Several more cruisers appeared on the scene, all the cops giving me that smug “she’s a criminal” look and sharing opinions with one another; smiling, carefree, as though at lunch or on a coffee break.  One by one they took their leave, until just the first policeman and I remained.  It was 3:20. 

I groaned to think of the groceries already an hour and a half without refrigeration and approached his vehicle.  “Officer, I caused my friend to be late to work, and my groceries – I made a mistake and I’m so sorry for it; but no one was harmed here, no accident happened – how much longer do you think this might take?” 

That’s when I learned that New Mexico doesn’t share its motor vehicle information with the other states of the Union; worse yet, and unbeknownst to both Bess and me, her punk little brother had sneakily altered the registration tag to say “05” instead of “04” and pocketed the registration money his mother had given him.  So I had left my child unattended in a car with fictitious plates, without proof of insurance or registration.

I felt panic building up within me. “Couldn’t you have made an announcement at the store…called for me somehow?”

The office replied that he had; that was the “Mwa mwah muh mwah” announcement I hadn’t been able to discern; besides, he had indicated the license plate number, which I would never have recognized.  

“Come on, I’ll help you put these groceries in my car,” he said to me.

I asked, “Why?”  Well, because Bess’s car couldn’t lawfully be driven, nor could it just remain parked until later; under the law, it had to be towed.  Away.  To Impound.  The registered owner of the car could come pick up the car upon presenting proof of insurance, registration, and $75 for each day in impound.  The registered owner, as you’ll recall, was Bess’s mother way down in New Mexico.  A sense of doom fell over me; unless communications went extraordinarily smoothly, Bess was unlikely to obtain the necessary documents quickly enough before it became financially impossible to retrieve the car from impound.

We put the carseat in, then the baby, and then all of the groceries; the officer hadn’t realized that the trunk, too, contained bags of groceries, and almost seemed to think better of it all; but he made room.  Finally, we both got into the car and he drove me to our apartment.    “We’ll leave your groceries here; do you have someone to watch the baby, or shall we take him along?” 

“What do you mean?  Take him along where?”

“To the police operations center; I need to get your fingerprints and have you sign some documents,” came his reply.

“Am I under arrest?”  I asked him.

“No, but I am charging you with child abuse,” said he.

At that, I began to cry.  I tried talking him out of it…begging him, even; tried telling him of the difficult time we’d just endured, and of the added stress this incident would place on us as a family –  but none of it mattered.  I left the baby with a neighbor I hardly knew, then returned to the cop car and went downtown, where I was fingerprint and tickets were issued. 

“But I didn’t abuse my son, Officer; he wasn’t hurt…and I was only gone for a minute.  What if I refuse to sign the ticket?” I asked.

“Then you go to CJC and stay there until you can bail out.”

So, just like that, I lost my best friend’s car; my spotless driving record was horribly sullied, my driver’s license was instantly suspended…and I was charged with child abuse. 

The police report I later received contained a statement that still tolls loudly within me:  “An African-American woman exited PetSmart and approached, claiming to be the mother of the Caucasian child inside the vehicle.”


Kangaroo courts are sham legal proceedings which are set-up in order to give the impression of a fair legal process. In fact, they offer no impartial justice as the verdict, invariably to the detriment of the accused, is decided in advance. Such courts are associated with groups who have found a need to dispense a rough and ready form of justice but are, temporarily at least, outside the bounds of formal judicial processes; for example, inmates in jail, soldiers at war, settlers of lands where no jurisdiction has yet been established.
After showing up at the First Appearance room, my case was assigned to Division D, before the Honorable Judge Karla J. Hansen.

I appeared in front of Judge Hansen, and was struck by her coldness from the very start.  I’ve had several encounters with judges and magistrates, and honestly – Judge Hansen’s contemptuous demeanor is the first thing about her that I noticed.  Though I did not look forward to our next encounter, I pled not guilty, and a new court date was set for late August.

In June, on what was our 14th anniversary, our cat Baby died – he was nearly 21 years old.  We had seen it coming, and didn’t have the money to have him euthanized; so we made him as comfortable as possible, and he died in our arms. Baby is the only entity close to me that has ever died; his was the only life I ever saw come to an end.

In late August, I was nine months pregnant.  I was working at 7-11 at the time, and remember very clearly that on the last Sunday of August, I went into premature labor.  Some customers rushed me to Penrose Hospital, where I was given an ultrasound and something to stop my contractions.  The doctor wrote my boss to tell her that I was officially on maternity leave…and it all made me very tired.

I woke up late on Monday, vaguely disturbed by the memory of a possible court date…?   I called the courthouse around 10:00 a.m,. to confirm the time, only to learn I had missed it by two hours.  Asking to be transferred to Division D, I had to leave a message…which was returned over the noon hour.  The day was not yet over; hopefully, upon learning the circumstances and being presented with the doctor’s note, perhaps Judge Hansen would allow me to appear in the afternoon.

But it was not to be.  Judge Hansen had already issued a warrant for my arrest.  Now, she could have rescinded that order, and under the circumstances, should have – but she wouldn’t.  “How do I clear this up,”  I asked exasperatedly…and was told that the only way to clear it up was to turn myself in at CJC (the county jail).  And at nine months of pregnancy, I was loath to do so. 

So I didn’t.  Not right away, at least.

For you see, in addition to the late stage of my pregnancy and being hesitant about giving birth in jail, our name had come up to the top of the public housing list after more than three years – I’d submitted an application sometime way back when…when we still lived in that old beloved Cragmoor house, and before the wretched trailer and the dingy Casa Adobe apartments.  Yay, we would no longer be homeless…and we almost didn’t get the house because of the child abuse charge – yes, this matter nearly kept us from having a roof over our heads.  But because it was still an undecided matter, the Housing Authority granted my special appeal.  We were blissful when we moved into that house in the Adams neighborhood, where we spent the next five very happy years, and where Spydra was born…

...but through it all, that warrant hung over my head.

Anyway, I didn’t find the courage or motivation to turn myself in until the summer of 2007; I can’t remember what it was that caused me to finally do so, but my husband said there was something we were trying to do, and unless the arrest warrant had been resolved, we couldn’t proceed.  So, I called the bail bondsman and my father-in-law in advance, and went down to CJC to handle the matter.  I was booked in, smiled for the camera, let myself be fingerprinted, etc…and then sat there in holding for more than six hours before the process was completed and they released me.  It didn’t matter that I’d had all my ducks in a row – justice is a blind machine, and its wheels churn oh so slowly…

When I next appeared before Judge Hansen, her icy demeanor had given way to open hostility and contempt.  That I gone into premature labor; that I‘d had a doctor’s excuse and had called her chambers on the same day as the missed court appearance and the issued warrant; that I had turned myself in on my own accord – none of it mattered to her an iota.  She sighed, she nodded her head impatiently, she rolled her eyes scornfully for the benefit of her courtroom audience.  “Excuses, excuses, Mrs. Webb,” she mocked in sing-song, then silenced me with a forgotten insult.  Ordering me to sign up with the public defender’s office, she was through with me for the moment, and moved to the next case without skipping a beat.

I was matched up with Mr. Grey Sample, who was fresh out of law school; young, sweet, polite and southern.  When I told him about what had taken place that April day, he told me he didn’t think it amounted to child abuse. 

The DA’s office never wavered with the plea bargain that they offered:  plead to the child abuse, and the three traffic violations would be dropped.  I felt that in all fairness the converse should also have been an option, so we countered…offering to plead guilty to all of the traffic charges if they’d just drop the child abuse.  The answer was swift:  “We can’t do that, Mrs. Webb.” 

Well, why not?   Why were they so determined to make the child abuse charge stick, foisting it upon me any which way? 

Perhaps with another judge, taking the plea would have been the smart thing to do.  Most judges would have mandated a two year suspended sentence, after which the charge would fall from my record.  But I understood that accepting the plea would mean throwing myself at the mercy of Judge Karla Hansen -- who had already demonstrated herself as merciless. 

Refuse to accept guilt for something you have not done. Many times attorneys will attempt to sell their client a plea. "Oh, it will not affect you." "You are not saying you are guilty." Do not kid yourself. Accepting a plea will be a life changing decision. It is far easier to reverse a conviction than it is to have a plea set aside. When you accept a plea, you void any appeal and in reality, you stand before the judge and admit that you know exactly what you are doing. I do understand that people get scared, but before making a decision that could affect you for the rest of your life – know and understand all the issues and consequences.

Basically it was a very serious game of chicken.  I reckon the DA’s office had seen my stalwart type before and figured that in the end I’d fold and plea. But the judge was still free to sentence me however she pleased; no way was I going to stand before Karla Hansen and say I understood what I was doing by pleading guilty to child abuse.  I dug in my heels and decided to take my chances with a jury trial…even though it would be my still-wet-behind-the-ears attorney’s very first. 

It seemed to blindside the cocky young DA the day that the matter came up for trial, and the prosecution announced that they weren’t ready.   My husband – who had on this day accompanied me – shook his head.  Come on:  it was the prosecution who was making all this out to be the crime of the century…and it was the prosecutor’s own nonchalance that left him unprepared.  Judge Hansen beneficently granted them a six-week time extension.


Just days before the trial, I landed an $18,000 job with Time-Warner Cable; even though I passed the drug and every other test, the background check revealed the ongoing child abuse matter.  Not only was the job offer rescinded, but I was told it would be seven years before I could even re-apply.  I would go on to experience this awful rejection time and again over the years; indeed, it just happened to me again with Xerox two months ago.

The day of the trial had arrived, and we felt we were ready.  A jury panel of six mothers was selected, and with that, things were underway.  The prosecution called two witnesses; the man who called 911 – who stated that, while he felt I’d made a poor parenting decision, I’d been gone only briefly; and the police officer – who testified to the facts that I’ve already related.  

The prosecution rested.  Then I got on the stand and testified as the sole defense witness.

The opposing attorneys made their closing arguments…and I’ll never forget how the prosecutor scoffed: “The defendant placed her child’s life in jeopardy OVER A CAT.” 

My attorney said, “The defendant made a judgement error, a poor parenting decision, perhaps -- but it did not amount to child abuse.” 

The jury was released to make their decision, which came within the hour.  I stood for the verdict.  “Not Guilty” was read off three times for each of the traffic offenses, and my heart was filled with hope; then the final decision:  “Guilty” for the third-degree misdemeanor child abuse charge.  It was over.

The pain of my heart as it broke staggered me; I blinked away the hot tears that welled up and stung at my eyes.  My attorney placed his hand on my arm apologetically as Judge Hansen cheerily thanked the jury for their time and set the matter over for sentencing.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her watching me…and I sensed that it was because she *wanted* to see me cry – and so, I denied her, remaining stoic until I had exited her courtroom. 

I walked outside in a daze, and reached for a cigarette, but had no lighter; I asked a person standing nearby for a light, and recognized her as a member of my jury.  Meekly, sadly, I asked her is she’d mind explaining the jury’s guilty finding. 

“We didn’t want to,” she said, somewhat apologetically.  “While we understood the circumstances that led to your decision to leave your child unattended, we all agreed you acted negligently.  One jury member insisted that despite the fact of your negligence, no actual child abuse occurred.  We asked the judge to clarify the jury instructions:  she explained that neglect *is* abuse; she also explained that you could appeal a guilty finding.  So we agreed on the guilty verdict – but specifically asked that the judge be lenient.”  I nodded and thanked her hoarsely, a lump in my throat.  I knew the judge was not bound to the sentence the jury recommended.


I tried to practice what I’d say in defense of me, and considered who to have speak on my behalf at sentencing.  I decided against having my Dutch mother…choosing our first-born, who was 15 years old at the time.  Judge Hansen called him to sit, and said, “Hello Mr. Webb.  Tell me about your mother.”

My son began.  “Well, she’s a great mom for the most part; she’s not perfect, but then nobody is”  He went on to describe the positive influence I’d had on his education and grades, and that he and his three siblings loved me very much.  Judge Hansen thanked him.  Though I’d rehearsed my own speech, the bemused expression on Judge Hansen’s face caused me to second-guess each word as I spoke them.  I finished a bit uncertainly, and waited for the judge to announce my sentence.

Judge Hansen smiled and said, “Mrs. Webb…even your own son says you’re not a good mother, not all the time – so stop pretending that you are.  I hereby sentence you ten days in jail, parenting classes and two years probation.”

I stood there, blinking with astonishment…knowing that the sentence was to be carried out immediately.  “Your Honor,” I said, “I’d like a week to get my affairs in order.”

“What affairs, Mrs. Webb?  You don’t have a job,” came her retort.

I stammered, “I- I’m the mother of four children – that’s my job.”

“And the gentleman who sat with you during our last hearing – who was he to you...?” asked Judge Hansen, walking me b .

Clutching at hope, I answered, “You mean my husband of 17 years?”

“Mmmmmm, yes…your husband of 17 years:  can’t HE care for the children?”

This led me to stutter outright.  ”Y-y-yes, he does take care of the kids, it’s just that…he works outside of our home, at night and…”  I trailed off; it all seemed so futile. 

Judge Hansen sighed impatiently.  “All right, Mrs. Webb, you have a week to get your affairs in order – report on August 24.”

A heavy sigh lay upon my breast, and I resisted the urge to heave it.  “Such a coincidence,” I said, stepping off of the stand, “that’s our oldest daughter’s birthday.”

Said Judge Hansen, “Well, I guess you’ll be celebrating it a week early.”

And that was that.  My cheeks burned from my humiliation.   I didn’t know then – I still don’t know today – why Judge Hansen decided to crush me that way – not merely in public, but in front of my teenaged son and my senior citizen mother.  Of course, my son felt somehow responsible…that he’d said the wrong thing; and my mother said to me right away, “Spydra, don’t be mad at him for saying what he said and how long you were sentenced…”

So, I hugged my son, resisted the urge to choke my mother, and reluctantly readied myself for jail.


My attorney and I pored over case law, searching for something on which to hang an appeal.  In the end, I argued an affirmative defense -- that is, I didn't know that what I had done was wrong; leaving a child unattended in a car for under ten minutes is not a criminal offense in about half of the states of the Union.  The notion seemed to catch her off guard, and I saw Hansen consider it for a minute...but she quickly rejected it.  When I pursued an appeal through the Office of Public Defender, the head honcho there told me that “it won’t be easy to find an attorney willing to formulate an appeal for a convicted baby-roaster.” 

Judge Hansen said numerous things to my young attorney that left him puzzling over her unnecessary cruelty; a short time after my trial, he stopped working as a public defender – I’m not sure whatever became of him.

My life was forever altered.  What are the top three worst crimes a criminal can commit?  That’s right:  Murder.  Rape.  Child Abuse.  Even though I type 125 WPM and happen to be one of the best administrative assistants EVER; even though my crime was a third-degree misdemeanor – just a nudge more serious than a petty offense – the same charge all parents face if their children are excessively tardy to school – I’ve been unable to secure employment since this happened, and come under scrutiny any time I want to volunteer at my children’s school.  Think about it:  I’ve been denied call center employment *solely* because of my child abuse conviction – how often would I come into contact with minor children in that capacity?  And yet, cretins like Joshua Carrier and Jerry Sandusky are permitted to work as police officers and athletic coaches, feeling up our kids and destroying our faith in mankind.

As I said above, I spent more than five years trying to forget the name “Karla Hansen”.  If not for her peers’ “Do Not Retain” recommendation, I may have spent the remainder of my days wondering why she hated me so, and what I’d done to bend her nose out of shape.  Now, I know that it wasn’t just me, and it wasn’t necessary just because I’ve black, either.  Karla Hansen has demonstrated herself to be an equal opportunity [rhymes with rich].

For those of you who feel I did abuse my child that day -- I’m sorry; I’m sorry for what happened, I’m sorry for what I did, I’m sorry for how you feel about it, I’m sorry all around.  My shopaholic mom used to leave my four-year-old sister and nine-year-old me in the car for up to two hours at a time while she traipsed through the mall; we didn’t want to go into the store with her, preferring rather, to lay in the back of the station wagon and listen to the radio, read a book, and/or play with Barbies.  My mom actually packed drinks and snacks for us – a tailgate picnic of sorts.  And yes, it even happened in the summertime.  You know what else my mom used to do?  Take us to the book section of whatever store we were in and tell us to stay there until she got back – and we would.

My mom was not a child abuser.   “Well, Spydra, that was a different time,” it’s been said, and yeah, maybe so; but my kid was buckled into his car seat asleep on a mild April afternoon; store surveillance showed that I’d been gone for just eight minutes.  It’s not as though I’d gone out drinking at a bar for Ladies Night, or to a casino, or to work.  Eight minutes my sleeping child was unattended…while I learned my lesson, and would never repeat my mistake, I’ve seen real child abuse…and still do not feel that I abused my child.

Spydra Evaluates Judge Hansen's Performance

And so the rest of this piece is my own evaluation on the judicial performance of Judge Karla Hansen.

Commission on Judicial Performance
2003 Judicial Performance Questionnaire

Using a grade scale, where an “A” is excellent along with B, C, D or F for fail, please grade the judge on the following.  (If you feel that you do not have experience with the judge in a specific area, or just don’t know, please circle the number corresponding to “Don’t Know/Not Applicable”—DK/NA).

1. Demeanor: A B C D F NA
a. Giving court proceedings a sense of dignity....................................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen gives her court proceedings the sense of dignity that is to be expected in any respectable kangaroo court setting.

b. Treating participants in the case politely and with respect............................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Few are the times that I’ve felt more belittled, and utterly helplessly so; she also humiliated my young public defender – publicly, repeatedly and needlessly so.
c. Conducting his/her courtroom in a neutral manner......................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen’s manner is as far from neutral as can be; her prosecutorial bias is evident.

d. Having a sense of compassion and human understanding for those who appear before her 4 3 2 1 0 9

2. Fairness:
a. Giving participants an opportunity to be heard............................................................................. 4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen talks over and hushes the defense. 
b. Treating those involved in the case without bias .......................................................................... 4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen’s bias against the defense was not just thinly veiled; it was bare naked.
c. Treating fairly people who represent themselves .......................................................................... 4 3 2 1 0 9
Again, Judge Hansen affords pro se persons precisely the level of respect due to them – none.
d. Giving each side enough time to present his or her case............................................................. 4 3 2 1 0 9
When the defense is ready but the prosecution is not, the prosecution is afforded more time – months, in some instances.  Conversely, when the prosecution is ready but the defense is not -- better get ready quick, because Ringmaster Hansen will make sure that the show will go on.

3. Communications:
a. Makings sure participants understand the proceedings, and what’s going on in the courtroom   . 4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen certainly wants participants to understand the proceedings; after all, it’s no fun to be the only one in on a joke.  Judge Hansen shows her disappointment with clenched jaws and sullen sighs whenever a defendant demonstrates the need for a translator; she’s far more animated once all the participants’ fluency in English has been established, for then she alone may brightly bear to the defendant his or her bad news.
Using language that everyone can understand ............................................................................. 4 3 2 1 0 9
Carrying her big stick, Judge Hansen speaks quickly in rushed legalese, then hurries the layman’s response.
c. Speaking clearly so everyone in the courtroom can hear what’s being said........................... 4 3 2 1 0 9
Again, Judge Hansen takes pains to enunciate her vociferations, so that her captive courtroom audience can be a part of the merriment.

4. Diligence:
a. Beginning court on time................................................................................................................. 4 3 2 1 0 9
“On time” is when Judge Hansen is ready; but don’t dare run late to your own court date, or try calling in an explanation, because Judge Hansen will already have issued a warrant for your arrest – one that she *will not* rescind, regardless of the circumstance.
b. Maintaining appropriate control over proceedings......................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen maintains total control in her courtroom, ruling as she does with her iron fist.
c. Setting reasonable schedules for cases ...........................................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
To Judge Hansen, “setting a reasonable schedule” means whatever works well with the prosecution’s calendar.
d. Being prepared for his/her cases.....................................................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen prepares…because she wants to be sure to point out things that the prosecution may have overlooked.
e. Managing court proceedings so that there is little wasted time...................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen is nothing if not efficient…churning out cases like a one-man crime-crushin’ factory.

5. Application of Law:
a. Giving reasons for rulings. ...............................................................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
When asked “Why,” Judge Hansen doesn’t hesitate to answer “Because I said so.”
b. Willing to make decision without regard to possible outside pressure .................................. 4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen has already made up her mind, and as such remains stoic, and perfectly unswayed by requests for reconsideration or pleadings for leniency.
c. Being able to identify and analyze relevant facts ..........................................................................4 3 2 1 0 9
Judge Hansen fancies herself and may even be a diligent student of the law…but *she* determines what is fact and what is relevant.

6. [If you were in Judge _Hansen’s courtroom during a criminal case or cases please answer this question,]

On the scale below, please indicate by circling the appropriate number how biased you think Judge __ Hansen is toward the defense or the prosecution. If you feel Judge Hansen is completely unbiased, circle “0.”

Bias toward Completely Bias toward
Defense Neutral Prosecution
5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 DK/NA

7. On the scale below, please indicate by circling the appropriate number how lenient or how harsh you think the sentences generally handed down by Judge Hansen are. If you feel Judge Hansen generally hands down appropriate sentences, circle “0.”
Sentences Appropriate Sentences
Too Light Sentences Too Harsh
5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5

8. If a friend of yours was scheduled to appear before Judge Hansen as a party in either a civil or criminal case and asked you for advice, what would you tell your friend about Judge Hansen?

I would tell my friend to forget about trying to make a good impression on Judge Hansen; never mind seeking her sympathy by sharing your sad story, and banish the thought of making her laugh with a little bit of levity – such wishful thinking is doomed to fail. Brace for the worst, and expect Hansen to hurl the Criminal Revised Statutes at you…and when it comes and hits you hard upside your head, do your best to suffer it in silence.  To speak in Hansen’s courtroom is to invite her scorn…and baring your soul to her is like showing your neck to a vampire; whatever you do, don’t cry…for your teardrops are like gumdrops to her.  Your best course of action is to just let your attorney do all of the talking; let the professionals absorb Hansen’s low-blows and sucker-punches, that’s what they get paid for. 

Ignore my advice, and spend the rest of your life wondering why Hansen seemed to have it in for you… taking it personally and blaming yourself; regretting your words, and wishing you could tuck them back into your mouth unspoken.  That’s backwards thinking, friend; propelling yourself through Hansen’s Division D requires a forward thought process. 

9. What would you say are Judge Hansen’s strengths?
Her wicked backhand.

10. And what would you say are Judge Hansen’s weaknesses?
Like the Tin Man, Hansen’s as hollow as she is heartless; the only reason she’s not rusty is because she’s never wept.  There are several well-known philanthropists who might help Hansen obtain a heart like real boys and girls have -- Santa, the Wizard and the Blue Fairy, come to mind -- but Hansen would need to make herself humble before them…and that truly is the stuff of fairy tale. 

11. Is there anything else that you would like to say about Judge Hansen?

12. Keeping in mind your responses to each of the previous questions, how strongly do you recommend that Judge Hansen be retained in office, or not retained in office?
Strongly recommend she be retained in office    5
Somewhat recommend she be retained in office    4
Undecided or don’t know enough to make recommendation 3
Somewhat recommend she not be retained in office      2
Strongly recommend she not be retained in office      1
And why do you think that way about retaining or not retaining Judge Hansen?
I feel strongly about not retaining Judge Hansen because she demonstrated to me and countless others by way of her condescending showmanship, sour disposition, lack of empathy, and prosecutorial bias that she is an unfair judge, who demeans defendants and their attorneys, and the entire court system in the process. 

Should she not be retained as a judge, it’s hardly the end of her world; it’s just a black mark on her judicial performance…Hansen has a whole other skill set upon which she can fall back.  Let her go apply her education as a nuclear scientist; let her return to her rewarding career as a Guardian Ad Litem; let her become a tennis pro or Dominatrix:   Karla Hansen is at her best whenever she’s smashing something, whether that be atoms, families, overhand services, or the shackled man’s spirit. 

Often times, the lawyer’s views are so lofty that they overlook and don’t sweat the small stuff; Karla Hansen, with her eye rolling and sturm und drang  loves to make ‘em sweat, and enjoys shining her laser light on the small stuff.  As such, she manufactures much ado out of nothing, and with all due respect, the field of law hardly needs more ado.  Hansen’s peers in jurisprudence have observed and pointed out her shortcomings, they have voiced their concerns to her and her superiors that when it comes to being a mensch, she ain’t. 

Perhaps you know of one who would say, “My life is better because of the rod Judge Karla Hansen refused to spare me.”  That one is not me, however.  That she encouraged my jury to find my guilty, and then punished me so severely for the crime, really hurts and puzzles me.  I left my sleeping child unattended for eight minutes, and received more than a day in jail for each minute.  Hansen sentenced me much like she would have sentenced a drunk driver. Remember, too, that I lost my best friend's car, and that this continues to impede my employment.

Judge Hansen is nothing more than a mean old bully, and the Fourth Judicial District deserves a heckuva lot better. 


  1. Wow you got several punishments, loss of wages by not being able to get a job, a permanent record, hurting your friend's mom, the hurt your husband felt & feels, the baby missing his mom. When I read about babies dying from being left in the car, it almost seems like the punishment fits the crime. What would have impacted you to never leave a baby alone in the car? Probably this is what the judge and judicial system needs to hear. You were lucky. Your son did not die nor get stolen to experience who knows what. So, the "punishment" should be to deter you from ever doing it again. Yes, I'm sure this lifelong experiental education has deterred you. Think back to yourself then, what would have had deterred you - losing the car? -just the impact of the investigation? -big fine? what?

  2. "You were lucky...your son did not die nor get stolen to experience who knows what." Every parent the world over is lucky each day their child(ren) makes it through without experiencing harm. The fact is that, while unarguably tragic, deaths and kidnappings involving a child left unattended in a vehicle are statistical improbabilities.

    We're all familiar with the horror stories of babies dying after being left alone inside a hot car. One that I vividly remember involved two adult male cousins who parked their car alongside a Californa forest road and traipsed off in search of psychedelic mushrooms -- leaving their two young daughters in the car. I presume they lost track of time...didn't notice it was hot and getting hotter...out of sight and out of mind; they probably got the munchies or something, compelling them to return to their vehicle and remember the kids they'd left behind...anyway, the heat and her panic led one of the girls to pull out *all* of hair as she died -- the very thought of which is enough to bring me to weeping...

    It's true, however, that in roughly half of our 50 states, it's permissible to leave one's child unattended in a vehicle for a short period of time. Weather figures prominently when determnining potential harm...along with a host of other factors (i.e., crowded parking lot, time of day, hyperactive kid, acid-tripping parents, etc.)

    The truth is that my son was never in any real danger of roasting to death or being kidnapped that April day in 2005; he was unharmed. Evenso, because of me, one of the very worst things that could ever have happened to our family DID happen -- inflicting severe and permanent damage.

    I was wrong to leave my son unattended in that car that day, and am sorrier than I can even say; but I'd have learned my lesson and been deterred even if the officer had just let me go with a warning. I remain unconvinced that my crime merited its extreme and enduring punishment, and I fail to see who benefitted from it all...

    Unless you count Judge Hansen and her predilection for teardrop-gumdrops. Please do not allow my story to shift the focus from the real subject of my Hansen series of articles: Judge Hansen herself, and her rude, hostile, condescending manner -- recognized by nearly everyone who finds him or herself in Hansen's msot unpleasant company.

    Regardless of your feelings about the long-ago mistake that I made (and paid dearly for...many *many* times over), the punishment is out of proportion to the crime. HANSEN WAITED FOR HER OPPORTUNITY TO PUBLICLY HUMILIATE ME, AND SAVORED EVERY MINUTE OF IT; IT WAS ENTIRELY OUT OF LINE FOR HER TO BELITTLE ME THAT WAY IN FRONT OF MY SON AND MY MOTHER. Defendants who appear before her are forever after ruined -- whether they deserve it or not...and now that I know she's is a serial sadist, I can neither forgive nor forget her diligent efforts to ruin me absolutely.

    Billy Jack she ain't -- so there's really no reason for Hansen to pretend to be such a big, bad, hardass and swing her clubbin' stick so mercilessly. Whatever it is that Hansen's trying to prove, her heavy, ham-fisted performance has neither impressed nor convinced her peers that she's anything other than a bad judge and an unlikable person.