CHAPTER 14 - FIRST PRESS, NEW ATTORNEY
On Sunday, March 18, 1984, the phone rang early waking me up. It was my mother.
“Well, you’ve achieved fame around this town,” she said.
Still half asleep, I asked her what she was talking about.
“I started reading the Herald at breakfast and almost fell over when I saw Bobby’s picture. There’s a huge two-page story about the whole thing. It’s called Divorced Parents Fight For Spiritual Custody Of Son,” she said.
“My God, I asked them to hold off on the story. What’s it like?” I asked.
“Well, it’s very unbiased. I guess it favors you, but only slightly. The writer managed to dig up Maria’s complaints about you from the pleadings, and he published them all. There’s two pictures. Most of your concerns are there including the fact that Maria agreed to the brith milah. The article quotes Bobby as saying, I don’t want to go to church because Jesus is a false prophet, and says you admitted that your son was baptized. Here it is, Bobby said, Mommy said she was going to place a shield over my head so I wouldn’t go to hell.” (Note: the actual Herald story is here: Spiritual Custody Case – Initial press coverage in the Miami Herald, pages 1B and 2B, Sunday, March 18, 1984).
I thanked her for the call, got dressed, and rushed out to buy ten copies of the paper. In the car, the radio talk shows were full of gossip about the case that was the headline story of the local section in the Herald.
I read it and found the financial accusations to be more than annoying, especially because I had given Strasser material to refute all that Maria had alleged. Then again, I worried more about how Maria would treat our son when she read what he had to say about Jesus. One thing was certain. Bobby had earned a new Israeli F-16 and more. He had stood up to a Christian world and made clear the Jewish view of the Nazarene. I rushed to a toy store and quickly restored the boy’s symbol of self-identity.
At work the next day, Dr. Lewis, Assistant Principal, warned me to be careful about what I had to say in class. Already the hate calls were starting to come in. An article like that was more than what was needed to bring all the anti-Semites crawling out of the woodwork.
In class one of my students asked, “Do Jews believe in God?”
“We not only believe in God,” I said, “but we gave you most of your Bible.”
“Then why’d ya kill God on the cross?” another asked.
“Look,” I answered, “Jews believe in God and a Messiah to come, but we don’t think Jesus is either. And as for killing him, it was the Romans who did it.”
“My parents think you’re nuts for putting your kid through the stuff we read about in the paper,” a third boy said. As my eye tic returned, I ordered, “Let’s get on with the lesson. Anyone who brings up this case in class again will get a conduct cut. Get your news from the paper, not from me.”
Having received enough press to get a few million South Floridians buzzing about the case, and having filed in my pleadings all the evidence I had linking the Vatican to the Holocaust, I was now, ten days before the first scheduled hearing, ready to hire an attorney.
Bennett Lapidus was the man to get the call. He was a somewhat short, slightly chunky 30-year-old who bore a remarkable resemblance to Dustin Hoffman. The lawyer had seen the Herald article before I had called, and he was happy to take the case for he was aware of the value of publicity in building his own practice. He was also pleased with the quality of most of the work that I had filed. I had managed to expose a dozen or more outright errors by Schmidt or deviations from the truth by his client. There were, Bennett told me, only two flaws with my work . . . the attack on the Vatican and the amount of anti-Christian theology incorporated in my pleadings.
“Christ!” exclaimed Bennett. “Where did you ever dig up this stuff on the Pope and the Nazis? It’s dynamite, but are you nuts? The judge is Catholic! Schmidt will paint you as a fanatic and Hickey will go right along with him. I’m gonna have to withdraw all this if I can.”
“No you won’t,” I told him. “You either take the case as is or not at all. We’re not going to fight this war as apologists, but as Jews seeking justice in an American court. I want to do more than just win custody. I’m trying to set the record straight on what the Vatican has done and on why it is that we Jews have refused to accept Jesus all these years.”
“The articles you cite don’t prove that the Vatican pulled the trigger; they just show that the Vatican kept its mouth shut when it knew all along what was happening,” he said.
“The Pope claims to be the spokesman for Christ and for God in this world. If a pope knew what was happening, and through his silence, allowed it to keep happening, it proves that he is no spokesman for God. A prime directive of any legitimate religion must be to teach mankind what is morally right and what is morally wrong. The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have failed to accomplish this, and in so failing they have called into question the legitimacy of everything else they stand for.”
I went on to offer Bennett five of the six million dollars I was asking for if the attorney would take the case against the Vatican on a contingency basis, but Bennett was more than a bit conservative about the effort and would only agree to handle the custody case itself for $100 an hour. He did promise to consider taking the Church suit, but was noncommittal about when he would actually help me file.
“Do you really want to start a holy war?” the attorney asked.
“If I have to, so be it. But I’m not asking you to kill anybody, just help me get the truth across in court,” I told him. I went on to explain the nature of the Biblical verses that were involved. Schmidt had taken the bait and included my scriptural references, which now meant (I hoped) that there would be an opportunity to actually debate the nature of Jesus during the trial.
“What do you want,” Bennett again asked, “A second Sanhedrin to try Jesus? No judge is going to grant you that. The court is going to be concerned about one thing and one thing only . . . what’s in the best interest of the child. You can’t expect it to rule on which faith is right. Tell me about Bobby."
I told him of the years Bobby had spent in Hebrew and Sunday school, of the boy’s service leadership, and about his excellence in all areas of Jewish studies.
Bennett cautioned me against trying to prep the boy for court, pointing out that judges burn parents for such behavior. Bobby should appear to act naturally on the stand. It was enough, Bennett thought, for the young man to simply identify with Judaism.
The first session with Bennett lasted two hours. I left with a good feeling and knew that it was best to have someone who was not emotionally involved serve as my spokesman before the judge.
Bennett’s first call to me wasn’t one of good news. Schmidt was asking for a three-week continuance because he had not had time enough to digest the hundred-page Answer that I had filed. Bobby was by now suffering intensely from the struggle, and I had no desire to prolong my son’s agony. I was, however, paying Bennett handsomely for his advice and the attorney thought it best not to vent our fury too early. “Judges,” he said, “usually grant the first request for a continuance,” so I agreed to go along with the delay.
About a week later Bennett informed me that he had received an order from Hickey for both parents to participate in mediation. I felt that because I had already tried to go that route the thing was really directed more at Maria than me - good news. Bennett advised me to “Keep cool and be flexible.” That wasn’t too difficult, but I doubted that there was a chance in the world for Maria to cooperate, too.