Sunday, 27 November 2011

Licenciado Luis and the Last Chance Saloon

Powerscourt Waterfall, near Enniskerry, County...Image via WikipediaThings 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 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 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 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'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 way of discovering who did what to whom or when, 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 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 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, all the parties to the water dispute are not 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'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...

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  1. Is it possible Costa Rica was colonised by the French, not the Spanish? Is there a difference?

  2. dinahmow, all Club Med types, that's for sure.
    But let me assure you this has nothing on the shenanigans of my local court in France...which has given me a wonderful apprenticeship in dirty dealings.

  3. Such intriguing insights into local life in Costa Rica. It just shows people are the same wherever they are, get up to whatever they can by way of shenanigans and try to wriggle out of the consequences however they can.

    Love the empty restaurant story!

  4. Do you sometimes feel you are living in the midst of a Monty Python sketch?

  5. Sarah, I'm not sure I'd be so laid back about it if i hadn't lived in France so long!
    The restaurants are super, aren't they!

    Steve, Monty Python owe me....

    Pueblo girl, she's a great battler. She was married to a Colombian chap who took the kids for a 'holiday' and did not return.
    She sold up everything, went there, represented herself in court, uncovered the forged documents he had presented to get custody, ran a finca to prove she could support the kids and got them back.
    Arrived back in CR with zilch and is now busy and successful.
    She is also great for a giggle...

  6. Fly, do you ever wake up and wonder whether you have actually left France? I have the strongest feeling of deja vu. I agree with Pueblo Girl, your lawyer is a corker!

  7. Perpetua, every morning I know for certain I am not in France because
    I don't have some damn fool official letter trying to extract money from me!

    This business, which affects a fair number of people, is concerned with outright greed on the part of the banker...and goodness only knows what on the part of the chop suey merchant (land to bury the bodies perhaps, after a murder at the chief chinese restaurant in town?)....coupled with violence on the part of The Neighbour.
    Simple things.
    And I'm not on my own.
    I can see that we'll get this settled in the fullness of time.
    Just as we settled the hash of the local council.

    In France I had to cope with armed men on my property, a politician who nearly managed to take my house with the connivance of my own lawyers, crooked planners, and a hospital who used my husband as a guinea pig.
    Among other inconveniences.
    I had the support of friends....but that was all.

    People say you may travel, but always take yourself with you...thus my legal entanglements.

    I think that it is part of the problem of being a foreigner....people think you're dumb (you would be, being a foreigner) and try it on...then are most indignant when you bite back.

    Most immigrants don't.
    Most natives don't.

    I do. Wherever I am.

    And yes, my lawyer is a real corker!

  8. Sorry, Fly, I had no idea that France had been quite such a nest of vipers for you. I obviously need to go back and explore the earlier posts on French Leave. From what you say there must be officials in France still licking the wounds you gave them and it looks like their counterparts in Costa Rica will soon have the same experience.

  9. Perpetua, I haven't really covered the major incidents on the blog!

    France changed considerably while I lived there....a change noted by my French friends too.
    In my first twelve years or so there was an air of trying to make things work, getting round the system.
    Later, the system reimposed itself, rigid and unyielding.
    Most of the public service workers I met were decent, fair minded people, but a lot of them felt caught up in a net of contradictory schemes which they were trying to apply.
    Meanwhile, the decentralisation under Mitterand gave power back to local 'notables'...the source of a great deal of local level corruption and application of influence.

    And there you have to look at the judicial system...from understood 'arrangements' to outright perversion of the course of justice.

    I think in our case too that there was an element of taking advantage of a man known to be very ill....what was he going to do about things, seemed to be the attitude.

    I think that I was lucky to have been shown so much by French friends....I know of expats who have been taken to the cleaners and still think of it all as some quaint French custom...or don't want to face the reality.

    There is undoubtedly corruption in Costa Rica...undoubtedly officials who will discriminate or prevaricate...but it's not swept under the carpet as it is in France.
    Eventually you get there.

  10. Your lawyer sounds a real gem. Very sorry to hear about your French mis-adventures. Glad you bit back.

  11. Niall and Antoinette, she is super...and a lot of fun, too!

    I think in the later years in France we would not have had such problems if Mr. Fly had not been so very ill...and thus seen as vulnerable...and if we had not been perceived as having something worth taking!

    The view of French friends was that we were sharing experiences that were not unknown among the French themselves and that only part of the problem was that those responsible thought that, as foreigners and therefore ignorant, we would be easy marks.

    But just try getting a lawyer to represent you against Authority....

  12. Keystone Cops springs to mind! I sometimes wonder if Costa Rica was ready for you, Fly. :) They must wonder what has hit them.

    Thank goodness for that excellent training the French gave you. :)

  13. Susie Kelly, it wouldn't be possible without a determined lawyer, though!
    Not until I get up to speed on Costa Rican law....

    Mark you, we've just back from renewing our protection orders without a lawyer in a different court and the experience was totally different....

    A proper judge, proper procedure and The Neighbour stuffed again!

    Fillet steak for lunch!

  14. Oh, I forgot my manners...thank you France!