I don't know what possessed me to type "George Clooney" into QuickLaw. I was getting frustrated -- "river of blood", "Twitter" and "the original smoking gun case" had all produced nothing. (The last one was a long shot, but wouldn't that have been awesome? Yes it would have been awesome.) Typing "Easter bunny" had, improbably, produced a depressing account of infant death. My God, "Fun with QuickLaw" is about laughing at the ignorant, not gawking at tragedy! Decorum, if you please.
Sexy pediatrician Dr. Doug Ross saved the day.1 Maybe it's because Three Kings was on TV on the weekend, neutered of swear words and violence. Maybe the mind just settles on George Clooney like a weary salesman curls up next to his sleeping spouse.
It so happens that swear words, violence and George Clooney's tidal magnetism are some of the factors threatening the proper upbringing of young Brandon Scalisi, according to his parents' custody battle, Peterson v. Scalisi,  O.J. No. 2774.
Custody disputes arise frequently in "Fun with QuickLaw". Judges in such disputes are called upon to compare the parties' worth, sight-unseen. For lack of a better yardstick, they rely upon quotidian cultural signifiers -- for example, "The Sopranos", "Rob Zombie" or "nachos for breakfast"; all viable candidates for future "FwQL" segments, all appearing in the case at hand. But we get ahead of ourselves!
Meet the Scalisi family: Nicole Heidi Peterson, Applicant; Michael Frank Scalisi, Respondent; and young Brandon Scalisi, Object of Dispute. According to the head note, the parents "met in a bar where the mother was working as an exotic dancer and the father was a probationary member of [the Outlaws] motorcycle gang. They had a child and agreed that the mother would quit dancing and the father would support the family. Their relationship deteriorated shortly after the child was born."
Things look grim from the outset for Ms. Peterson:
It appears that Ms. Peterson has what can best be described as a less structured parenting style than Mr. Scalisi. For example, Ms. Peterson admits that Brandon sometimes eats potato chips or nachos for breakfast when he is with her. While this may not be the worst parenting sin in the world, it would be preferable if she were to place the same emphasis on a proper breakfast as Mr. Scalisi apparently does. Particularly when Brandon starts school, his nutritional needs will become more and more important. I hope that Ms. Peterson understands the importance of diet in a child's development and that she will ensure that the consumption of potato chips for breakfast is not a regular occurrence.
Despite his apparent commitment to a healthy balanced breakfast, Mr. Scalisi is not without his own questionable childrearing practices. Judge Wildman does a masterful job not calling these people what they are -- an Artie Lange comeback vehicle, coming soon from AMC. It would write itself:
Ms. Peterson says that Mr. Scalisi passes gas in various ways without apology and is resistant to her efforts to discourage Brandon from doing the same thing. She says that Brandon learned the opening words to the theme song of the television show, "The Sopranos", while at his father's home. These words are something to the effect of "I woke up this morning and got myself a gun". Ms. Peterson says that Brandon has referred to her red pants as "Hell's Angels" pants and he has returned from his father's with temporary tattoos of swords and skulls, which are not "happy" or age appropriate. She complains that when Brandon had his hair cut like "George Clooney", Mr. Scalisi referred to the actor as a "fruitcake". She objects to Mr. Scalisi's habit of name-calling, although thankfully it is no longer directed at her.
... [Mr. Scalisi] admits that he does use names such as "Fruitcake" and "Bananahead" but he feels these are appropriate to ensure that Brandon does not get in the habit of using stronger, less acceptable expressions.
So you see, using a mild homophobic slur will teach Brandon that more severe homophobic slurs are improper. I am once more reminded of Three Kings, when Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube teach Spike Jonze that "dune c---" and "sand n-----" should be foregone in favour of acceptable substitutes like "towel head" and "camel jockey".
Mr. Scalisi counters that Brandon once arrived at his home with a friend's Rob Zombie CD, the liner notes of which contained "violent, sexual and satanic images". Confronted with the CD at trial, Ms. Peterson at first maintains that there is nothing wrong with her son having it ... presumably until her counsel's eyebrows fall off his face and his teeth shatter, whereupon she acknowledges that it might be inappropriate for a young child.
Wildman J. is not overly troubled by the fact that Brandon is still listening to Rob Zombie in 2001, a full three years after Hellbilly Deluxe.2 Consider, however, that as of the date of ruling, Brandon was three years old.
Remember from The Sopranos when Ralphie Cifaretto beat that stripper to death in the parking lot? And then Tony and Christopher end up cutting Ralph's head off and burying him in pieces all over rural New Jersey?
Three years old. Anyway.
I can't help but presume that by 2009, young Brandon must resemble Little Larry Sellers from The Big Lebowski.What gives Wildman J. pause is Brandon's mother's part-time employment as an exotic dancer, and her contention that her work "will never affect Brandon as he will never know":
I am not sure that this is a realistic expectation. Ms. Peterson should accept the possibility that her son may learn about her dancing, either through someone in Barrie or through cousins, other family members or friends. It may not be in Brandon's best interests to feel his mother has hidden this aspect of her life from him. While her job certainly does not mean she is a bad mother, there is some social stigma attached to it. It seems to me that the fact that Ms. Peterson chose to hide her employment, first from her parents and now from her son, is a tacit acknowledgment of this. Even if Ms. Peterson really believes that there is nothing improper about her continuing to dance, it would be appropriate for her to have some plan to deal with Brandon's questions should he become aware of her job. Her flat denial that this will ever be an issue concerns me.Wildman J.'s treatment of Mr. Scalisi's nefarious history with the Outlaws biker gang is worth reproducing in its entirety:
An unexpected moment of levity (no one is going to accuse Tha Wild Man of not enjoying his work):
Mr. Scalisi has admitted that he has a problem with some members of the police force and one officer in particular. Mr. Scalisi had his arm broken in an altercation with this officer. Mr. Scalisi was charged but subsequently acquitted of assault involving this officer. He considered pursuing a lawsuit or disciplinary action against him. He elected not to do so as he had some concerns about the likelihood of successfully obtaining relief against a member of the police force.
Despite his experience with this officer, he says he has told Brandon to trust the police and that the police are there to help him. He denies that he told Brandon that the police were the "bad guys". He was frank that, in his view, there are good officers and others who are not as good. He felt that each should be judged individually. However, he seems to understand that Brandon is too young to appreciate this concept and I am satisfied that he is making an effort not to convey his own mixed emotions about the police to his son. I am not satisfied on the evidence before me that there is a concern that Mr. Scalisi will instill any disrespect for the law in Brandon.
Mr. Scalisi has no criminal record. I heard no evidence to suggest that he is racist. He is no longer a member of the Outlaws, he has sold his motorcycle. Although he still knows some of his former club members, I accept that they are not a significant presence in his life now. Ms. Peterson did not really have anything other than her own suspicions to suggest that he might maintain ties with the motorcycle club. She admits that she does not think he is a "patch holder" and she does not really know what he does now.
Both parents exposed Brandon to the existence of the Outlaws when he was young. Apparently Baby Gap and Baby Roots have not cornered the market on the extension of commercialism to infants. The Outlaws have baby gear available for members' children as well as a stuffed animal, which appears to be a fluffy pig dressed in a Harley Davidson tee shirt and Outlaws hat. Brandon's doting parents got these items for their baby and there were pictures entered into evidence of him as an infant sporting this gear. Whose idea this was is unclear but I am satisfied that both parents participated as there is also a picture of Ms. Peterson at the zoo with Brandon in which she, too, is wearing a "Support your local Outlaws" tee shirt. Thankfully, Mr. Scalisi was apparently required to return all logo items to the Outlaws when he resigned. I doubt that these items would do much to enhance Brandon's attempts to develop friendships with children at school or in the neighbourhood. I am pleased to see that these inappropriate clothes and toys seem to be a thing of the past.
While Wildman J. cautions (with commendable understatement) that Ms. Peterson and Mr. Scalisi would do well to "obtain further information from parenting courses or books" as to what is age-appropriate for their son, ultimately the court is satisfied "that each parent has the ability and the motivation to properly socialize Brandon so that he will not have problems fitting into a school setting." He is confident that Brandon "will not be severely lacking in manners, social skills or moral fibre regardless of which parent is his primary caregiver." Or at least, Brandon won't be more screwed up by being placed with one parent over the other.
We can take a wealth of lessons from Peterson v. Scalisi:
- "Soft" slurs are appropriate for a three-year-old but the more serious stuff should be censored until he is nine or ten.
- I will watch Three Kings whenever it is on television.
- Biker > stripper
- If you can't laugh at a former Outlaw biker who got his arm broken in an altercation with police being the good candidate for child custody, well then, you've forgotten why you got into Family Law in the first place.
* * * * *
1Much like the time he rescued [...one of] two kids trapped in a flooding aqueduct.
2Apparently there is also a 20th Century Masters compilation of Rob Zombie's most seminal works, placing him among the likes of Marvin Gaye, Styx, and the Mamas and the Papas, which, that's really weird.