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USFJDO distinguished, in-house editor comment: Catherine McQuat Bruni and Larry Bruni were "marinating in a mutual hatred so intense as to surely amount to a personality disorder".

But we digress.

For this sweet, sweet family law decision of the Honourable Justice Joseph W. Quinn of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, sitting in St. Catherines, Ontario [Canada], we simply must leave the whole thing to his Lordship with two exceptions: we've integrated his footnotes into the text of his decision, where they belong, and without which, the entire flavour of at least one spice is missing; and we moved one sentence to the beginning of his decision - again, because that's where it belongs.

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud....

The parties repeatedly have shown that they are immune to reason. Consequently, in my decision, I have tried ridicule as a last resort.

Presiding over a family trial, with many issues, where the parties are self-represented ... is a solitary and unfulfilling experience. What evidence was not brought forward because the parties failed to appreciate its relevance? What evidence that was introduced would have been recast under a skillful cross-examination? With whom do I play devil’s advocate on questions of law?

Larry and Catherine married and had two children (including a daughter, Taylor).

Larry and Sam were close friends. They work for the same employer. Larry was the best man at Sam’s wedding.

A few years later, Sam separated from his wife and obtained custody of their two young children.

Justice Rodney DangerfieldLarry and Catherine also separated. Their children remained with Catherine.

Sam and his children moved in with Catherine and her children.

Larry now has a common-law spouse. She has three children. The two households are located one kilometre apart.

In the midst of this social stew perhaps it is not surprising that Larry and Catherine are having problems, serious problems, regarding the custody of, and access to, their children.

The source of the difficulties is hatred: a hardened, harmful, high-octane hatred.

At one point in the trial, I asked Catherine:

“If you could push a button and make Larry disappear from the face of the earth, would you push it?”

Her I-just-won-a-lottery smile implied the answer that I expected.

Larry and Catherine hate each other, as do Larry and Sam. This hatred has raged unabated since the date of separation. Consequently, the likelihood of an amicable resolution is laughable (hatred devours reason); and, a satisfactory legal solution is impossible (hatred has no legal remedy).

If only the wedding guests, who tinkled their wine glasses as encouragement for the traditional bussing of the bride and groom, could see the couple now. I am prepared to certify a class action for the return of all wedding gifts.

Larry gave evidence that, less than one month later, Catherine, “Tried to run me over with her van.' This is always a telltale sign that a husband and wife are drifting apart.

On November 21, 2006, Catherine demanded $400 from Larry or her brother was "going to get the Hells Angels after me." The courtroom energy level in a custody/access dispute spikes quickly when there is evidence that one of the parents has a Hells Angels branch in her family tree. Certainly, my posture improved.

Catherine’s niece is engaged to a member of the Hells Angels. I take judicial notice of the fact that the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a criminal organization (and of the fact that the niece has made a poor choice).

This case should have been identified by the lawyers in the beginning as one that was impossible to settle and pushed quickly to trial, without the endless toing and froing present in typical cases.

On fourteen occasions, within eighteen months, the parties drew the police into their petty disagreements – a sad commentary on their inability to get along and a shocking abuse of the Niagara Regional Police Service....

This statistic probably sums up all that one needs to know about the parties...

Larry, who regularly drives by the residence of Sam and Catherine, often shoots the finger at Sam and, on about three occasions, has yelled: "Jackass! Loser!"

When the operator of a motor vehicle yells “jackass” at a pedestrian, the jackassedness of the former has been proved, but, at that point, it is only an allegation as against the latter.

The trial began with three days of evidence being heard in May of 2010. As it was necessary for the trial to be interrupted by the four-month hiatus. I confess that I sometimes permit a lengthier hiatus than the schedule of the court might otherwise dictate, in order to afford the parties an opportunity to reflect on the trial experience, come to their senses and resolve their difficulties like mature adults.

It is touching how a trial judge can retain his naivety even after 15 years on the bench.

In August of 2010, Taylor was having an access visit with Larry when she received a text message from Catherine that read: "Is dickhead there?"

The dictionary defines dickhead as a stupid person.

That would not have been my first guess.

Sandra testified that Catherine “gave me the finger while driving on Bunting Road".

I am uncertain whether this would be considered a hand-held communication device, now illegal while operating a motor vehicle....

On another occasion in July of 2009, Larry said to Taylor: "You put shit in this hand and shit in this hand, smack it together, what do you get?"

I gather that this is Larry’s version of the Big Bang Theory.

Larry was confronted with an angry, hurt, confused and rebellious daughter (Taylor) who had been receiving advanced animosity-tutoring from Catherine. This would be a difficult situation for even the most talented and perceptive of fathers to overcome. Given Larry’s near-empty parenting toolbox, it is not surprising that he handled the matter awkwardly.

Absent counselling, matters will worsen, not improve. No practical purpose would be served if the court were to decree a schedule of counselling for the parties and the children. The hate and psychological damage that now prevail would require years of comprehensive counselling to undo. The legal system does not have the resources to monitor a schedule of counselling (nor should it do so). The function of Family Court is not to change people, but to dispose of their disputes at a given point in time.

I preside over a court, not a church.

While Larry’s access-conduct has largely reflected nothing more than inept parenting, Catherine’s parental-alienation behaviour has been evil.
Is there a remedy?
Dollars cannot replace the father-daughter relationship that Catherine has destroyed. However, in the circumstances of this case, justice has only a Hobson’s choice. Catherine’s alienation of Taylor and Larry must be condemned.... Accordingly, the spousal support to which Catherine would otherwise be entitled shall be reduced to one dollar monthly.

REFERENCES:

  • Bruni v. Bruni, [2010] USFJDO 1; also at 2010 ONSC 6568

► The U.S.F.J.D.O. law report wishes to thank Odette Coccola, Lawyer & Mediator and professor extraordinaire, of Victoria, BC, for bringing this decision to our attention.

► While we are not the boss of you, you should know that in this last year of his full-time tenure as a judge of the Ontario Superior Court (i.e. 2010), the good Mr. Justice J. W. Quinn also authored another opinion which made it into USFJDO: Pirbhai v Singh [2010] USFJDO 2.