With arms folded defiantly, Katherine E. Hogan stood before a Fairfax County judge and a courtroom full of snickering strangers last week and described how the estranged father of her daughter "struck his fist in my face and pulled my hair."
"In front of at least five other people he said some nasty things to me," Hogan told the court. "Then he came to my house and kicked in the door, cursing and screaming at me," and he threatened me if I came to court.
"I'm not married to him," she said as the spectators tittered. "I have no relationship with him other than a child."
Then Judge John A. Rothrock solemnly fined Eugene M. Jones of Falls Church $75 for the crime of "curse and abuse."
This case - played out in intimate detail in the dingy surroundings of Fairfax General District Court - is one of some 161,000 to be heard this year in Northern Virginia's busiest court. Shoplifting housewives, student vandals, wife-beaters, weekend drunks and people who cannot control their dogs fill the courtrooms daily.
As relatives watch intently, babies cry, and surly and sometimes shackled jail inmates await their turn to be heard, more than one of every four residents in Fairfax appears in the county's court of first resort.
For many of those summoned to the courthouse on Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax City, it's the first brush with the law. "It's the court that most people end up in when they have a problem of some kind," said Fairfax County General District Court Chief Judge Robert M. Hurst. "It's important to make an impression on these people. For a lot of people it's their only time in court."
The court handles civil cases where claims usually do not exceed $500 and misdemeanor criminal offenses like simple assault and disorderly conduct. There is a separate traffic violation division and housing and health codes and parking violations are also heard.
The largest number of the criminal cases involve shoplifters, Hurst said. "They steal everything, from a 25-cent comb on up. You wonder why people take half that stuff."
Among the shoplifters called in court last week was a pregnant woman who did not show up. She was accused of shifting from aisle to aisle in a store and placing a carton of cigarettes in her purse.
Maria E. Paz pleaded quilty to stealing a wallet worth $3.49 from Springfield Mall. Judith L. Carey pleaded guity to stealing $13 worth of makeup from a dime store. Each woman was fined $50 by Judge Rothrock.
Hurst said he would like to see dog ordinance violations shifted from the court to a special magistrate because they are time consuming. They include having no rabies tags, failure to vaccinate a dog and having a dog running loose.
"One fellow who was charged with having his dog running at large claimed he locked the dog in the house," Hurst said. "The dog unlocked the window, pushed it up, jumped out and closed it shut," Hurst said the man claimed.
Many of those summoned to court say they forget to appear. Irene C. Davis, charged with failure to vaccinate her dogs, said. "I was too scared to come. I did not have the money to pay the fine."
Judge Rothrock fined her $10 anyway.
Another Fairfax woman said she did not appear in court on a previous court date because, "I was unemployed and I had to be at the unemployment office. I got a daughter to support. I thought that was more important than to come down here."
During the summer Judge Hurst said there are numerous fishing violation cases. Recently a Russian man living in Alexandria, Aleksandr W. Ivanov, was charged with hunting in Greenspring Park. The charges were dropped in court when Judge Rothrock saw a note attached to his arrest warrant saying Ivanov "will not be in court. Mrs. Friedman from the State Department called. He has diplomatic immunity."
In what Rothrock called "an intriguing case," a young woman was charged with simple assault for allegedly hitting a shoe store manager who was attempting to apprehend a shoplifting suspect. "She was going for the part that is very dear to me, us men," the manager of the Loehman's Plaza Shoetown testified.
The accused shoplifter was allegedly hiding in the young woman's car. When the woman, Mary M. Morrissey tried to get in her car, the shoestore manager blocked the door, he testified. After much pushing, shoving and scratching, Morrissey and the shoplifting suspect drove off. They were later stopped by police.
Charges against Morrisey, however, were dropped by Rothrock to the dismay of the store manager. The Shoetown manager had violated Morrissey's right to get in the car. Since she had nothing to do with the alleged shoplifting.