Is This Some Solstice Fool's Joke?

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:

Late last week, a Santa Fe District Court judge signed a temporary restraining order against talk-show host David Letterman alleging [sic] he has tormented a city resident for more than 10 years by using code words on his television program. . . .

In the application for the restraining order, which was filed Thursday, Nestler alleges that between May 1994 and now, Letterman forced her to go bankrupt and caused her “mental cruelty” and “sleep deprivation.”

Nestler . . . requested that Letterman, who tapes his show in New York, stay at least 3 yards from her and that he not “think of me, and release me from his mental harassment and hammering,” according to the application.

Nestler’s application was accompanied by a typed, six-page, double-spaced letter in which she said Letterman used code words, gestures and “eye expressions” to convey his desire to marry her and train her as his co-host. Her story also involves Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelsey Grammer, whom Nestler says either supported or attempted to thwart her “relationship” with Letterman, according to the letter.

Nestler wrote that she began sending Letterman “thoughts of love” after the Late Show With David Letterman began on CBS in 1993.

“Dave responded to my thoughts of love, and, on his show, in code words & obvious indications through jestures (sic) and eye expressions, he asked me to come east,” she wrote.

Then, three days before Thanksgiving in 1993, Letterman asked Nestler to be his wife during a televised “teaser” for his show when he said, “Marry me Oprah,” Nestler wrote in the letter.

“Oprah had become my first of many code names,” she wrote. “... (A)s time passed, the code-vocabulary increased & changed, but in the beginning things like ‘C’ on baseball caps referred to me, and specific messages through songs sung by his guests, were the beginnings of what became an elaborate means of communication between he and myself.” . . .

Judge Sanchez signed the temporary restraining order Thursday afternoon and set the case to be heard Jan. 12, according to court documents. In a phone interview Tuesday, Sanchez said he couldn’t comment on the order.

When asked if he might have made a mistake, Sanchez said no. He also said he had read Nestler’s application.

In his motion asking Sanchez to quash the order, Rogers said the District Court lacks jurisdiction over Letterman, Nestler never served Letterman with the necessary restraining-order papers, and she didn’t meet procedural requirements for issuing a temporary restraining order. . . .

I'm trying to get a copy of the TRO — if you have it and can e-mail it to me, I'd be very much obliged — but it sounds to me like either the newspaper or the judge got this badly, ridiculously wrong. (In some situations, judges rule in favor of plaintiffs with strange theories when the defendant fails to show up, and the defendant wins by default; but to my knowledge they have to exercise some supervisory power, especially when the defendant wasn't served, whether because of the plaintiff's omission or because the proceeding is supposed to be ex parte, i.e., without the defendant's participation.)

Thanks to Tom Elia (The New Editor) for the pointer.

UPDATE: Thanks to our indispensable law library, I've now gotten a copy of the crazy application and of the temporary restraining order, which I've posted on this site. The TRO is pretty boilerplate, barring Letterman from "threaten[ing], harm[ing], alarm[ing] or annoy[ing]" Nestler -- let's hope that doesn't implicitly bar him from using mysterious "code words" on his show -- ordering him to stay at least 100 yards away from Nestler, her residence, and her workplace, ordering him not to telephone her or contact her, and ordering him not to block her in public places or roads.

In practice, I doubt that it will affect Letterman much, since I doubt he had many plans to go to Santa Fe or to get in touch with this woman. But as a matter of principle, it's pretty outrageous (though I'm sure not unprecedented): Based on a patently frivolous allegation, and without any remotely conceivable justification, Letterman has his liberty restrained.

It also casts doubt either on the judge's competence or on his candor. Either the judge read this carefully and thinks the order is well-founded, in which case he isn't a very smart judge. Or he didn't read this carefully, and on reflection must realize that he's made a mistake, in which case his statement (assuming that the newspaper accurately paraphrased them) that he didn't make a mistake and that he read Nestler's application seems less than candid.

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