“Partin was a big tough-looking man with an extensive criminal record as a youth. Hoffa misjudged the man and thought that because he was big and tough and had a criminal record and was out on bail and was from Louisiana, the home states of Carlos Marcello, the man must have been a guy who paints houses.”Charles Brant and Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran in Frank’s 2014 memoir,“I Heard You Paint Houses,” a reference to mafia lingo for a hitman who paints the walls of a house red with splattered blood.
Wendy was on my mind, so I opened a file on my phone about Wendy and me, a 1976 family court record from the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District.
I’m continuosly amazed that so much of my family history is online for anyone to read, available to anyone who knows how to search our names together and put together patterns when names change due to marriage. My mom was Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin, My dad is Edward Grady Partin Junior, and my name is Jason Ian Partin. If you looked up my name, not knowing the links to my family, you’d see that I wasn’t on social media, just Linkedin, and that I had a handful of patents for medical devices listed by the USPTO, inconsistently grouping them either with or without my middle name. You may dig deeper and learn that I was a veteran of the 1990-1991 Gulf war, a paratrooper on two president’s quick reaction forces, Bush Sr. and Clinton, and held a diplomatic passport as a communications laison in a Middle East coalition that had been formed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and housed in a base in Sinai, Egypt, not far from where Moses allegedly saw the burning bush. It’s still there – the base, not the burning bush – despite being sold to the public at that time as temporary, just like Guantamano had been. If you were interested in my more recent carreer, you’d see a few start up companies founded under my name and a couple of adjunct roles in universities. But, it’s unlikely you’d know enough about my family to connect the dots using other people’s names, so you may not know I was Ed Partin Jr. and Sr.’s son and grandson, and you’d almost never discover that I was ocassionally a performer at Hollywood’s Magic Castle; some things are best kept secret.
I reread my old custody report on the flight, perhaps trying to see something I had overlooked before now that I was headed back to where it had been written, just like I did with Mamma Jean’s old letter and many of the books I’ve read about my family’s history, and just like I had with Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Court reports are by no means literature, but when paired with other records and news of the time they can tell a story just as well.
This is a suit by Edward Partin, Jr., plaintiff, seeking a divorce from his wife, Wendy Rothdram Partin, defendant, after having lived separate and apart for more than one year following a judgment of separation from bed and board. Plaintiff also seeks custody of the minor child, Jason Ian Partin, and the defendant reconvened asking that she be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child.
The Trial Court had previously, by ex parte order, awarded the temporary care, custody and control of the minor to Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. Following trial on the merits, plaintiff was awarded a divorce as well as the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child, with the temporary physical custody of the minor child to remain with Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. The defendant has appealed this judgment as it regards the custody of the child.
This couple was married when plaintiff was 17 and the defendant was 16 years of age. Nine months following the marriage, they gave birth to young Jason. While we are not concerned with the facts surrounding the separation and divorce, it was apparently one of incompatibility as defendant testified that at the age of 17 she found herself married to a man who did not love her and so she left. Her testimony was as follows:
“As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”
Several weeks later she returned and lived with her husband again. She found that the situation hadn’t changed, and felt she had to get away again. She heard of a man who wanted someone to share expenses on a trip to California, so she quit her job and with her last wages left with him. She testified that she had no sexual relations with this man, and plaintiff does not accuse her of such. Following this trip she returned to Baton Rouge still emotionally upset. Her husband was suing her for separation and told her he was going to take custody of Jason. She went to live with her aunt and uncle, got a full time job with Kelly Girls paying $512.00 per month.
In February, 1975, the defendant’s mother was injured in an accident and she moved in with her to care for her. In September, 1975, following the recuperation of the mother she returned to live with her aunt and uncle.
During these above periods of time, the minor child lived with Mr. and Mrs. White. The Whites came to regard Jason as their own and, although the separation judgment awarded custody to the plaintiff with reasonable visitation privileges to the defendant, the Whites decided the defendant-mother could only see the child two days a month and that she could never keep the child over night. The reason the defendant did not contest custody at the separation trial was because at the time she felt unable emotionally and financially to care for her son.
[Judge Lottinger wrote a paragraph of legal jargon here, citing the “double burden” placed on Wendy by the deceased Judge Pugh to go above and beyond what was typically necessary to regain custody.]
We note that the petition for separation was grounded on habitual intemperance, as well as abandonment of the husband and the minor child. There are no other grounds listed for the separation nor for custody. The petition for the separation and custody of the minor child was not contested by the defendant, and a default judgment was granted. Defendant testified in the instant proceedings that the reason she did not contest custody in the separation proceeding was that she was not financially or emotionally capable of caring for the minor, and that knowing the Whites were going to be caring for him, she knew he would be in good hands.
Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.
[Judge Lottinger goes on to cite a few precent cases, verdicts from previous judges in higher courts used to justify his opinions, a detail that’s less important in Louisiana’s unique version of the Napoleonic legal code still lingering from the Louisiana purchase that gives judges more freedoms than in all other states.]
The welfare of the child is the main issue that the Court is concerned with. This issue is more important than any wishes or wants the parents may have. Fulco v. Fulco, 259 La. 1122, 254 So.2d 603 (1971), rehearing denied (1971). As a general rule, and in particular where children of young age are involved, preference is given to the mother in custody cases. This preference is very simply explained, the mother is normally better able to care for the child and look after the education, rearing, and training necessary. Estes v. Estes, 261 La. 20, 258 So.2d 857 (1972), rehearing denied (1972).
No argument is made that the mother is not now morally or emotionally fit to care for the child, or that the house in which she lives is not a proper place to rear a child. In fact, the Trial Judge admitted that it was a fine home.
The Trial Judge has not favored us with written reasons for judgment, however, we must conclude from various statements by the Trial Judge that appear in the record that he could find no fault with the defendant, nor was there anything wrong with the house in which she lived. It thus becomes apparent to this Court that the Trial Judge applied the “double burden” rule to the defendant. We have already ruled that the “double burden” rule does not apply in this situation, and thus, under the established jurisprudential rules, we can see no reason why the defendant-mother should not be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child with reasonable visitation privileges granted to the father.
In consideration of our above opinion, there is no need to discuss the specification of error as to the ex parte granting of custody to the Whites.
Therefore, for the above and foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Trial Court is reversed, and IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the defendant-appellant, Wendy Rothdram Partin, be and she is hereby granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor, Jason Ian Partin, and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that this matter be and it is hereby remanded to the Trial Court for the purpose of fixing specific visitation privileges on behalf of plaintiff-appellee Edward Partin, Jr. All costs of the appeal are to be paid by plaintiff-appellee.
What stood out this time I read the court report was Judge Lottingger’s comment that my dad testified that he had never seen Wendy drink. It stood out. I knew that, at the time, “intemperance” was a euphamism for alcoholism, an inability to act with moderation or restaraint, but also implied mental instability. I had seen the parts about “habitual intemperence,” which partially explained Wendy’s mood swings, but hadn’t really paid attention to the entire sentence: “Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.” In hindsight, I had rarely seen her take more than a few sips of hard alcohol in a cocktail, and rarely more than two glasses of wine at dinner. Her alcoholism had only been for about ten or fifteen years, long after I had left Louisiana, and I hadn’t looked at my old custody reports in so long that I probably hand’t given Judge Lottingger’s statement much thought before. I sat back and thought about Wendy back then, and what was going on in the news around the time I was born and she was a 16 year old girl who was intemperate, like most teenagers I know.
Around the time I was born, Big Daddy was in the news constantly and people were trying to convince the public that he was an unreliable witness, perhaps to encourage public outcry for Hoffa’s release. But, Wendy was like most 16 year olds and rarely read the news, and if she did, she probably didn’t understand all of the nuances. I still don’t. At the time, Wendy probably just believed what the national media had told everyone and that Hoffa had scoffed at, that Big Daddy was an All American hero. Hoffa was still around back then, and in his 1975 book, Hoffa on Hoffa, he had an entire chapter dedicated to Big Daddy.
“Let’s take a look at this “all-American boy” and his record, which was carefully kept from the jury by Judge Wilson and the government.
In December, 1943, he was arrested in the state of Washington for breaking and entering. Pleading guildy, he was senteneded to fifteen years in the state penitentiary, from which he escaped twice.
Freed, he joined the Marine Corps and was dishonorably discharged. He had been accused of raping a young black girl.
Becoming head of the Teamster local in Baton Rouge, he was charged by certain members with embezzling $1600 in union funds and he had been indicted on thirteen counts of falsifying records and thirteen counts of embezzlement.
While out on fifty thougsand dollars’ bond, he had been indicted in Alamama in Septermber of 1962 on charges of first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident.
One day beofe the Alambama incictment, he surrendered on September 25th, 1962, to Louisiana authorities on a kidnaping charge, the “minor domestic problem” to which Life magazine had referred. He had assisted a friend in snatching the friend’s two smallc hildren from teh friend’s wife, who had leagal custody of the children.”
All of Hoffa’s talking about Big Daddy all of those years had prompted many people to dig deeper than the Life features, especially because Hoffa was still considered the most famous man in America not a Kennedy, and in the months leading to my birth Walter Sheridan published his much anticipaated book, “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa,” where he was forced to agree with Hoffa on Big Daddy’s criminal past and dubious nature as a witness. By then, Walter had quit the FBI and was working as investigative journalist for NBC, nationally known for his in-depth and highly documented research, and his massive opus on Hoffa was surprisingly almost equally as much about Big Daddy. He detailed all the flaws and tried to focus on the legal process that should have been independent of the character or incentives of the key witness, and he focused the final chapters on Hoffa running the Teamsters from prison and using the pension fund to finance Nixon’s presidential bid and his connections to get the national celebrity Audie Murphy to act as a middle man between Nixon and Big Daddy with promises of a presidential pardon if Big Daddy recanted or testified that Walter had used illegal wire tapping in addition to Big Daddy’s unrecorded, verbal testimony.
In short: I assume Judge JJ Lottingger knew my family well, espeically because my dad’s name was Edward Grady Partin Junior. He and Judge Pugh would have known my family’s violent background and that they were not adverse to kidnapping children when custody trials dind’t go in thier favor. I can only assume that’s why he barely mentioned the Partins, yet discussed quite a bit about Wendy and my Canadian family and legal guardian, Ed White, without mentioning my dad’s arrests for selling drugs or the violence that seemed to follow our family. I can only assume he was doing the best he could to help Wendy based on whatever information he was allowed to add to my case without jepordzing my chances of not growing up with either Ed Partin.
I can’t imagine what was on Wendy’s mind as she and my dad eloped and were married in Mississippi, where laws didn’t require a 16 year old girl’s parents to sign a marriage license, but I assume Wendy was like most teenagers and rarely read the news or gave any one bit of news more attention than any of the countless things vying for our attention, so she probably was only focused on doing the right thing as best she could define it, which meant getting married. She said she had unscuccessfully tried to gather the $120 or so for an abortion before telling my dad, and when he proposed she saw that as her only option, especially becuase she and Granny were already estranged, and though Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo kept offering her a room they emphasized that it was temporary and she should figure out her own path. We never discussed what she knew before marrying Ed Partin Jr. I know that she and my dad moved into one of Big Daddy’s many houses that had walls stocked with cash and plastic explosives, this one by the dark and slow moving Comite River, likely the river where the Teamster safe was unloaded, and not to far from an undevelopable swampy area where my dad was growing marijuana. She was still a little girl, but was no longer in school and had time to notice more news of Partin homes blowing up and mentions of her new father in law in the news. She was a 16 year old kid with a crying baby and no money and people dying all around her and she felt alone in a home that could, at any moment, exploe. As she told Judge Lottingger, “As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”
Every time I reread that quote I see it as the biggest understatement in the entire Hoffa-Kennedy saga, and on my flight home I felt the same, especially knowing that it may be the last time I saw my mother alive and I was the person left alive who knew her history and what she had overcome. But, what attracted my attention that afternoon was not the old story I knew well, but a line that I had never noticed before, or at least I hadn’t pondered before, and it stabbed mind with the sharpness of hindsight as I flew home as Wendy laid dying from liver failure secondary to alcohol abuse, and that was Lottingger’s comment, “Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.“
If Lottingger was right and she never drank before, I believe that if anyone earned the right to take a drink after surviving the Partins, it was Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin. They had, after all, warped her.
I hoped I’d be able to joke with her about that, though I doubted either of us would be in the mood.
I tried to get comfortable in the cramped airplane seat, because I wanted a clear mind undistracted by body aches to think about Wendy, about the time around Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance when she was young and hopeful and fighing to get custody of me. Empathy is a skill that develops over time and with practice, and even now I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be my mother, especially back then. I eased my seat back and put in my ear buds to block sounds of the airplane engine and to discourage small talk with the person beside me, and I allowed my thoughts to flow with thoughts stirred up from reading too much history.
Though I was worried about Wendy, I was smiling, happy to have had a month in Cuba, darkly tanned and strong from rock climbing and hiking and diving, and anxious to get home to San Diego; it’s nice to love where you live, and no matter how much fun I had traveling, I always looked forward to returning to San Diego and the people I loved. I knew I could fly home and see Wendy more often than I did, but it had been 25 years since I moved away, and just like Wendy had lived away from her Canadian family for so long that she viewed Louisiana as home and rarely visited family, I viewed San Diego as home and rarely visited family. I was my mother’s son, after all.
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