Judicial Empathy and a Veteran Without a Home

The tale begins and ends with Pocahontas Cooley (photo here), whose very name lends a fictional tone to a true story of justice deferred. The travesty is the number of times the setting has been the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse’s pick to fill a vacancy in the first U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case itself defies all reason, but the explanation could be precisely the judicial empathy for “underprivileged” groups on which President Barack Obama has placed such emphasis.
The person who is actually disadvantaged in the situation is 52-year-old Paul Kelly, Navy Reserve Boatswain’s Mate First Class. Since July 2007, Ms. Cooley has refused to leave his house in Exeter, Rhode Island, or to allow him to enter it. In the hectic months before Kelly was deployed to Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Judge Thompson stayed an eviction order from a district court and essentially handed Cooley a rent-free home until the owner’s return from a theater of war, despite the availability of his brother to act as power of attorney.
That wasn’t enough for Pocahontas. According to Mr. Kelly, she took the opportunity of access to his possessions and files to forge documents, order heating oil in his name, reopen a credit card for her own use, make withdrawals from his bank account, and arrange for insulation work to be done on the house by South County Community Action Agency, a non-profit provider of services for economically disadvantaged Rhode Islanders. At the request of Paul’s brother, Thompson ordered Cooley to cease and desist such activities. At no point, however, did the judge see fit to change the housing arrangements, and Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s office has postponed prosecution of related charges until the judge has ruled on the cases before her.
In Kuwait, Paul Kelly strove to maintain his habitually positive attitude, even as he received notices about delinquent payments on accounts that he thought he had suspended before he left, and even when his commanding officer pulled him off watch duty to mention the scene that his “wife” had caused trying to retrieve his paycheck from the Navy base back in Newport, RI. Fortunately, base personnel were able to determine within minutes what Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson has been mulling for over a year: that Mr. Kelly is not married.
In fact, Paul, a submarine rigger by profession, had been sharing his country-living bachelor pad with only his dogs when his ex-girlfriend Pocahontas caught him preparing to head to Norfolk, Virginia, for processing prior to deployment. She lied about having been kicked out of her mother’s house, and still considering her a friend, he told her she could stay for a few days while he was away. But only a few days; his niece was going to move into the house while he was overseas.
Upon his return the next week, Paul found Pocahontas thoroughly at home. She declared the house to be hers and prepared to tell the Rhode Island judiciary that she was his common-law wife. Although disbelieving her outlandish insinuations of murder attempts from her “husband,” Superior Court granted her request for a restraining order against harassment. When Mr. Kelly arrived on his property to collect clothes and other items for his tour of duty, he found all of his possessions in the barn.
And when he finally had his day in court, in October 2008, he found the woman whose 1998 personal ad in the Providence Journal claimed a desire for an “honest relationship” to be adept at manipulating the system. Her first ploy was to demand thirteen subpoenas for information — some of which actually proved to support the case against her, and all of which Judge Thompson granted at taxpayer expense. During one subsequent appearance in court, Cooley insisted that she was awaiting subpoenaed information from the Pentagon, a clear impossibility. At other times, she challenged the reality of Kelly’s deployment.
In December, she had the good fortune to fall on the way into the courthouse. In the intervening months, Ms. Cooley has appeared in court on a regular basis, each time finding ways to err in her attempts to prove that she is not physically capable of a hearing. While granting continuance after continuance, the judge has provided Cooley with further instructions on acquiring the proper doctor’s note.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kelly is living in his sister’s basement (without his dogs), awaiting his next chance, on May 29, to receive a hearing date at last. Judge Thompson rotates out of the county at the end of June, at which point she may either take the case with her or leave it for one of her peers — one more whim over which Kelly is powerless. Even more so is Thompson’s potential elevation to federal court a variable in his fate.
As for Pocahontas Cooley, the Internet may be catching up with her. Two pieces about the situation by Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr have brought Kelly and his lawyer, Patrick McKinney, into contact with people from her past, some of whom find his story eerily familiar. (See the last comment here.) A few months ago, searches for Cooley’s name turned up mainly announcements of her art exhibitions — one of them in the public offices of the City of Providence, which recently named a school after her politically involved late father.
Whereas episodes in her life before she found Paul Kelly seemed apt to fade away in the memories of individuals, permitting sequels with new characters, the worldwide public record online will now preserve a cautionary tale of political correctness, with the judge, the veteran, and the Indian princess illustrating the injustice of targeted empathy from the bench.

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joe bernstein
joe bernstein
14 years ago

It sounds like this woman is a master of working the system.
How about that Clark Rockefeller?He’s an illegal alen in addition to everything else.
Remember the Kimes.Mom and son,Ken?They almost got away with murder(more than one).
This case is really weird,and I’m surprised Judge Thompson hasn’t acted more decisively,but I still think she’s a good selection for the Federal Judiciary,unlike the hopelessly compromised Jack McConnell.

14 years ago

Obviously you have never witnessed Thompson in action.
In my opinion, the woman has absolutely no scruples or ethics. I have seen her courtroom demeanor and to think she might sit of the federal Judiciary is truly frightening.
She seems afraid to go on the record in open court as her actions and statements might be grounds for an appeal. Her standard practice is to hold sidebar conferences or call the parties into her chambers for consolations, i.e. nothing is on the record.
She does not have the intestinal fortitude to make the hard decision if it might upset the powers that be in RI. but she would throw an average citizen under the bus in a heartbeat.
If you really want to do some research, check out her actions as part of Brown’s Cheer leading squad. It might change your opinion.
Justice in RI is an oxymoron!

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
14 years ago

I frequently dealt personally with Judge Thompson in her home after normal courtroom hours to obtain search warrants in drug cases while I was assigned to Providence PD from the INS on detail between 1990-94.She always seemed competent and conscientious and would not try to avoid making herself available as many other judges would attempt to do.
I probably wouldn’t share her political beliefs,but I don’t think she will incorporate them into her decisions as a Jack McConnell might.
Many judges use sidebars and conferences in chambers to settle issues.
Note:I was a NY State Court Officer from 9/71-3/76,when I left to join the Border Patrol.I got exposed to many,many judges under all circumstances,and they ranged from excellent to outright criminals and bigots.
I think Judge Thompson is pretty good from what I have to compare against.
I went on at length because I do have some amount of experience in this area.
Aldo-I don’t know your experience,but am in no way trying to minimize it,just explaining my own.

Steve Chang
Steve Chang
14 years ago

I do believe that this lady has major issues and is not willing to let go, especially that she appears to be a malevolent individual. Give it up lady, sooner or later the criminal justice system will catch up to you. Jack Kelly man, the truth is on your side, its just a matter of time until justice prevails.

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