Fiorito: Driven to death by the legal system

By Joe Fiorito City Columnist ​​

Published On Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Frankie Robertson poured drinks for the men who sat at the bar and bet on the horses; he knew how to read them well; the men, if not always the horses. His ear was easily bent, and everybody liked him; best bartender in the city, they all said.

An irony: the bartender listens to your troubles, but who listens to the troubles of the bartender?
Frankie died recently.

He left behind two daughters, and many friends with sore hearts; men and women alike, they came to the Turf Lounge last week to pay their respects.

There were photos of Frankie in a back room, and photos of his girls, and Frankie must have known there would be speeches.

Nicholas Xynnis said, “I knew Frankie for seven years. I met him soon after the bar opened. We became good friends. My office is around the corner. We’d have a drink and a chat. He was separated, I was separated; we had that in common. We’d hang out, outside of work; him and his kids, my son and I.”

This is not about the failure of Frankie’s marriage; marriages fail all the time; instead, it is about what happened to a lovely man who found himself dragged through the long slow hell of family court, and . . .

Stop right there.
Yes, it is a given that there are two sides to every story. But let it also be a given that Frankie was a stand-up guy who was broken by the system.

The money he was required to pay was calculated on his after-tax income, and Frankie was not rich. He was a guy who’d had a home, a family, and a couple of sweet kids. And then he didn’t have those things.

He worked two jobs. His credit cards were maxed. He was behind in all his bills and couldn’t pay his rent. He feared eviction. He owed his lawyers. Worst of all, the time he had been granted with his kids was limited.

He’d had hope.
He was planning to take the securities course in the fall; he thought maybe he could make a better buck on the big board than he could behind the bar. He’d sent a note to a friend, asking for advice about the course.

And then, a short while later, on a day that had begun with optimism, Frankie learned that a family court judgment for thousands of dollars had gone against him.

How does hope end?

Nick, who is a lawyer, spoke slowly now. “I’d spent the day in court. I went back to the office and checked my email. There was a note from Frankie. The subject heading was, ‘Goodbye.’ I called his cell, his home, his work. Then I called the police and the ambulance.”

And then he went to Frankie’s place and found his friend. Nick also found two letters.

Frankie’s last wishes: He wanted the people he loved to set up a trust fund for the education of his girls, and he wanted his friends to take a hard look at the family court system that broke him.

Barry Callaghan, a regular and a friend of Frankie, also spoke. He said, “The letters drive me into a rage . . . I have such disdain for the law I can hardly express it . . . it is clear the justice system ate Frankie alive, and it’s got to stop . . . Frankie got swallowed by the flippant judgment of judges . . . what was the purpose?”

I don’t know.
But I hope — and hope is such a pale word — that Frankie’s friends honour both his wishes.