If his message isn't clear, if his manner isn't inviting, if he is nothing more than a whack job, at least give him props for perseverance.
Most weekday mornings--maybe every weekday morning; your reporter lacks the perseverance to confirm--the formidable bald man in a white T-shirt and jeans stands outside the Santa Monica courthouse/civic center holding a black umbrella and a picket sign that reads: "No family court chicken hawks judging straight family values."
He's got a large audience in this busy part of town, where cars must slow or stop as they pass a major construction site across the street from bustling City Hall. What protester wants to strut and fret his hours upon an empty stage?
But Sign Guy's soliloquy lacks clarity. Is he unhappy with a custody ruling? Is he anti-gay, or does "straight" imply something else? Whose family? What values?
Assuming Sign Guy would welcome an opportunity to tell his story, we approached one day, identified ourselves and asked: "You seem to have an issue with the court--can you tell me what your sign means?"
"Do you know what a chicken hawk is?" Sign Guy barked.
"Well, it has a couple of meanings; I was wondering what your context is."
Sign Guy embarked on a hostile rant about "writers who don't do their homework" and how he won't "talk to lazy writers."
"But you're seeking attention; here's an opportunity to tell your story..."
Sign Guy glared and interrupted, "I only talk to dailies."
He seems unfamiliar with the concept of spreading the word, he seems less Occupy Courthouse than Vacate Message.
When we tried to snap a photo of Sign Guy, he turned away to elude the camera's lens. (We gumshoed our way around it, courtesy of Canon's telephoto feature.)
No one in the court's administrative office knew his name or his beef. No one in the L.A. Superior Court's public information office had heard of him or his protest. The Santa Monica Police see him every day, but the media relations officer, Sgt. Richard Lewis, who seems almost as grumpy as Sign Guy, doesn't know anything about him: "He hasn't broken any laws."
Google "Santa Monica Family Court," click on the "pissed consumer" link and you enter the expansive world of Damon Duval. He responded to an unfavorable court ruling a few years ago by picketing here, establishing a web site to tell his endless story and to request donations to fund his legal appeals.
We talked to the Family Court clerk (by request, we're withholding her name--sometimes people unhappy with the court express their displeasure inappropriately). She remembered Duval. "He was out there for a couple years," she said. She estimates Sign Guy has been picketing for only a couple of months. "We don't recognize him as being one of our litigants. ... We think he's confused, he's at the wrong courthouse. He has an agenda--we're just not sure for what."
1. a hawk that preys or is believed to prey on chickens
2. slang -a man who pursues boys or young men for sexual purposes
3. a political term used in the United States to describe a person who strongly supports war or other military action (i.e., a War Hawk), yet who actively avoided military service when of age.
We could write our own story, Sign Guy, but we'd rather hear yours.
Photos: Ellen Alperstein