So Sue Me

RPM Mug Sep 2011
“SECURITY ALERT: Description: ·
White Male ·
57 y/o, DOB 11/18/53 ·
5’10” · 170 lbs. ·
Brown Hair · Blue Eyes ·
May be wearing glasses.
~ If University of Delaware Professor Rudolph  P. Matthee attempts to enter the Graduate Center, he should be stopped and asked where he is going.  The lobby desk officer will confirm the event or appointment and then notify me. FYI, Matthee may try to enter by showing University of Delaware ID, a Delaware drivers license or a New Jersey drivers license.  FYI, there is no threat of violence and this should be handled with tact and professionalism.  Please inform all officers under your supervision.  Thanks.  ~ Director of Security & Public Safety 365 Fifth Avenue

“So sue me.” I am not going to be shut up by my ex-husband, whom I was married to for twenty years, even if he is Dorothy Munroe Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Delaware. He earned this named chair by specializing in teaching the history of the Middle East and writing about the Persian Empire. After I helped him negotiate the deal to be The Dorothy Munroe Distinguished History Professor, Rudolph P. Matthee, or Rudi, dedicated a book to me that reflected his research about the Persian empire’s history, including the history of women who were what we today call sex workers.*

When Rudi and I met, he was on a Fulbright. Indeed, the state — the Netherlands or the United States — paid for his higher education — undergraduate through graduate education, all 17 years of it. Meeting him at UCLA, I didn’t quite register the significance of such a long and protracted education (that involved living off the income I and some girlfriends earned too) The U.S. and Holland paid for his tuition for all these years. That was how he convinced me there was nothing odd about being a permanent undergraduate and graduate student. He did know a lot of languages, and I had always hoped my children would know more than me.**

Meanwhile, I finished my higher education in the more usual allotment of time — four years at Claremont Men’s College (I had pride in being in one of the first classes of women) and seven years of graduate education at UCLA — and then started working to help him out so he could publish while I took my first tenure-track job. Rudi took the name Rudi Matthee for these publications. After I visited his family for the first time in the 1980s, I realized that Rudi was probably a better name to go by than Rudolph. In Holland everyone called him Ruud. To me, a non-Dutch speaker, this sounded like “rude.” Meanwhile my name sounded like “rut” (and I wasn’t in a rut).

When Rudi’s four-year-old nephew called for the both of us, he would laugh when we both turned around. I believe he was delighted to see my bewildered expression. What could be more fun than saying “rut and rude or rude and rut.” I realized it was easier to simply stop turning around. Besides, listening to Dutch was exhausting with all those vowels.

Then after we got married so Rudi could have a green card, and we could correct the “injustice” of married graduate-student housing at UCLA demanding that we actually be married, I realized I didn’t know that much about the country. I loved hearing about all their programs and benefits, since the Netherlands is a social democracy. They allowed any two or more people a financial break if they were living together. A whole monastery got a break for transportation, or got the family rate. You see, back then, I didn’t believe in the social institution of marriage but rationalized that it was okay for me to get hitched for these specific reasons.

It was at the same time that I discovered that Rudi had almost as many variations to his first name as he did languages when we traveled on an SSRC grant. In Italy with our Persian friends and our Italian friends, they called him Rudolpho. In France, they called him Rudy. So, when it came to how to shorten his name in the United States, and it was for keeps, being his first publication here, I suggested Rudi. I liked the idea that if Dutch had to have so many vowels, at least i was a better letter than y.

Of course I didn’t think over a decade ahead that when he taught classes, which he still does to this day, on women in the Middle East or women in Iran, that the female student body who attended classes about the history of women in the Middle East would assume Rudi was a she and not a he. In fact, he was rather cavalier about it. But how could I know that, then, or that Rudy might have been more appropriate?

Indeed, in hindsight, I should have suggested he shorten it to Rudy so at least he’d be like another similarly thinking Rudolph with the last name of Giuliani. Why? Rudy’s, Rudi’s, and Rudolph’s, at least in New York and Delaware, all have a penchant for suing lost causes. Rudy Giuliani is suing for Trump as his personal lawyer and we can all laugh about it watching SNL, whereas Rudi Matthee is threatening to sue me with his lawyer Mr. Peter (Pete help the male perp.) Ventrice of Metuchen, New Jersey, who usually represents men, and seems to specialize in men who get temporary and permanent restraining orders against them for IPV (read intimate partner violence) or DV (domestic violence), as it is called in the New Jersey Family Court. To be sure, my own lawyer all but assured me that his suit is a lost cause. And that’s where the similarity between Rudy’s and Rudi’s ends.

The part we can laugh at is what my lawyer wrote to his lawyer: “Ms. O’Brien is fully within her rights to post truthful information about Mr. Matthee and their litigation history, which is public record.  The Family Court does not have jurisdiction to suppress the parties’ First Amendment rights now that the children are no longer minors.  Ms. O’Brien has no intention to remove her blog posts as they are made within the context of professional pursuits.”

“Further, if Mr. Matthee continues to make threats or initiates any court action, Ms. O’Brien will be posting truthful information in real time regarding such actions.” 

Here’s where we get to the no and the not. “If Mr. Matthee does not pursue any further action, Ms. O’Brien will agree not to post about the most recent correspondence.” Other than being a victim of intimidation, I don’t know why I agreed to this, and I regretted it the minute I said this. Naturally, I didn’t want to write her back to write him back . . . . you get it. It all costs money. Plus, why was I doing the intermittent encouragement, yet again?

More to the point, how can one sue someone else over a public record? That is to say, a record that is public and anyone can know or find out who wants to go to the effort. Not surprising, she advised me not to use her as a lawyer. It would be a waste of money. Plus now with COVID he does not know where Fred O’Brien and I are keeping shelter. In the end, it was journalist Rachel Louise Snyder’s research that changed my mind.

The Dorothy Munroe History Professor Rudolph P. Matthee was simply doing what all DV or IPV perps do — “They want to show victims they know how to play the system to their advantage”**. This is why he had his lawyer call my lawyer three times before I finally spoke to my lawyer.

Meanwhile, Fred (who adopted my last name) had one question for my lawyer. Since Rudi does not know where we are working remotely will he have to go extra lengths to serve me papers? Here my lawyer was a bit more serious, and she said no, that wouldn’t stop him. It might slow him down, but in her estimation — Mr. Ventrice called three times before we had a chance to talk and she could advise me not to use her, so she thought it didn’t matter if it was family court or civil court; he was going to sue me as a means of trying to stop me from sharing a public record from over 10 years ago. While some people renovate their kitchen when they no longer have to spend money on college, Rudi (who got a deal since I pay 75% of all their college) was going to spend his extra money on lawyers.

What’s the suit about? A couple of months ago, I posted that I secured one of three Temporary Restraining Orders against him for harassing me. The first order covered three states — New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. It was so broad that one lawyer friend said maybe too broad. (Joanna Grossman, who was on Stanford Law Review and who knows her stuff.)

Well, I waited 14 years to start writing. I created a legal storytelling genre with Voices from the Edge and Telling Stories Out of Court. Joanna thought I should do another one on family law (and I will, just not yet). I waited so long I forgot about it. I waited until our sons were in their twenties to write about it, and I waited until I no longer had to go to Family Court — or almost. What should I be ashamed about? If more women or people who experience IPV wrote about it we might all be safer. So Okay, I got a bit antsy. I should probably have waited until our last son is emancipated and graduated from college.

This got me thinking, thinking enough to buy Snyder’s book, No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us. While he always told our sons he hated spending money on lawyers, I realized years and years ago it wasn’t about money. (And this took into account how cheap the Dutch truly are.) Now that he’s five months away from losing jurisdiction in the New Jersey Family Court system, he’s about to graduate to the civil courts. So go ahead and sue me, Rudi, for divulging the public records about the not one, but three Temporary Restraining Orders I had to take out on you when you were hassling my boss and some of my co-workers, all to try to get me laid off or have me stripped of tenure.#

*I’m very proud that our son worked with sex workers during his first job after graduating from Oberlin College when he worked for Safe Horizons in New York City. Our son did outreach for homeless teens in four of the five boroughs of New York City along with a partner, working a shift that began at 5 pm and ended at 3 am.

**Rudolph changes his first name wherever he goes. He reads many, many languages (11ish) and speaks eight or so, the last I knew. I’ve always been grateful he spoke only Dutch to our sons. And our sons have always been appreciative that I ensured they got nearly as good an education in German. Our two sons are fluent in reading, writing, listening, and speaking at a university level in Dutch, German, and English, or maybe I should say American English, since this is all I can do fluently. When I divorced Rudi, the boys were seven and nine, so it’s fair to say I took them not only to one of these countries once a year but also to almost all their lessons in Dutch and German, which took place in New Jersey, not Delaware. When they received their respective diplomas in Dutch and German, that entitled them to attend university in Germany or the Netherlands, I was very proud. The three of us attended the ceremony at the German consulate when they each passed — my sons and I. Rudi didn’t show up for their high-school and/or college graduations, so I didn’t expect him to show up for their Dutch and German university-qualifying diplomas in New York or New Jersey. Nor did he take them to the Netherlands or Germany unless they gave him some of their allowance. (I found this out years later.)

***Rachel Louise Snyder, No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2019).

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About Professor Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see