Middle schoolers deem justice to be served when a bully gets pulled into the principal’s office. However, on March 16, that drama superseded the principal and fell into Judge Doretta Walker’s lap downtown at the Durham County Courthouse. What started as two middle school friends bumping heads turned into a dramatic feud between their mothers.
Which is why, on this morning, one mom, Alicia, stands before Judge Walker in Courtroom 5A, ready to present her case. (We are using only first names and initials to protect the children’s identity.) Dozens of people fill the courtroom, awaiting their own hearings.
Alicia calls her first witness – her daughter — to the stand. Wearing yellow crocs and braided hair, the girl, A., shuffles to the left side of the judge, who reprimands Alicia for taking her daughter out of school on a Wednesday morning to tattletale. The girl is 11.
With the help of her mother, the girl’s role is to convince Judge Walker to grant her mother’s request for a permanent protective order against Cori, the mother of A.’s former best friend.
The 11-year-old raises her hand. Judge Walker then begins an oath, which the girl repeats in a stumbling monotone. Her head barely above the rail of the witness box, she constantly adjusts the microphone to meet her mouth. She is about 4’8’’ tall.
Answering her mother’s questions, she explains her relationship with Cori’s daughter, R., and why their friendship started to sour. Both girls said some “un-nice things” to one another, she testifies.
“She’s a bully,” A. says. “She called me fat… that I should stop eating so many chips.”
Drama between the girls first erupted before Christmas break 2021, when R. accused A. of stealing her earrings. R. also claimed that she had seen A. cheating on a test. And A. allegedly hacked into R.’s laptop, which led to a meeting between the girls’ parents, their teacher and an assistant principal.
Then came a birthday sleepover at R.’s house, the event that shattered the girls’ friendship. Upon cross-examination, A. recalls what happened that night.
“Some girl’s parents died,” she says, “and I started laughing, and [R.] shoved me into a dresser.”
Pressing on, Cori asks what the girl said after R.“allegedly” shoved her. Craning her neck to reach the microphone, A. tells the court that she recalls saying: “Has your mom taught you any respect while she was (ever) sober?”
Then Alicia’s 12-year-old daughter takes the stand. The day before the hearing, she says, Cori violated a temporary no-contact order by putting something (it’s not clear what) in the family’s mailbox. The court implemented that order because one day, unannounced, Cori had come to Alicia’s home with her daughter to try to settle the squabble.
Alicia slammed the door in Cori’s face as Alicia’s kids laughed nervously, the 12-year-old says. Cori then pounded on the door and begged Alicia to “do the right thing.” Text messages between the two parents — submitted as evidence — show a once-friendly relationship then suddenly turned cold.
So that’s why Alicia now wants the permanent no-contact order. She doesn’t even want Cori to show up at the girls’ school or to attend their soccer games.
But, unswayed, Judge Walker dismisses the case. After all, Alicia’s family plans to move to Florida before the end of the year. Which means that, as of right now, the mothers may have to glare at each other from across the soccer field. And their daughters will have to coexist in school, where they may learn that sometimes the best lesson is how to play nice.