Ashley was stunned by the number of reporters who had gathered in front of the courthouse. There had to be at least a hundred or more. Video cameras were set up in several places and news trucks lined the street. She was forced to park in a parking lot two blocks away. As soon as she was in the courthouse’s official parking lot, she saw two of the courthouse security guards start walking her way.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Jessup,” one of the guards said, “Judge Carlisle asked us to escort you into the courthouse.”
“Thank you,” Ashley replied. She was relieved she would have the guards. She had wondered how she was going to make it through the throng of reporters.
When they approached the crowd, the reporters turned and started shoving microphones in her face. “Are you the woman in the picture with Judge Carlisle?”
“Did you know about the judge having sex with Cynthia Donaldson?”
“Are you and the judge having an affair?”
The questions came from every direction as the guards pushed their way through the crowd. There were more guards at the front doors of the courthouse, who held the door open to allow Ashley and the guards with her inside.
Jean was standing by the security check-in with a tall man. He was dressed immaculately in a sharp, expensive, dark grey business suit. He deep red tie had justice scales on it. His dark brown eyes pierced her the minute she walked through the doors, and Ashley knew that this had to be Jean’s father. Elizabeth Stanton, the county attorney, was standing next to her with another man Ashley didn’t recognize.
Approaching the group, Ashley began to realize how nervous she was becoming about the whole situation. Jean turned warm eyes on her and reached out for her. Ashley took her hand and Jean pulled her closer and put her arm around Ashley’s waist. She smiled at Ashley and then looked up at the older man beside her and made introductions, “Ashley, this is my father, Matthew Carlisle. Dad, this is Ashley Jessup.”
“Nice to finally meet,” Matthew Carlisle said as he shook her hand.
He didn’t smile and Ashley didn’t feel any warmth coming from him. Must be where Jean gets the coldness she can sometimes have, Ashley thought.
Jean turned her to face Elizabeth and the other man and continued introductions, “You already know Elizabeth, and this is Raymond Blair. He’s an attorney from the ACLU. He is going to be working with my father’s firm to help us get through this mess.”
“Your brother’s firm,” Jean’s father corrected, “I’m just an advisor to them now.”
Ashley almost burst out laughing when she saw Jean roll her eyes. “Of course, Dad,” She turned to Ashley, “My brother, Paul had court today and couldn’t come down.”
“Okay,” Jean inhaled deeply and looked at the people around her, “Are we ready to do this?”
“Yes,” her father agreed, “Let’s get the announcement made so the vultures can find another body to circle.”
Jean laughed, “Gee, thanks for to encouragement, Dad.”
Matthew Carlisle actually smiled at that, “Well, you know it’s true. Once you stop giving them something to feed on, they’ll move on to their next victim.”
“A big fan of the press, I take it,” Ashley observed quietly.
Jean turned and grinned at her, “Oh yes, he has a long history with dealing with the press.”
They moved to the doors. Elizabeth went out first and asked the press to hold their questions until after Jean finished speaking.
Jean looked over at Ashley, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
Ashley clutched Jean’s hand and looked into her eyes, “Yes, I’m ready.”
Raymond Blair, who had been very quiet up until that moment, asked, “Are you sure you’re ready, Jean?”
Jean’s father and Raymond both looked at her expectantly, “Yes,” she answered without hesitation.
Raymond and Jean’s father went out in front of Jean and Ashley. They stood on either side of them with Jean’s father by her side and Raymond by Ashley. Elizabeth had moved behind them as Jean approached the microphone.
“Good afternoon,” Jean spoke into the microphone that had been placed a few feet outside the doors. “Thank you all for coming,” She took a deep breath and went on, “I’ve decided to put an end to the rumors about my sexuality. Yes, I am a lesbian.”
There was a rush of noise through the crowd and people started shooting questions.
“Please,” Jean asked, and then louder, “Please, let me finish my statement before you ask questions. What I have to say may answer a lot of them.” The reporters quieted down again.
“Apparently, someone saw my girlfriend and me in the theater together last night and took a picture of us. I’m sure all of you have seen the article on the cover of this morning’s paper.”
Ashley’s heart swelled when Jean called her, her girlfriend. She had never referred to her that way before. Jean looked down at her for reassurance as to her next announcement. Ashley nodded.
“This beautiful woman by my side is Ashley Jessup, and we have been seeing each other for over a year,” Jean put her arm around Ashley. Ashley slid her arm around Jean’s waist and smiled up at her.
Cameras flashed and more questions began coming from the crowd.
“Please, there is more,” Jean continued. The reporters quieted down again. “I’m going to address the issue about what happened with the other woman with whom there are pictures of me.”
Jean looked back to Ashley, who smiled and nodded for her go ahead with the story. “Ashley and I had briefly broken up, and I had chosen to take solace with another woman. Sadly, that woman, Cynthia Donaldson, had ties to John Garrett, a man who had been in my court for a child custody case.” More murmurs and flashes from the reporters. “I cannot discuss that case or the current case against John Garrett and Cynthia Donaldson. But, Ashley is completely aware of that entire situation, and we have moved on.”
Jean hesitated and looked around at the expectant faces of the reporters, “The fact that I’m a lesbian has no bearing on my ability to be a family judge. I do not favor women in my cases. I look at what is in the best interest of the children involved. That is what is most important. I realize that there are going to be people who will have to come before me who will have issues with my sexuality, but their feelings toward me will not have any bearing on my rulings.”
The reporters were furiously writing and looking for her to continue. Jean spoke again, “There are other issues involving the Judiciary Conduct Committee and Governor Michaels that are going to be addressed over the next few months. I will be represented by Raymond Blair,” Jean indicated Raymond, “from the American Civil Liberties Union and also by the law firm of Davenport, Carlisle, and Jenson.”
There were more murmurs from the reporters as Jean raised her hand and went on, “I cannot discuss the details of these issues right now, but once we reach a point where the information can be disclosed we will let you all know.” Jean hesitated and looked at Ashley again. “Now, for my final announcement, and then I will take a few questions. I will not be running for re-election as a family judge in three years when my term is up. I will be going back to practicing law privately. Okay, now you may ask questions, but please one at a time.”
Jean fielded several questions about why she was not going to run for re-election. She had mentioned her intentions not to run for re-election before, so Ashley wasn’t surprised by her decision. In their last few conversations, Jean had expressed the desire to get out from under the Judicial Conduct Committee’s thumb and live her life more freely. She’d mentioned going to work for the ACLU to help other lesbians forced out of the closet.
There were only a few people who asked about Jean’s sexuality and the sex bar. Jean had given vague answers like any good politician. After about fifteen minutes of questions, Jean announced that she had to end the press conference and prepare to hear cases. A few reporters were disappointed, especially those who were really looking for the juicy answers about the sex bar.
When Jean ended the press conference, she took Ashley by the hand and led her back into the courthouse followed by Jean’s father, Raymond Blair and Elizabeth Stanton. Once inside, Jean sighed, “Well, that went pretty well.”
“Yes, it did,” Jean’s father agreed.
Raymond Blair nodded, “More often than not, people take public figures coming out in stride. I’m sure you’ll get some hate mail and comments for a few weeks, but after that the reporters and gossipers will move on to the next big story.”
“Exactly,” Jean’s father put his arm around Jean and asked, “So what time are we going to lunch?”
“It will have to be after two,” Jean replied. “I’m starting my hearings late so that will push lunch back.”
“That’s fine,” he assured her, “I have some other business here in town to take care of anyway.” He turned to Ashley and offered his hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Ms. Jessup, and I look forward to seeing you soon in Louisville when Jean introduces you to the family.”
Jean gripped Ashley’s free hand when she saw her face go white. “I hadn’t told her about that yet, Dad,” She smiled at Ashley, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you plenty of warning before we actually do go up there.”
“Thanks,” Ashley said quietly, still looking pale, but she smiled at Jean’s dad, “I look forward to meeting the rest of the family, Mr. Carlisle.”
He smiled and turned to Raymond, “Let’s go have some coffee and discuss how we are going to deal with Governor Michaels.”
“Sure,” Raymond agreed, and then turned to Jean, “Call me if you need me.”
“I will. Thank you, Raymond,” Jean said.
The two men walked off. Elizabeth turned to Jean and Ashley, “I have to go, too. It was nice to see you again, Ashley. Hopefully, we can all get together for a drink or something.”
“That would be great, Elizabeth,” Ashley answered and watched her saunter off. She looked up at Jean, “Is she family?”
Jean nodded, “But deep in the closet. I’ll be surprised if she ever officially comes out.”
“So how do you really feel about coming out today?”
“Good. Nervous as hell about the repercussions,” Jean explained and squeezed Ashley’s hand, “What about you? Think you’ll still have a job when you get back to the office?”
“I know I will,” Ashley smiled, “Jerry Winslow called me into his office this morning as told me that he and Mr. Lowry knew about Mary and me. But, they are both open-minded and think of me and Mary like extended family.”
“Wow! That’s great!”
“I know,” Ashley looked around and frowned as some of the reporters still pressed toward the door where security was keeping them at bay, “It just seems too easy.”
“Yeah, I’m expecting the other shoe to fall at some point,” Jean agreed.
Ashley nodded and looked over shoulder at the crowd, “Well, I better get back to the office. Don’t want to lose my job for not doing it.”
“No, we can’t have that,” Jean laughed, “I’ll call you tonight when I get home. Maybe we can have dinner together.”
“That sounds great. But let’s have dinner in. I don’t think I’m ready to be photographed eating, and I’m sure there will still be a few paparazzi out there taking pictures of us.”
With a heavy sigh, Jean said, “That’s true. We’ll figure something out, though.” She smiled down at Ashley, “I would love to kiss you right now, but I don’t’ think that’s a good idea.”
“No, I think not,” Ashley agreed with a grin.
Jean motioned for one of the security guards to come over, “Please make sure Ms. Jessup gets to her car safely.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the tall black man responded.
The guard took Ashley by the elbow and led her out the courthouse doors. He pushed through the remaining reporters and walked with her the two blocks to her car. A few reporters followed and yelled questions at her. Ashley ignored them and got into her car. She started her car and slowly pulled out of the spot as the guard blocked the reporters from getting at her car.
Ashley was stunned when she saw a few cars pull out of the courthouse parking lot after she passed it and start following her. At a stoplight, she called Mary, “Mary, reporters are following me. What should I do?”
“Hang on,” Mary said, “I’ll get Mr. Winslow.”
Ashley could hear Mary talking to someone in the background and then Mr. Winslow came on the line, “Ashley, come to the office. I’ll be waiting for you. If the reporters won’t go away, I’ll call the police and have them removed from the property.”
“Okay,” Ashley replied.
She drove carefully. A few times the paparazzi pulled up even with her and took pictures. One almost hit the front of her car. “Jesus, you idiots! It’s not like I’m Princess Diana.”
Finally, she was able to pull into the parking lot of the law office. Mr. Winslow was waiting outside the door. He immediately appeared at her door and helped her out of her car.
“Miss Jessup,” one reporter yelled, “Why did you take the judge back after she cheated on you with Cynthia Donaldson?”
“Why would you want to be with her after she had been with another woman?” Another asked.
“Is she really your dominatrix? Is she forcing you to stay in this relationship?”
Ashley stopped when she heard the last question. She turned to the reporters, “No, Judge Carlisle is not forcing me to be in a relationship with her. I love her, and she loves me, and that’s why we are together. The Cynthia Donaldson thing was a mistake and, I feel, a set up by John Garrett, but time and a good trial lawyer will prove that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. That is all in the past. We are in this relationship for the long haul.”
“What about the age difference?” A reporter yelled.
“Love knows no age, sex, color or anything else. True love will overcome all obstacles,” Ashley responded.
“Do you believe you and Jean Carlisle have that kind of love?” a woman reporter asked.
Ashley looked directly in the woman’s eyes and told here, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
“That’s it people,” Mr. Winslow ordered and led Ashley into the office.
“Thank you,” Ashley sighed.
He gave her a sideways hug and said, “No, problem.”
Ashley sat down at her desk and took a deep breath, “Wow, that was intense.”
Mary came over and sat down at the edge of Ashley’s desk, “You going to be okay?”
“I think so,” Ashley said looking at the reporters still hovering in the parking lot. “Who would have thought a judge in a small city would draw so much attention from the press.”
“Well, this is a small city in a conservative county and state. So, a judge coming out as gay is a big deal,” Mary said.
“I know,” Ashley sighed again, “Hopefully this will all blow over soon and we can get on with our lives.”
“It will, but I suspect that the next couple of months are going to be a real challenge for Jean and you, individually and as a couple,” Mary cautioned.
Sadly, Ashley was afraid that Mary was right.