The Queens Family Courthouse on Jamaica Avenue—built eight years ago to replace a rundown former library that the Family Court had occupied for three decades—reflects the change that has taken place in public architecture during the past fifty years. Public buildings are no longer designed to be impressive but to be pleasant. Entering the courthouse’s five-story atrium and stepping onto its escalator, a visitor may have the momentary illusion of being carried to the lingerie floor of a department store rather than to a courtroom where her children will be taken away from her. The corridors outside the courtrooms where people sit and wait for hearings to begin have a similar atmosphere of euphemism. With their elegant floor-to-ceiling windows and handsome wood benches arranged in facing pairs, they evoke well-endowed university libraries and conference centers. They seem entirely unconnected to the little hell of family court.
During the three years I attended hearings at the Queens Family Courthouse on the continuing case of Michelle Malakova—whose mother, Mazoltuv Borukhova, a physician, had been convicted in 2009 of the murder in 2007 of her husband, Daniel Malakov, an orthodontist, by hiring a gunman to kill him at the entrance of a playground in Forest Hills, and was serving a life sentence at a maximum security prison in Bedford Hills—I came to know the corridor outside Judge Linda Tally’s third-floor courtroom very well. (Michelle, who was four years old when her father was killed, is now nine.)
As members of families have “their” chairs in the living room and at the dinner table, so the Malakov and Borukhov families—Bukharian Jewish immigrants from Uzbekistan who had settled in Forest Hills after the breakup of the Soviet Union—had their habitual places in the courthouse corridor, and these were as distant from each other as possible. Khaika Malakov, the father of Daniel, and his sons Joseph and Gavriel always sat at the near end of the corridor, while Borukhova’s mother, Istat, and her sisters Sofya and Natella sat at the far end. “My” place was in the center section where other members of the press would sit, among them the tabloid reporters with whom I had become friendly at the murder trial (or “Dentist Slay Trial” as one of their headline writers called it) in the winter of 2009. However, after a few months, the reporters stopped coming; the story of the “tragic hit kid” or “murder orphan” was evidently no longer newsworthy, and I became the only journalist covering the hearings.
Michelle’s story, in fact, was never newsworthy. She was always a recessive and passive character, the object of other characters’ fantasies and desires, her image vague and undelineated like that of the offstage changeling boy in A Midsummer’s Night Dream over whom Titania and Oberon wrangle. A Daily News story that appeared the day after…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.