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By Sean Pendergast
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Even by the standards of divorce court, John Shike was behaving badly. On that Monday morning in late April, as the judge prepared to sign an order granting Saba Hameed Shike the divorce she'd sought for three and a half years, her soon-to-be ex spewed objections. The tall, heavyset man paced back and forth in front of the judge's bench, muttering to himself, his hands jammed in his pants pockets. He claimed -- as he'd claimed before -- that he'd never been married to Saba, and thus couldn't be divorced from her. After the judge signed the decree, as the parties left the courtroom, Shike turned to his wife's attorney and said he'd fight him "all the way to hell." In the hallway, Shike continued his tirade, calling the lawyer "a smiling son of a bitch." The lawyer continued to smile, right on out of the building.
For Shike, the performance was restrained. The balding 47-year-old usually shows greater vigor in attacking his enemies, and among Pakistani-Americans, his exploits are well-known, though not applauded. To give but one example: After the New York Pakistan Post covered the latest wrinkle in Shike's divorce, he angrily denounced the story on his public-access TVshow, The Houston Connection, a weird hour of invective, interviews with crackpot politicians and shameless promotion of Shike's own mortgage company. But apparently the TVsalvo against the Post wasn't vengeance enough. According to the reporter, Shike privately threatened to break his legs.
But the reporter was only a minor enemy. Saba headed the list, and was treated accordingly. During their six-day divorce trial last September, Shike accused her of having been a prostitute and terrorist in their native Pakistan. In a pretrial motion he'd asked to make a videotape of the court proceedings, saying that he hoped to convince a Pakistani court to issue a death warrant against her. Throughout the proceedings, he denied that Saba was his wife -- never mind that four years before, he'd filed for divorce from her.
Serving as his own lawyer, Shike had repeatedly ignored Judge John D. Montgomery's instructions and admonishments. He frequently insulted Saba and her attorney, and was rude to courtroom personnel. The jurors, frightened, asked that he not have access to their names and addresses.
"Even the judge was scared of him," said Saba. "Judge Montgomery should have sent John to jail."
Montgomery said he wasn't the least bit intimidated by Shike. And in point of fact, the judge fined him $67,000 -- possibly the largest disciplinary fine ever levied at the Harris County Family Law Center. Montgomery cited Shike's courtroom antics and his frequent attempts to delay the proceedings, drawing out his wife's agony.
But even Montgomery's whopping sanction didn't list all of Shike's out-of-bounds attempts to intimidate his wife and the people who tried to help her. Shike has complained of purported misdeeds to the employers of Saba's allies. He's filed lawsuits against the lawyers and nonprofit organizations that she asked for help. Though the suits are of little merit -- in one, he accuses a lawyer of "conspiring" with her client, Saba -- they nearly stopped Saba from obtaining her divorce.
To add insult to injury, Shike has conducted his campaign at taxpayer expense. By claiming to be indigent in at least eight of the ten lawsuits he's filed, he's been released from the $153 fee normally required. But more important than the $1,224 in foregone filing fees, his suits have cost the public the time of courts, law-enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations.
"John Shike has been allowed to legally terrorize his wife and anyone who tried to help her," said Anne Recio, who withdrew as Saba's attorney after being sued by Shike. "The man drives a Mercedes and wears a Rolex watch. Yet he has paid nothing to use and abuse the court system."
In far southwest Houston, Saba Hameed, 36, shares an apartment with her elderly mother and two children, ages ten and six, from a previous marriage. A sharp-featured woman with dark black hair, Saba welcomed a visitor into her well-kept home, needlessly apologizing for the scent of curry.
She moved to Houston five years ago, after spending her entire life in Pakistan. In Lahore, she worked as an English teacher and lived with her children in the military-style compound of her employer, the Fauji Fertilizer Company. Her quarters had central air and wall-to-wall carpeting, and the company covered her utility bills. She considered herself quite well-settled.
In late 1991, Shike -- Saba's second cousin -- wrote to her older sister, requesting that Saba marry him and come to live in the U.S. Saba had never before met Shike, but via the mail and telephone, he persistently repeated the proposal. Having been married and divorced once before, Saba said she wasn't interested in Shike's offer, but her family pressed her, and finally she agreed to meet her suitor.
On January 24, 1992, she arranged for Shike to stay at a guesthouse inside the company compound. He created quite a stir, she remembered, claiming to be a colonel with something called the Internal Bureau of Investigation and saying that he had a nice home in Houston's exclusive Memorial area and a couple of fine American cars -- a Cadillac and a Buick. Shike told Saba that, although his first two marriages had ended in divorce, he wanted to try a third time because he liked having a family. He said he would care for her children as if they were his own.