Colleen Nestler is a 56-year-old woman from New Mexico who blames her bankruptcy and psychological problems on David Letterman. She claims that for the past 12 years, Letterman has been sending her coded messages during his broadcasts. She claims he has promised to marry her and train her as his co-host, but that he has refused to fulfill those commitments. This week, she finally insisted that a judge issue a restraining order barring Letterman from harassing her through these coded messages.
Amazingly, she found a judge to agree.
It's best to start directly from the source. The following is quoted from a letter Nestler filed with the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico:
[My story] involves primarily, David Letterman as the root cause to my bankruptcy, but also involves Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Kelsey Grammer. Reason being the latter three: they were entirely aware of the reality of me being the person Mr. Letterman wanted to marry, and at the same time, was the person, through my willingness to learn, who wanted to train me via intense observation, to be his co-host on the Late Show with David Letterman. In reality, I was opening myself to years of mis-leading intentions and excuses in order for Mr. Letterman to effectually suppress, dis-arm, in order to use me as his puppet and more as this story unfolds. It involves every taped Late Show when Dave functioned as the host, at CBS, since the beginning.Her six-page story is sad. Obviously, her claims are ludicrous and she's clearly quite ill; but the next paragraph is the most poignant in her letter.
To begin, to explain how Dave "operates in order to conceal, and keep private what he wants to keep private, Dave talks in a"code"....it is common in the television industry and is also how Kelsey "communicated" to me, as well as to Dave, as while in the process, using the plot of his tv show Frasier, a vehicle of total communication. I had to learn this code...as he "had me" up in the early hours, watching, of course his show, but as well, World News Now...on ABC, as well as Good Morning America, which eventually extended to The Today Show, and of course, Live, with Regis and Kathie Lee.
In the summer of 1993, I was married to Frank Nestler. We lived in the Carson Valley, Nevada, and had a small art gallery of our work. It was not your conventional marriage, for it was more like a brother-sister arrangement. He was 26 years older, and although I had great respect for him, it was a marriage without passion. In actuality, I was very unhappy and privately wanted to divorce, but had no reason to. Plus, I tried to honor the marriage commmittment. But wehn Dave walked out onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre for the first time under his new CBS contract, something happened inside me. My entire being "alit" so to say. It was as if I had dis-engaged from gravity and was no longer aware of anything but his eyes and voice. Yet, even at that time in August and September, with nightly, devotional watchings, I didn't truly REALIZE what had happened to me. All I remember was saying to myself : "Well, I'm going to have to stay up and watch him." And I did, from that moment on-every Show until 1998.She says it herself: She was an empty woman living a passionless life, and she needed something to fill the void. She found it in Letterman.
According to Nestler, the courtship began when she "sent supportive thoughts of love to him." (Not letters, mind you. Just thoughts. Nestler believes that "thoughts are things.") She claims that Letterman "responded to my thoughts of love, and, on his show, in code words & obvious indications through jestures and eye expressions, he asked me to come east." His advances intensified, alternatively wooing her and apologizing when he failed to make promised rendezvous. He chose her as his co-host, and insisted that she follow a rigorous schedule of study watching various shows to prepare. Eventually, Nestler claims, she couldn't take any more. She refused to meet his demands. When Letterman had surgery in 2000, Nestler realized that she no longer loved him.
She doesn't explain what has transpired between 2000 and today; but apparently, she felt compelled to apply for a restraining order. Obviously, the judge should have dismissed Nestler's application and referred her to a psychiatrist; but instead, incredibly, District Judge Daniel Sanchez signed an order instructing Letterman to refrain from threatening, harming, or contacting Nestler, and prohibiting him from coming within 100 yards of her.
Colleen Nestler lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You might say there's little chance that David Letterman will ring her doorbell -- and therefore, little harm in telling him not to. That's irrelevant. A restraining order isn't a cuddly blanket to make people feel warm and safe; it's a weapon of last resort, when people prove themselves absolutely incapable of existing civilly. Moreover, it carries tremendous stigma. There's a pervasive "guilty until proven innocent" attitude in our society, a perception that, "If she got a restraining order, you must have done something..."
This case proves that false.
Judge Sanchez should be impeached. His job is to help people, not to rubber stamp whatever vague legal forms cross his desk. Ideally, he should have recognized that this woman was a step removed from schizophrenia and arranged for her to receive help. But he was unforgivably wrong to indulge her fantasy at the expense of another man's reputation.
We live in a free society. Outside preexisting statutes, the law shall restrict me from nothing -- nothing -- until I am proven guilty. Yet every day in America, any woman can walk into a courthouse and obtain an automatic restraining order against any man based on zero evidence, zero testimony, zero facts of any kind beyond her polite request. I have pity for Colleen Nestler, a woman who clearly needs our help and patience rather than mockery; but this judge's action brings a shameful state of affairs into extreme relief.
The next time you hear the phrase, "restraining order," remember Colleen Nestler. Remember that no piece of paper, no legal decree can deter a violent psychotic; and consider that these orders simply give misguided people an opportunity to tarnish a good man's reputation without any burden of proof.