I NEVER imagined my duties at the Daily News would include providing couples' counseling.

But there I was, on a three-way phone call this week with Maureen Picozzi, who lives in Wissinoming Park, and Tyrone Jeffreys, who's locked up at the city's House of Corrections.

I'd received a letter from Jeffreys, 29, asking for help.

In May, Picozzi, 27, told cops that Jeffreys - her ex-boyfriend and father of her child - had broken into her house, screamed at her, then taken her keys and car without permission. Police arrested Jeffreys, who has been incarcerated ever since, unable to post 10 percent of his $50,000 bail.

The thing is, Picozzi now says her story isn't true. She told me that she'd lent Jeffreys her Ford Crown Victoria, so he could look for work. When he returned it, they got into one of their huge arguments. Exasperated, she said she concocted her story to get Jeffreys "out of my hair."

This isn't the first time, Picozzi told me, that she called the cops on Jeffreys, on pretenses that "weren't always true."

A few years ago, Picozzi said, she accused him of rape. He got locked up. The charges were dropped. They reconciled.

Another time, she told me, she said Jeffreys had assaulted her. He got locked up. The charges were dropped. They reconciled.

And in January, she got a restraining order against Jeffreys - but kept in touch with him anyway.

"I said he abused me," said Picozzi, who's between jobs right now. "I was sick of him coming around whenever he wanted."

Both of them figure that, in the last six years or so, Picozzi has called 9-1-1 "maybe 10 times" to report crimes by Jeffreys - "some happened, some didn't," she said.

His arrest record appears to support the couple's contention that Picozzi has used 9-1-1 as a relationship-management tool.

Is it any mystery that our courts are clogged?

What irks Jeffreys is that the District Attorney's Office has yet to drop the current charges, even though Picozzi refuted them in a letter to the court, in June. She also tried to recant on the witness stand during Jeffreys' preliminary hearing, in July.

But the judge stopped the proceedings, ordering that Picozzi be appointed a Fifth Amendment lawyer to advise her of her rights against self-incrimination.

Jeffreys won't get another shot before a judge until his next hearing, Sept. 24. By then, he will have spent more than four months behind bars for things Picozzi said didn't happen the way she'd originally reported.

"So," I asked Jeffreys, "when you get out of jail, are you finally done with Maureen?"

"It's over," he said forcefully.

"And you, Maureen?" I asked.

"He's a good dad," she said. "But we're done."

Obviously, these two could guest-star on the "Maury" show. As such, their relationship ought to be beneath our caring.

Except it affects all of us.

How much police time has been consumed by Maureen's allegations? Court time? Court-appointed legal representation for Jeffreys? Prison space?

And the costs associated with all of it, paid for by a broke city?

As of today, the $99-per-day prison time for Jeffreys' current situation has cost us $11,088.

Read that number again.

Victims of domestic violence rely on our justice system to keep them safe. Picozzi mocks the system every time she dials 9-1-1 to gain the upper hand in an argument with Jeffreys.

It's unbelievable.

I've lost count of the calls I've gotten over the years from men with similar stories of how the gals in their lives manipulate the legal system to cause them grief.

Their tales are usually so twisted, it's impossible to discern which callers are true targets of deviousness and which are charming liars.

Still, odds are not every call is a phony, which gives pause to Jeannine Lisitski, executive director of Women Against Abuse.

"As with all laws, there will always be occasional misuses of the protection-from-abuse system. These instances can make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to receive the protection they need," she says.

Besides, she adds, "We know that there are times that a domestic-violence victim will recant their original, truthful statements against an abuser out of fear of retribution."

That's why, says Assistant D.A. Charles Erlich, chief of the Municipal Court unit, recanted charges don't automatically set an accused free.

"There can be many reasons people recant their initial statements," he says. "A recantation doesn't mean something didn't happen. We need to make sure no further violence happens. Our primary concern is public safety and protection."

Still, situations like Jeffreys' are not unique, Charles Cunningham has found.

"People will sometimes call the police without the intention of having someone arrested," says Cunningham, first assistant in the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which is representing Jeffreys. "They just want the person removed from the house.

"But the police might say they can't do that unless charges are filed. So charges are filed. After a cooling-off period, when everyone's back to their right minds, the complainant thinks, 'No harm, no foul, I won't go forward.' But by then the criminal-justice system is involved, and it's out of their hands."

And God help the poor shmoe already on probation for a prior incident. Even if he's able to make bail, the court's probation unit might have him detained anyway, as a precaution, until the current case is resolved.

Oddly, Jeffreys claims he "doesn't have a gripe" with Picozzi.

"She's the mother of my child," he said simply.

Instead, his gripe is with the city, for continuing to hold him despite Picozzi's recantation.

"The D.A.'s Office says this isn't about me versus Ty anymore," she told me. "They say it's the commonwealth versus Ty. That's ridiculous."

Yeah, it is. She made sure of that when she called 9-1-1.

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/polaneczky. Read Ronnie's blog at