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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Judge Decides

Some days reveal humanity in the most unlikely places. Yesterday I was sent to a courtroom for a murder prelim and was annoyed (as usual) by the waiting involved. I had other things to do and my schedule, tight as it was, constricted to unbearable levels with any unforeseen delays.

The judge, it seems, had a personal appointment so was late to court that day — one of the moving parts was stuck and the whole apparatus ground to a halt. My temper was calmed by the whispered explanation given me by one of the court staff. “The judge’s wife has cancer and he’s had to take a lot of time off the last year.”

When he arrived, he apologized for causing everyone to wait. At the sidebar, I told him I knew what he was going through because I’d been there myself. He nodded, and we went on with our work until 4:30. Today we resumed at 8:30 promptly and completed the case by 10. The judge was a reasonable man, knew the law and his function, and ran his court smoothly.

It was a murder case. While my client was driving to McDonald’s his passenger fired 6 shots into the rear of an SUV that contained some rival gang members. He missed the baby seat by inches and killed the infant’s uncle. The judge ordered my client to stand trial for his part in the death, denying my arguments for dismissal. We’d both done our jobs according to our oaths.

After the hearing was over, the judge asked me to come into his chambers and we talked like people. Turns out he is about three fourths of the way to where I wound up. Our nightmares started out almost the same way and his was still in progress. I wished him better luck than I had and re-experienced my end scenes for him, with as much advice as I could manage: “Tell her every day that you love her.” After 15 years, my tears still welled up and the man behind the big desk excused himself and went into his wash room and stayed there for 10 minutes while I called my next court and told them I’d be late.

When he returned, he apologized and we talked some more. We talked about how helpless we felt when confronted with things we could not argue or reason our way to a decision. When I left, I think he felt a little better, knowing that someone understood. I hope so. He’s a nice guy.

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