Back in the 1960’s, an artist names Andy Warhol is supposed to have said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". I came across that quote recently and it made me think not of people who seek the public limelight, but of the people that have come into my life “for 15 minutes” over the years.
Some are literally only 15 minutes. Some are a part of my life for 15 days or 15 weeks or 15 months. In every case, I have made one or more decisions that have always had an immediate and often a long term impact of the person’s life.
And then, they are out of my life. Notwithstanding the fact that I have made what might be a life-altering decision, once their case is concluded, I really have no way of knowing what has happened to them.
The one case that has stuck with me for the longest time, as I heard it early in my judicial career, involved a dispute between the parents of a young girl. Mother claimed that Father had sexually abused the child during a visit. The case took several days to try.
For the first couple of days, it appeared to me that, for the first time in my judicial career, I had a case where Mother falsely accused Father of a horrific act. Then, on about the third day of testimony, the child’s social worker testified about her first visit with the child concerning the abuse. Not for the first, or the last time in my judicial career, I found that my first impression was wrong. I concluded that Father had abused the child, and ordered that he not have any visits with the little girl until he had completed sex offender treatment.
His response: I can’t do sex offender treatment, because I haven’t abused my daughter.
Given the same set of facts, I would make the same decision today. Yet, I wonder if that Dad ever saw his daughter again. I did the best I could with what I had, but there is no 100% guarantee that the decision was the correct.
Did that veteran stay sober after treatment? Did that young woman safely get through her tour of duty with the Marines? Did the children ever reconcile after the probate dispute? Did the child injured in an auto accident wisely invest the insurance proceeds or blow it when he turned 18?
I will probably never know. It’s the nature of my job, and the nature of life.