Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Day on the Bench

After the first couple of weeks following my appointment to the bench shadowing experienced judges and soaking up as much of their knowledge as I could, I was assigned to a criminal calendar in Scott County. 

For the first time, I walked into the courtroom and the bailiff cried, “All rise!  Scott County District Court is called to order, the Honorable Thomas G McCarthy presiding.”

Wow, people are standing as I come into the room!  Pretty heady stuff, but I realize that it is the position of judge, not Tom McCarthy, to which is the respect is shown. 

The butterflies are doing acrobatics in my stomach as the attorneys present their cases.  The first two are routine, with agreements among the lawyers.  The third one, however, has no agreement and I must make the call.

I think I know what to do, but am a little gun shy this first day.  I indicate that we’re going to take a short recess and I will announce my decision when I come back on the bench.  I head down the hall to Judge Young’s chambers, explain the situation to him and tell him how I thought I should proceed.  “You know what to do,” said the judge in a matter of fact manner.  “Just trust your instincts.”

So I returned to the courtroom, announced my decision and tried to contain my surprise when no one argued with me about it.  Hold on, I thought, I’m the one who has to make these calls and the attorneys will pretty much accept them, unless I’m way out of line.  Judges are supposed to listen carefully to the arguments, weigh the merits and decide.  If there were continuing arguments over every decision a judge makes, no case would ever be finished!  The wheels of Justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine, goes the old saying.  If a judge’s decision was not final, the wheels of Justice likely would stop.

OK, lesson learned.  After that hearing, the rest of the day passed uneventfully. 

And now, a quarter century later, I try to remind myself to pause as I enter the courtroom, recall the thrill and fear of that first day in court, and remind myself again of the awesome honor and privilege that has been invested me to serve the people of this State during some of the most important events in their lives.

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Next week:  Black Robe Disease