I have always considered it a privilege and an honor to serve as a trial court judge. One of my colleagues told of an appearance he made as a young attorney before a very, very busy judge. He hung back in the courtroom at the end of a long day, not wanting to add to the judge’s workload, but needing an Order signed.
Shortly, the judge looked up, saw the young attorney and asked, “Counsel, how may I serve you?”
When I heard that story, I decided that was the kind of judge I wanted to be. Too often, because of the deference routinely showed to judges, there is a temptation to forget that we are there to serve and to believe that it is we that should be served. To remember that it is only by the suffrage of the people we serve that we are granted this special privilege to resolve the disputes placed before us is an absolute requirement for any person who is given the authority to make the decisions that can literally alter another’s life.
It took me many years to decide to routinely ask attorneys and litigants, “How may I serve you?” At first, it was very uncomfortable for me to ask, almost as if I were giving up some of my authority. This was especially true when there were many people in the courtroom, waiting their turn.
It didn’t take too long, however, before the question became second nature. It reminds me, every time I ask it, that I am truly there to serve the people who appear before me. It is not MY courtroom. It is not MY schedule that is important. It is whether I have actually heard the people appearing before me. It is whether I have considered the arguments and correctly applied the law. It is, in the end, whether I have done Justice.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that “Only a life lived in service to others is worth living.” Sounds right to me. I have been truly blessed to have been able to be in a profession that has enabled me to support my family and serve our citizens.
I wish I could say that every case I have handled has given me that satisfaction of a citizen well-served. I do my best, and more often than not, feel I have done my best.
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Next week: Just Another Day at the Office