Since I grew up in Sibley County, and practiced law and lived here since 1974, occasionally a person appears before me with whom I am acquainted.
There have been times when such an acquaintance has appeared before me on a routine matter – a traffic ticket, for instance. I am uncomfortable, but really can’t see sending the person away to come back another day before a different judge.
So I hear the matter and do my best to do justice for this person. I know what I would do if it were a stranger in my court. For my acquaintance, I must be neither more lenient nor more strict, and avoid even the appearance of favoritism.
I am also a member of the Masonic Fraternity. In the Seventh Degree in the Scottish Rite, I have played the part of a judge in Solomon’s Israel. This judge is approached by two workers rebuilding the Temple, each asking the judge to give preference to his side in a matter to be heard by the judges that day.
Admonishing one of those workmen, my character has a line that summarizes the position of Masonry and my personal attitude when a person I know appears before me in my official capacity: “As a Fellow of the Craft, I call you Brother, but as a Judge, I know you not!”
My position requires that I rise above my knowledge of the person before me and show no favoritism. Or, as the judge in that Masonic degree I’m in says later, “[I] promise and vow that [I] will decide justly and impartially whatever matters of difference may be submitted to [me] without fear or favor or the hope or promise of reward.”
Without fear or favor. Wow. Not only would it be improper to decide with the hope of gaining some personal advantage, I must make the correct decision even in the face of possible unpleasant consequences. Even if that means I may have to explain myself the next time I’m up for election.
As a man, a Mason and a judge, I know that I, like all human beings, have fallen short of the mark. That is no excuse to quit trying, however. I have taken an obligation to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Minnesota. I do my best, every day, to fulfill that oath.
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Next week: We Live in a Great Country.