On September 11, 2001, I had a late start in Court, so I decided to stop by the local Legion Club for a cup of coffee and a little conversation before heading to the Courthouse. The television over the bar showed a familiar building with smoke billowing out of it. “An airplane hit the World Trade Center,” I was told. An accident? No one knew.
As I was drinking coffee and conversing with friends, an exclamation came from the television area – “Another one hit the other building!” The apparent became obvious: this was no accident.
Along with the rest of the country, I walked through the next week in a daze. Put a flag pin on my lapel. Put a small flag out of the backseat window of my car. Prayed for my children and my country.
Politicians called for new laws requiring the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in schools across the land.
I suppose a couple of weeks had passed when I realized I didn’t need a statute or anyone’s permission to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the day in Court. I could just do it!
So, I tried it. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” I said as I walked up to my place on the bench. “I’d invite you to remain standing and join with me as we open court by pledging allegiance to our Nation’s flag.” I turned and faced the flag and began. And the people in the courtroom joined in.
It was uncomfortable that first time. For the first several weeks, in fact. Doing something different. Doing something few, if any, of my colleagues were doing.
As I went to different courthouses and started opening court the same way, I eventually got used to the surprised looks and the occasional smirk. I started to receive occasional thanks for the new ritual. One lawyer who appeared before me was a semi-regular guest on a local radio show and talked about the Pledge on the air.
I had a few folks who said they didn’t like it and were uncomfortable with the practice. One attorney simply stayed out of the courtroom until court was open and the Pledge had been recited.
Now, more than ten years later, starting court in this way is second nature. Rarely, I’ll be distracted as I go onto the bench and just sit down – until I see the bailiff, clerk and court reporter are standing with their hands on their hearts, waiting. I stand again, and thank them for the reminder, and pledge allegiance to our country so that court may properly be brought to order.
And so we may, for a brief moment, reflect on the marvel of this Country which
offers access to its justice system to all.
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Next week: Undocumented