Thursday, June 26, 2014

Middle Drawer on the Right

I have started cleaning out my desk.  It’s a big job – 26 years of stuff from a confirmed pack rat. 

Recently, I started combing through the contents of the middle drawer on the right side of my desk.  Along with copies of some expense records and calendars showing which courthouse I worked in on a given day, was a stack of several inches of paper – copies of opinions from the Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court reviewing cases I had decided and an unhappy litigant sought to overturn.

In the olden days, the Clerk of Appellate Courts would put a copy of the opinion in an envelope on Monday (when the opinions were released) and I’d get it at the courthouse a day or two later.  These days, I get an e-mail notice to go onto the appellate court website on Monday and check out the opinion.  It’s more expedient and less costly, but it doesn’t contribute to the stack of memories in the middle drawer on the right.

Some cases I had forgotten about.  Some cases I couldn’t recall, even after reading the opinion.  Some cases brought back memories about the trial, the attorneys, the clients and the struggle I had in making what I felt was the correct and just decision.

Many of the opinions affirmed the decision I had made.  There were several that reversed that decision, and made a different order.  The most troublesome were those that were remanded – “Judge McCarthy, you messed this up.  We’re sending it back for you to get it right this time!”  (Fortunately, there were very few of those opinions.)

A significant number of the appeals involved situations were a person was charged with driving while impaired or were family court (divorce) files. 

I’ve never been too concerned about whether a particular case was affirmed or reversed.  I’ve always felt that I have my job to do, and the appellate courts have theirs.  Sometimes when I’ve been reversed, I see the mistake I made and learn from it.  Other times, I’m firmly convinced that I made the correct decision, but the rules of the game provide that I follow the decisions of the higher courts.  In fact, in the last month of my judicial career, I’ve told attorneys, “I agree with your analysis of the case and believe I should rule in your favor.  However, the Supreme Court has told me we are both wrong, and until they change their decision, I am obligated to follow it.”

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Next Week:  Artifacts