You may remember from your grade school American History class that John Hancock was the first person to sign the American Declaration of Independence. His signature was big and bold, and he reputedly stated that King George would not have to put on his spectacles to read it!
Over time, “John Hancock” has become a synonym for signature.
Of all the professions, doctors are supposed to have the worst handwriting. I have compared my signature to that of my younger brother, Dr. Mike. Dr. Mike’s signature has always been more legible than mine…..
Judges are as notorious for poor handwriting as doctors. Periodically, our district office will collect copies of all of the judges’ signatures, with their names printed alongside, and distribute them through the system so, for instance, officers who are executing a search warrant can actually know who the judge was who signed the warrant!
I’ve produced many a John Hancock in my career as judge. Recently, I kept track and found that I’d affixed my name to 40 different legal documents in one day! A conservative estimate would be that, in my 26 year career as a judge, I have signed well over 100,000 orders, on file permanently in the District Court.
The happiest orders I have signed make new families: adoptions are by far the most joyful work a judge can do. Marriage certificates are other happy orders. But, there have been sad orders, too: committing a person to prison or a mental institution or signing the final divorce decree.
I have signed sentencing orders on probably thousands of criminal cases. These may go from assessing a fine for a traffic ticket to sentencing a person to the county jail for domestic abuse to sentencing a young man to prison for life for committing murder. That was sobering.
It’s a cliché that the job is not over until the paperwork is done. The divorce is not final, the adoption is not approved, the will is not admitted to probate and the marriage is not recognized until a judge affixes his or her signature.
I recall Twins players telling how they were lectured by Harmon Killebrew to sign autographs so that people could tell whose signature it was. Sometimes, when I have a stack of a couple dozen orders to sign, I’ll remember Mr. Killebrew’s advice, slow down and try to be more careful with my signature – after all, it will be in the court records forever. But even when I do, it’s barely more legible.
And after all, there are people waiting for me to get back in the courtroom.