BurtLaw's Daily Judge is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, this is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert you to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things that have interested us and that may interest you. In linking to another site or source, we don't mean either to suggest we necessarily agree with views or ideas expressed there or to attest to the accuracy of facts set forth there.
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About Burton Hanson. Burton Hanson is a graduate of Harvard Law School, admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Minnesota. He worked one year as Hennepin County District Court Special Term (Civil) Law Clerk, two years as law clerk for the late Justice C. Donald Peterson of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and over 26 years as Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was a nonpartisan candidate for Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in the general election in November 2000 and a liberal anti-war candidate for Congress in the Republican primary in the Minnesota Third District in September 2004. He was one of the first law bloggers (blawgers). He began planning his first blog, BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else in 1999 but delayed starting it until after the 2000 general election. His campaign website, the no-longer extant VoteHans.Com, contained a personal campaign weblog, possibly the first such use of a weblog or blog. In 2004 he also used the personal blog format in his primary campaign for Congress. That site, BurtonHanson.Com, has morphed into a personal political opinion blog and also contains the archives of his 2004 campaign web pages and blog postings.
Might this day, 09.30., fifty years ago, have been the real day the music died? At 3:30 p.m., 09.30.1955, just outside Bakersfield, driving his new Porsche Spyder 550 on the way to Salinas, with his mechanic beside him, he is stopped and ticketed for speeding. At 5:45 p.m., at the intersection of Routes 466 and 41, near Chalame, the Porsche collides with a sedan driven by a fellow named Don Turnupseed. His mechanic is thrown free and survives. James Dean is dead.... More at entry dated 09.30.2005 and titled "Might this day, fifty years ago, have been the real day the music died? (BurtonHanson.Com).
MN's Chief Justice, Kathleen Blatz, 51, quits. Minnesota's Chief Justice since 1998, Kathleen Blatz, 51, announced yesterday (09.29.2005) that she was quitting her post, effective 01.10.2006. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune (09.30.2005) quotes her as saying, "I want to leave this job while I want to stay." More. According to the Strib, she denied that her recent marriage to Republican businessman, Wheelock Whitney, had anything to do with her decision. Whitney, 79, is father of Benson Whitney, 49, a leading Republican fundraiser and President Bush's appointee to serve as Ambassador to Norway. Blatz has been in public service for 26 years. Her father, Jerome V. Blatz, a Republican, represented Bloomington in the State Senate from 1963-65 and from 1967-77. In 1979, when she was only 24, she was elected as a Republican to the Minnesota House, also from Bloomington, and served there until 1993. She attended law school while in the legislature. Republican Governor Arne Carlson, who was a Republican legislator and state auditor before being elected governor, appointed her to the district court in January 1994. In November of 1996 he appointed her to the supreme court as an associate justice, and, a little over a year later, in January of 1998, to the position of chief justice. Recently, when asked by a friend, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery, "Do you have your dream job," she replied, "It is a dream job, [but] I subscribe to the school of thought that there are other dream jobs in the world." From Her Honor Gets Her Dream Job, unedited transcript of taped conversation of Judge Montgomery and Chief Justice Blatz (Minnesota Law & Politics September 2005). Further reading: MN. Judicial Branch Judge Profile - Editorial: Kathleen Blatz Has Served This State Well (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 09.30.2005) and Chief Justice Blatz resigning post (St. Paul Pioneer-Press 09.30.2005).. Comment. She apparently said she has no present intention to run for any political office. If she were to run, she would not be the first supreme court justice to quit and then do so. Back in 1946, when gambling was still called a racket, Luther Youngdahl resigned his position as state supreme court justice to run successfully for governor, promising to clean illegal one-armed bandits out of country clubs, bars and other "establishments." Now there's a platform I wish someone would run on.
Profile of a 'judge' at work - after 35 years doing it. "Bruce Froemming at work seems like a character in a Hemingway novel: the Old Ump. Stout and round, with ham-hock forearms, a beefy mug and a sturdy, if tired, gait -- he has caricature as well as character in him -- Froemming goes about his business with a deliberate precision. 'The epitome of an umpire,' said John Hirschbeck, a veteran umpire who is president of the umpires' union...'I just love walking to home plate every night,' Froemming said. 'We're all competitors, you know? The player wants to get a hit. The manager wants to win. I want to get it right. To tell you the truth, I just love that competition.'..." More (N.Y. Times 09.29.2005). We like best the statements by Joe Morgan, broadcaster and Hall of Famer ("He's always been a good umpire. Age doesn't matter in an umpire; complacency does"), and Alex Rodriguez, Yankee third baseman ("He's like a four-star general out there. He's got great passion and great respect for the game, and he's been around for 35 years and still goes about his business like he was a rookie"). Comment. His enthusiasm for his job as a "baseball judge" reminds me of Justice Holmes, who went about his business as judge like a rookie well into his 80's. Holmes was 60 -- i.e., "over the hill" by today's judicial appointment standards -- when President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the United States Supreme Court. But, as Judge Richard Posner says, "Holmes performed with great distinction for almost 30 years...." I've always loved the Holmes' quote: "To be 70 years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be 40 years old." Cf, BurtLaw on Mandatory Retirement of Judges.
John Roberts' comparison of judges to umpires. "Judges are like umpires. Umpires donít make the rules, they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical to make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire...Iíll remember that itís my job to call balls and strikes, not to pitch or bat." Comment. I think Bruce Froemming, supra, has a better understanding of the role of an umpire than John Roberts does.
Slate's regularly-updated list of Judge Roberts resources. Slate has created a John Roberts Roundup, a regularly-updated page of links to some of the better web postings relating to Judge Roberts. Click here.
Next Bush pick -- how about a) woman b) from Texas c) who's outlawed sex? "State District Judge Lauri Blake recently laid down the law to a 17-year-old drug offender: As a condition of probation, she barred the teenager from having sex as long as the girl is living with her parents and attending school...Judge Blake [also] prohibits tattoos, body piercings, earrings and clothing 'associated with the drug culture' for those who are on probation and free on bond. And she makes poor defendants pay a portion of their legal defenses. The 40-year-old former Dallas police officer and Collin County prosecutor who teaches Sunday school also has rules for lawyers in her courtroom. Sleeveless shirts are out. Same with cleavage, said Sharron Cox, president of the Fannin County Bar Association. Strict decorum is expected. No handshake deals...The district attorney is investigating the complaint of a lawyer who was briefly ordered into a holding cell after the judge admonished him for his manners...." More (Dallas Morning News 09.29.2005). Comment. My headline/letter of recommendation includes only her top three qualifications for replacing Sandra Day O'C. Others: d) she doesn't like tattoos, etc., e) she's tough on poor defendants, f) she's a former police officer & prosecutor, g) she's 40 and new to judging, i.e., young enough and short enough on judicial experience to satisfy two main "litmus tests," h) she teaches Sunday school (Ha-ha-alle-luuuu-jahhh!), i) she's agin' cleavage and bare arms (make 'em wear burkas!), j) she's strict (just like Momma Barbara was and is when it comes to Georgie), and k) she likes to jail lawyers ("Mr. President," said Karl, "we need to jail more lawyers"). The only strike against her that we can see, and this is a big one in Texas, she doesn't like handshake deals. As President Bush might say, jokingly of course, "They're the best, because they're easiest to renege on. Heh, heh." Laurie, you go girl! (And read on for a potential source of inspiration.)
Iran's judiciary chief: We need to crack down on trouble-makers! "Iranís Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi called for a 'decisive' crackdown on 'trouble-makers,' state media reported on Thursday. Speaking at the first joint conference of Iranís judiciary and State Security Forces, Shahroudi said, 'We must act decisively against trouble-makers,' a term commonly used by authorities to refer to dissidents or ordinary Iranians deemed to act un-Islamic ways...." More (Iran Focus 09.29.2005). Comment. Maybe Chief Shahroudi could take a few lessons from Judge Laurie's playbook. We like to think of judicial education as a two-way process.
Judges may be sued personally in personnel matter. "A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the fired Kanawha County home confinement chief has a right to sue the countyís circuit judges as individuals, but not in their official capacities. Earl Osborne was fired in 2001 after an assistant prosecuting attorney alleged he made a racial slur about a black man who was in the countyís home confinement program...." More (Charleston Gazette 09.29.2005).
Judge suspended in Bihar - allegations include sexual harassment and.... "District and Sessions Judge of Jamui, S K Lal, has been suspended on various charges of omission and commission, including sexual harassment of a Judicial Magistrate...The charges relate to the period between August, 2001 and April, 2005 when Lal was the District and Sessions Judge of Jehanabad...[The] Magistrate Sushma Kashyap has]alleged that the judge...sexually harassed him...The other charges against him include misuse of his official car and attending an oath taking ceremony of a High court Judge without leave and showing his presence in the Jehanabad court the same day by not only signing the court's attendance register but also an order sheet in a case heard by an Additional District Judge...." More (NDTV 09.29.2005).
More judges find 'tables turned.' "The State Commission on Judicial Conduct received a record 1,546 complaints about the jurists it monitors in 2004, the most in the state oversight panel's 30-year history...[according to] its annual report covering 2004 [released] this week...Sixteen percent of the complaints filed in 2004 -- 255 cases -- were investigated by the staff of 10 lawyers, along with 213 investigations and proceedings on formal charges pending from the prior year...[Twenty] jurists were publicly disciplined for misconduct and two were later removed...Public censures resulted for 10 judges and eight were admonished...Another eight judges resigned while under inquiry in 2004...[and] 33 letters of dismissal and caution were also issued to judges upon the conclusion of investigations, where it was found that ethical violations were relatively minor and did not warrant formal discipline...." More (Albany Union-Times 09.29.2005).
Central financing of courts as step toward judicial independence in China? "In its latest roadmap for reforms in the next three years, the Supreme People's Procuratorate expressed an intention to make local people's procuratorates financially independent of their equivalent-level governments...This, once it materializes, may well be the most sensible move ever taken by the country's procuratorial authorities towards judicial independence...." More (China Daily 09.29.2005).
Japanese justices' retirement allowances cut by two-thirds. "The Supreme Court decided Wednesday to cut retirement allowances for its 15 justices by about two-thirds, for the first reduction since 1966. It has also decided to reform the pay system for the 3,200 judges nationwide...." More (Japan Today 09.29.2005).
The case of the smelly pro se litigant. "Steven Aver of LaClede [Idaho]...who has a long history of acting as his own attorney in a string of legal battles with local officials, said he was confronted by bailiffs and told to leave [the Bonner County Courthouse] on Jan. 27. It happened again on Feb. 7, even though he says he had showered and was wearing clean clothes. On Feb. 8, he was allowed to remain in the courthouse after passing what he calls a 'smell test.' Courthouse workers say Aver's odor makes them nauseated. He has dogs and has at times smelled of their feces, workers told the Bonner Daily Bee newspaper...." Now Aver has filed a complaint against District Judge Steve Verby of Sandpoint, claiming he committed various felony and misdemeanor offenses in excluding him. The judge "voluntarily recused himself from 220 criminal cases and 54 civil cases on his calendar last week because the lawyers involved in the cases are investigating the complaint...." More (Seattle Times 09.28.2005). Comment. I wonder a) what the "West Key Number" is for finding cases excluding people from public buildings because they stink, and b) whether there are any lawyers who specialize in stink law.
Study says state judiciaries not representative. "At a time when our nation is focused on creating diversity on the Supreme Court, a new study shows that there is a serious lack of diversity among state judiciaries. According to a new study just released by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law..., despite some modest advances, minority candidates who want to serve as judges often face unique barriers to office...." More (U.S. Newswire - press release 09.28.2005). Full report.
Mobile courts to curb obscenity in films? The headline conceivably could refer to part of President Bush's latest "war," his just-announced "War on Porn" (click here), but in fact in refers to a report in Financial Express (09.28.2005) that "[Bangladesh's] Information Minister M Shamsul Islam" says that "the government, if necessary, will operate mobile courts to take action against the cinema halls, producers and all others involved [with] obscenity in Bangla movies...'Mobile courts like those being operated against food adulteration will be launched in the country to combat smut through the seizure of obscene films.'..." For my thoughts on the mobile-courts fad in Bangladesh, see: Judicial outreach Bangladesh-style: mobile food courts.
Breaking news: Someone finally admits fault for something! But... "The architectural firm that designed Northampton County's new courthouse said Monday that he accepts the blame for a 'mistake' making the ceiling too low in the records room of the circuit court clerk's office. But there's no way to avoid routing a wastewater pipe over the room housing the county's historic court records, he said, despite the clerk's assertion that a leak could be a disaster. Northampton houses the oldest continuous court records in the country...." More (Tasley Eastern Shore News, VA 09.28.2005). Comment. You learn something new everyday. I had no idea that sometimes, in some buildings, there's no way to avoid routing a wastewater pipe over certain rooms in the building.
Chief Justice's son not guilty of assaulting him. According to this brief report in ABC.Net.AU (09.28.2005), Gareth Higgins, 37, son of ACT's Chief Justice, Terrence Higgins, pleaded not guilty to a charge of recklessly or intentionally striking his dad while trying to take the keys from a car, and was found not guilty after a magistrate told the court "it had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the incident was not an accident." According to an archived story of The Age (09.09.2003), i.e., two years ago, the son in question, then 35, "punched and kicked" his father, then 59, during a family argument that broke out at home following a restaurant dinner. According to the story, the son pleaded guilty to assault, providing a false name and driving while suspended. The chief justice on that occasion was taken to a hospital for stitches and treatment of bruises. According to a 07.14.2005 report at ABC.Net.AU the same Gareth Higgins was charged with assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. A magistrate is quoted in that report as saying that Gareth has "a long history of similar offences, including an assault against his father the Chief Justice which was later overturned." What is "ACT," I found myself asking. It's short for Australian Capital Territory. Australia consists of six states and two territories: Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. ACT consists of such old familiars as Belconnen (Nicholls, Bruce, Belconnen), North Canberra (Dickson, Downer, Mitchell), Canberra (Kingston, Manuka, Yarralumla), and Outer South Canberra (Weston Creek, Tuggeranong, Tharwa, Fyshwick, Queanbeyan). It's "all Aussie to me," which is the same as saying "It's all Greek."
Florida judge faces possible removal for advising client to flee. In late 2000, James Henson, although leaving office as a county judge to return to private practice, was still on the payroll when a) he accepted a $15,000 retainer and began representing a person accused of two counts of DUI manslaughter and b) he allegedly (and a fact-finder has so found) advised the client to flee the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution. Mr. Henson is now a circuit court judge. Yesterday a hearing was held before the Florida Supreme Court on a petition that he be removed from office. More (Orlando Sentinel 09.28.2005).
Have gavel, will travel...to Havana, Cha-Cha-Cha. "A colonial mansion in Havana became an outpost of the Chancery Division of the High Court yesterday as a British judge and barristers heard evidence in a copyright dispute over music that sparked a global fad. Mr Justice Lindsay, a High Court judge...and two teams of lawyers have arrived to hear a case over the British publishing rights to 14 Cuban songs, whose composers are dead. Some were played and recorded by the Buena Vista Social Club...Their success led to an explosion of interest in traditional Cuban music. Mr Justice Lindsay, 69, has allowed the lawyers to dispense with wig and gown because of the tropical heat...The judge ordered the case to be moved from London in May when an attempt to hear Cuban witnesses via video link to Havana failed, apparently for technical reasons...." More (The Telegraph 09.27.2005). More Have Gavel, Will Travel.
Judicial reform in Indonesia. "The Judicial Commission plans to probe some 130 judges over alleged irregularities in the near future as part of its main task of supervising judges and helping put an end to corruption in the judiciary...The commission will also jointly arrange a code of conduct and ethics for judges with the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, in order to better define violations and irregularities...." More (Jakarta Post 09.27.2005). Earlier: "Hong Kong and Singapore have the best judicial systems in Asia, while those of Indonesia and Vietnam suffer the worst, according to a survey of expatriate business executives working in the region released on Thursday...." More (Channel News Asia 06.02.2005).
What does use of 'private judges' say about our public judicial system? "The increased use of private judges, long employed by the prosperous and powerful who seek speedy resolutions to legal disputes, has drawn criticism from some players in the local legal community. 'It gives the appearance that there are two judging systems, one for the rich and one for the rest of us,' said Darrel Parker, assistant executive officer of the Superior Courts in Santa Barbara County. 'And what does the fact that somebody set up private judging say about the (public) courts system?'" More (Santa Maria Times 09.27.2005). Comment. Private judges charge up to $500 an hour. But, paradoxically, parties sometimes save not just time but money in using them, partly because the public judicial system is so inefficient but also because the private judges are often the best judges. This brings us to another paradox: many of the private judges most in demand, because they're damned good, are judges who were forced to retire from the public judicial system, which paints with a broad brush & mandates retirement of all judges over a certain age, among them the best & most experienced of judges. The magical marketplace realizes something about these judges mandatorily presumed to be no longer eligible to be judges: they're worth their weight in gold. See, BurtLaw on Mandatory Retirement of Judges.
Judge, mistress accept plea deals in criminal prosecutions. "Warren County Judge Dallas Powers [age 70] and the former probation officer he had an affair with [Libbie Gerondale Sexton, age 34] were convicted Monday on several misdemeanor charges and sentenced to probation. Powers also agreed to retire immediately...." As part of the bargain, felony charges were dropped. More (Cincinnati Enquirer 09.27.2005). "Powers stayed off the bench after court employees complained about sexual harassment last summer. Employees took refuge in another court building after he appeared in and around the courthouse in January, handing out letters terminating some workers and advising others he was back in charge. Another judge overruled Powers. Powers...pleaded guilty to intimidating Chief Probation Officer Dick Kilburn...and to helping Sexton obtain 'improper compensation' for overtime. He pleaded no contest to intimidation of two other court employees and three counts of public indecency for engaging in sexual conduct with Sexton in court offices last year. Sexton...pleaded no contest to two counts of public indecency and guilty to one count of attempted theft in office...." More (Middletown Journal 09.27.2005). Earlier report, with photos (Cincinnati Enquirer 05.26.2005).
Judge's daughter stabbed in school. "A male student attacked the daughter of a Delaware County judge at Muncie Central High School with a knife Monday, leaving her with cuts to her throat and hands, officials said. Police said they do not believe the attack on 16-year-old Leigh Ann Vorhees was linked to her mother, Marianne Vorhees, or her position as a Delaware Circuit Court judge...." More (Indianapolis Star 09.27.2005).
Eyes & ears of world on Bristow, OK as trial of judge begins. I refer, of course, to the trial of Donald Thompson, the former judge, who is accused of using a "penis-pump" under his robes as he presided over a number of cases, including a murder trial. The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, in tomorrow's edition (09.27.2005 - it's tomorrow in Australia), gives its story the title "Hard at Work." Comment. If you have the urge, we invite you to read our last posting on this case, including our modest suggestion as to how the judge could have protected himself against these allegations: Jurors will see sex toys in trial of ex-judge.
An 'all star' retires - judicial philosophy at the grass-roots level. "'I would say I was lenient,' [Jackson County Magistrate Myron] Sanderson said of his philosophy on speeding tickets. Radar and laser guns are indisputable, but Sanderson offered some comfort by making adjustments that would spare the offenders points on their driving records. 'I consider him to be an all-star of the courthouse, an unsung hero,' Chief District Judge Charles Falahee Jr. said. 'We will miss him.'" From a profile (Jackson Citizen-Patriot 09.26.2005) of Myron Sanderson, retiring as Jackson County (Michigan) Magistrate after 23 years pounding the gavel, having missed only two days in that period (he was hit by a truck in November 2000 & took off one day to recuperate). Comment. Without having had the honor of knowing Myron, we would offer the following comment on his 23 years of public service: a) his judicial philosophy, as set forth above, seemingly fits well within the penumbra of the great pragmatic philosophy of fellow judicial great, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., b) he followed Justice Holmes' command that "each of us...try to set some corner of his world in the order of reason" (The Path of the Law), c) like Holmes, who seems never to have missed much time, if any, from the bench because of illness or accident, his attendance record has been outstanding, he is no malingerer & he presumably will keep on cantering after his retirement, as Holmes did, d) like Holmes, he is a "courthouse all-star," and e) like Holmes, when he was Chief Justice in Mass. or when he was Acting Chief in D.C., his gavel technique is a thing of beauty.
'Judicial' ethics in India. "Principal of GN College demands that persons helping colleges to prepare items for entry in the [Youth Festival] contest should not be made judges and two, that judges for items should have competency in the arena...." More (Express India 09.26.2005). Comment. We fearlessly support extending the requirements of competency & lack of bias to the selection of all judges in all contexts.
Egypt opposition leader on trial for forgery asks for new judge. "The runner-up in Egypt's presidential election, Ayman Nour, asked for the judges in his trial to be replaced, complaining they were conducting the proceedings in a way that humiliated him. 'Prison was better than this trial,' Nour told the three judges in the Cairo court where he is standing trial with five other defendants on charges of forging signatures to register his al-Ghad party last year...." More (The Scotsman 09.26.2005).
Israeli judge who fabricated court minutes petitions High Court. "Judge Hila Cohen, who faces the threat of dismissal by the Judges' Selection Committee, petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday to cancel a committee meeting scheduled for October 2, by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to vote on firing her. Cohen was reprimanded and transferred to another court by a judges' disciplinary committee headed by Supreme Court Deputy President Mishael Cheshin because she fabricated minutes of courtroom hearings that did not take place and destroyed official court documents...." More (Jerusalem Post 09.26.2005). Comment. This case in Israel, like the trial of the opposition leader in Egypt, is getting lots of press & seems from this distance to have divided public opinion along politicals lines -- but I'm not enough of a student of Israeli politics to understand that country's political lines of division. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., a New Mexico judge, Frances Gallegos, is under suspension pending investigation into allegations the judge, inter alia, "improperly altered reports to the state Motor Vehicle Division to reflect harsher sentences for DWI defendants than she actually gave them." More (Santa Fe Free New Mexican 08.24.2005). Forgery is one thing. Fabrication is one thing. Backdating is another. Alteration is another. But perhaps there is an overlap in some cases. That's why I placed these postings together.
Imprisoned ex-judge charged with another felony. "Cumberland County [Illinois] prosecutors have charged imprisoned former judge Robert Cochonour with allegedly falsifying an elderly woman's signature on loan papers five years ago...Cochonour served as Cumberland County's resident judge from 1990 until 2002, resigning just before he admitted to stealing more than 100 thousand dollars from the estate of deceased Greenup businessman Jay Hayden [the son of the woman whose name Cochonour allegedly forged]..." More (WQAD 09.25.2005).
Judge is inspiration behind some of wife's poems. Lydia Shutter, 52, of Plantation, Florida, has published her first book of poems, Butterflies of My Soul: "The book details confessions about romance, friendships and family relationships. It includes personal experiences and those from strangers, friends and family [and] even includes poems inspired by her husband, Broward County Judge Steven Shutter. Although he admits having poems about him in a book is a little scary, he shares his wife's vision of poetry's power...." More (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 09.25.2005).
Emily Dickinson's own judge. Emily Dickinson, the great poet, accepted few people into her soul's society. Two were Judge Otis P. Lord & his wife, Elizabeth Farley. Judge Lord, eighteen years older than Ms. Dickinson, was a friend and colleague of Dickinson's father, a prominent lawyer. It appears that after Judge Lord's wife died, a romance of sorts blossomed between Judge Lord & Ms. Dickinson. He died in 1884, two years before her death, at age 55, in 1886. The extent and nature of sexual content of the relationship of Judge Lord and Ms. Dickinson are not clear. But one may use one's imagination to deduce certain things from some of her poems. Here's one to play around with:
The Judge is like the Owl --
I've heard my Father tell --
And Owls do build in Oaks --
So here's an Amber Sill --
That slanted in my Path --
When going to the Barn --
And if it serve You for a House --
Itself is not in vain --
About the price -- 'tis small --
I only ask a Tune
At Midnight -- Let the Owl select
His favorite Refrain.
One whose imagination is not totally repressed may read the following, for example, into this poem:
a) Her late dad told her that Judge Lord is like an owl. b) Owls "build" in oaks. c) "Amber sill" is suggestive of several things, including, perhaps, some oak leaves, possibly also amber-colored wine aged in oak. d) "Slanted" is a word she often used in connection with sun light. e) The amber sill slanted "in her path" -- i.e., actively interrupted her, caught her attention, even illuminated her way. f) It did so as she was going to "the barn." g) She offers it to the judge if it serves him for "a house." Hmm. Was offering a man a house in those days perhaps akin to one of the Sex and the City gals inviting a man into her apartment? h) The only thing she asks for in return is something "small" -- yeah, sure. Women in love have always used irony when bargaining with their prospective mates. i) The something "small" is "only...a tune." j) But a "tune at midnight" is not something that's "only" -- it is richly connotative of a lot of things. k) If the judge accepts her offer of a house, wine, sex, love, she will let him play whatever tune he wants at midnight. l) What is his favorite refrain -- the thing he likes to do over & over again with her? She knows the answer, I think, but she promises to let him select it, to change it, according to his whims, perhaps according to the effect the amber-colored aged wine (mature love) has on him. Ah, she could be so bold on paper, in poetry....
There is, of course, no single correct interpretation or reading of the poem (just as there never is one single correct interpretation or reading or meaning of our great Constitution, which is a constitutive literary document of the highest order). And one's individual, wild reading of the poem may change from day to day, just as the good judge is free to change his refrain next time he spends the night with Emily (or next time he reads the Constitution). Further reading. For other interpretations of some of her poems, including this one, see, James Guthrie, Law, Property, and Provincialism in Dickinson's Poems and Letters to Judge Otis Phillips Lord (The Emily Dickinson Journal 1996).
Want more 'judge poetry' on a rainy, gloomy Sunday? Here's one by Robert W. Service, the so-called "Poet of the Yukon," about "Violet de Vere, strip-teaser of renown" & her little breach-of-peace trial before "ruddy Judge McGraw/ Whom folks called Old Necessity":
You've heard of Violet de Vere, strip-teaser of renown,
Whose sitting-base out-faired the face of any girl in town;
Well, she was haled before the Bench for breachin' of the Peace,
Which signifies araisin' Cain, an' beatin' up the police.
So there she stood before the Court of ruddy Judge McGraw
Whom folks called Old Necessity, because he knew no law.
Aye, crackin' in a silken gown, an' sheddin' of a tear,
Ashine wi' gold an' precious stones sat Violet de Vere.
Old Judge McGraw looked dourly down an' stroked his silver beard.
Says he: "Although the Sheriff's bruised, the lady should be heared.
What can you say in your defence? We'll give you a square deal."
"I jest forget," said Violet. "Maybe it was my heel.
I always want to kick the gong when I am feelin' gay;
It's most unfortunate, I guess, his face was in the way."
Then scratchin' of his snowy pow the Judge looked down severe,
Where bright wi' paint like plaster saint sat Violet de Vere.
Says he: "I'm going to impose a twenty dollar fine."
Says Violet: "Your Honour, to your judgement I resign.
I realize I should not my agility reveal:
Next time I'll kick the Sheriff with my toe and not my heel.
I'm grateful to the Court because I'm not put in the clink;
There's twenty plunks to pay my fine,--but now I come to think:
Judge, darlin', you've been owin' me five bucks for near a year:
Take fifteen,--there! We'll call it square," said Violet de Vere.
New limits placed on judge who violated DWI probation. "A Ravalli County district judge [Jeffrey Langton of Hamilton] who violated an order that he avoid alcohol must equip his car with a device designed to prevent people from driving after drinking...Langton pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of intoxicants per se in March. He was ordered to stay out of bars and casinos, and to consume no alcohol for 12 months. In June, Missoula police responding to an early-morning 911 call found Langton passed out near a hotel room...." More (Billings Gazette 09.24.2005).
Canadian judge will travel to Italy to hear testimony. "A justice of the Federal Court of Canada will [travel] to Italy to hear testimony [in an extradition hearing] from elderly concentration camp survivors against a retired sawmill worker. Michael Seifert, a Vancouver resident who has lived in Canada since 1951 and been a citizen since 1970, has admitted being a guard at the Bolzano concentration camp...Seifert was convicted in absentia in Italy of war crimes five years ago...The court decided to sit for two weeks in Verona to hear witnesses who range in age from 76 to 92 and who could not travel to across the Atlantic because of their age and health...." More (Washington Times 09.24.2005). Comment. Couldn't the elderly witnesses at least meet the judge elsewhere in Italy, say, Tuscany?
Wife still in dark on judge's mystery death. "The mysterious death of a Federal Court judge last month is still up to six months away from being explained, police have told his widow. Federal Court judge Graham Hill, 66, one of the most respected tax experts in the nation, died in mysterious circumstances, alone in his house in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe on the night of August 23. His wife of 40 years, Ute Hill, said it was 'ridiculous' that the police could not yet tell her why or how her husband died...The Weekend Australian understands the primary cause of death was asphyxiation, leading to rumours that have swept the legal profession. The most persistent rumours involve auto-erotic asphyxiation and suicide...." More (The Australian 09.24.2005). Comment. Just read another story last week about a judge here in U.S. dying of a mystery illness. See, Colorful judge, removed from bench, dies of mystery illness.
Judge disciplined for telling Hispanic mothers to learn English. "Documents from the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary -- which is in charge of overseeing the conduct of the state's judges -- show disciplinary action was taken against Judge Barry Tatum but do not reveal the exact nature of the action because state law and the court's own rules forbid it. The disciplinary action against the Wilson County juvenile court judge stems from controversial court orders he issued requiring Hispanic mothers to learn English in child custody cases...." More (Knoxville News-Sentinel 09.24.2005). Comments. More & more we're seeing highly subjective decisions by the judicial disciplinary boards that seem akin to decisions of church heresy tribunals that punish ministers for utterances that stray ever so slightly from rigid church doctrine or conduct that deviates a centimeter from some imagined ideal.
Long-serving judge hints at retirement. "The state's longest-serving Superior Court judge hinted that he plans to retire soon Friday at a ceremony for new lawyers. Guilford Resident Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Albright told those in attendance that, though it touched his heart to be there with them in the 'springtime' of their career, 'for me, the shadows are lingering.' His legal career, which spans nearly 40 years, 'now nears the end,' he said...." More (Greensboro News-Record 09.24.2005). Comment. The judge sounds like General Douglas MacArthur giving his farewell address at West Point, delivered in 1962, when he was 82: "The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here...Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell." More (American Rhetoric). The General was fond of giving farewell addresses; he gave his most famous one eleven years earlier in 1951, when he was 71: "[L]ike the old soldier of [the barrack] ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good Bye." More (American Rhetoric). Judge, you're only 66. Holmes didn't write his greatest decisions until he was in his 80's. However, if you insist on giving a dramatic farewell address, we suggest that for rhetorical effect you replace MacArthur's peroration about "The Corps" with "The Court, and The Court, and The Court." Oh, yeah, it would be sick if your last conscious thoughts were of "The Court," but go ahead & say it -- it's just rhetoric & it'll maybe get some tears from your old colleagues & maybe give the young law clerks a good laugh. And for the old barrack ballad, substitute the old Inns of Court ballad, "Old judges never die,/ They just misplace their precedents."
Judge may be in trouble for jailing parents of truants. "Court officials are looking into a judge's recent crackdown on truancy in the Covington school system. Jason Nemes, general counsel to the Kentucky Supreme Court's chief justice, said he has received two complaints about the actions of Kenton County District Judge Doug Grothaus, who put eight parents in jail Monday. 'We understand something is going on in Kenton County, and we're not sure what's going on is proper,' Nemes said...." More (Lexington Herald-Leader 09.24.2005).
New Orleans judges struggle to rebuild court system. "In conference calls with his fellow juvenile judges, [Judge Louis] Douglas said [from his temporary office in an Atlanta courthouse that] the judges have floated the idea of creating a temporary court city, possibly in Zachary, La., just north of Baton Rouge. Judges have also suggested setting up camp in New Orleans suburbs or even a luxury cruise ship wading in waters just outside the city...." More (AccessNorthGeorgia 09.24.2005). Comment. One of the few institutions that seems to have been able to respond well to Hurricane Katrina is WalMart. See, John Tierney, From FEMA to WEMA (N.Y. Times 09.20.2005). When I ran for Chief Justice here in MN in 2000, I proposed:
Not only should judges spend most of their time at the court working on the cases and writing their own opinions (if they're able to write their own opinions), they should make sure the people they hire to administer and manage our court system do a good job of it. One of the first things every final state appellate court should do is create a voluntary advisory committee on judicial administration, consisting of outsiders, preferably nonlawyers who have no relationship whatever with the administrators or the judges or the system. I'm talking about citizens with special expertise in administering large organizations, maybe some retired executives, men and women who are willing to provide a fresh perspective and a critical look at all aspects of state court administration, including budgeting. Such a committee would help the members of the court -- with solicited creative input from all other judges and all employees of the entire court system -- maintain better supervisory control of the administrative branch of the state judicial system. Our system of government is a brilliant system of interlocking checks and balances. I think the time has come for just the sort of check on administration that I have described.
(Excerpt from campaign position paper that now appears at BurtLaw on Judicial Independence & Accountability.) It seems obvious that some people at WalMart have their marbles in order & ought to be the type of people who, along with others, belong on such committees -- in every state and at the federal level.
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