The Great Judge Learned Hand described the life of a judge better than I ever could on my own

As the Holiday Season unfolds and on a point of personal privilege with my editor’s permission, I will depart from my series on the issues facing the new Governor and his incoming administration, as well as the newly elected and reelected Members of the Maryland General Assembly.

On November 28, 2006, I submitted my letter of resignation, resigning as a Circuit Court Judge effective January 15, 2007, 15 days after my 60th birthday on January 1, 2007.  Notwithstanding that fact, if God, the Maryland Court of Appeals, and Maryland’s Circuit Court Administrative Judges, not necessarily in that order or based on their relative importance, are willing, I will be recalled to try cases and/or conduct court annexed ADR.  In addition, I will continue to write this column, which has been and continues to be fun.  Nevertheless, crafting that letter of resignation caused me, as it would anyone with a heart and a brain, to reflect on the life of a judge, particularly this judge.

The great Judge Learned Hand described the life of a judge better than I ever could on my own as follows:

A judge’s life like any others has in it much drudgery, senseless bickering, stupid obstinacies, all disguising and obstructing the only sane purpose which can justify the whole endeavor.  If that were all, his life would be mere misery and he a distracted arbiter between irreconcilable extremes.  But there is something else that makes it–anyway to those curious creatures who persist in it–a delectable calling.   For when the case is all in and the turmoil stops and after he is left alone, things begin to take form.  From his pen or in his head, slowly or swiftly as his capacities admit the pattern emerges, his pattern, the expression of what he has seen and what he has therefore made, the impress of his self upon the hitherto formless material of which he was once but a part and over which he has now become the master.  That is a pleasure, which nobody who has felt it will be likely to underrate.”

The political scientist and legal scholar, Eugene Ehrlich, described the great public challenge which accompanies the life of a judge when he pointed out that “there is no guarantee of justice except the personality of the judge….  The greatest task that can be given a man is to discharge justice.”    This accompanied by the paraphrased private admonition by G. K. Chesterton writing in “The Twelve Men” sounds a note of caution which I have been aware of in my own professional life on a daily basis. G. K. Chesterton wrote:

   “The worst thing that can happen to a judge is that ‘he gets used to it.’  Strictly he does not see prisoner in the dock, the victim in the witness box.  All he sees is the usual man in the usual place.  He does not see the awful court of judgment.  He sees only his own workshop.”

Finally, I take seriously the charge which a colleague and friend of mine, quoting a judge from the U. S. District Court for Colorado, echoed at my first investiture as a judge on August 4, 1986 in Courtroom 201 in Upper Marlboro.  On that occasion he said:

   “As judges our energies should be directed to run efficient and orderly courts in the highest and fairest tradition of the American judicial system; each case presented to us is deserving of undivided and alert attention, and while it is only another case to us, to the litigants at the bar it is of considerable import; we should constantly strive to know and keep abreast of the law; and, individually, we should have the knowledge to discover and the wisdom to clarify the legal issues; the logic and courage to render the difficult decision in an efficient, punctual and just way, with unbiased minds free from prejudgments to recognize the true facts.  A judge’s power is awesome, and he or she need only speak softly to make the court’s voice heard.  A judge’s words have a great potential for healing and encouragement, but also potential to demoralize and shatter the human spirit.  Our goal necessitates that courtesy and patience should extend equally to the experienced lawyer and to the lawyer trying his first lawsuit.  In sentencing one convicted of a crime, we should be conscious of the public interest, but never lose sight of the awesome power of liberty which is in our hands.  Above all, we should always have the heart to know, and the gentleness to understand, human frailties.”

Philip K. Howard observed in his book, The Death of Common Sense — How Law is Suffocating America:

Justice is a human system.  It is a system; but, it is a system that depends vitally on the humans in it.  If we’re asking what’s most important to a judicial system, we can come with efficiency, impartiality, fairness, and procedural regularity.  But I submit that clearly the most important thing for a system of justice is that it must be trusted.  People must think that it is reasonable.  It doesn’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t have to give the right answer or answers that people agree with–it probably should give answers that people disagree with from time to time.  But is must be trusted and, by that measure, I submit, our system sometimes lets us down.  When it does, I think it is because humans have abdicated their role of taking responsibility from the bench and elsewhere.  At least we can be thankful that we have a system where humans can pick it up again.”

With that in mind, if my professional life as a judge of 7? years on the Orphans’ Court, 3? years on the District Court, and 16? years on the Circuit Court, as well as the lives of my colleagues on the Bench in Maryland and across this great country of ours are to be considered worthwhile, it will be because we were among the humans playing our roles in the judicial system that picked it

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