A JUDICIAL GARDEN PARTY
Last Friday, our state judiciary threw itself a birthday party at the State Capitol. As Professor Lansing pointed out, they didn’t even have the year right. Our State Judiciary is 166 years old, but are they aging well like a fine wine? At the end of the all-day affair, the chief presiding judge gave a full hour “keynote” address to the eager assemblage. Then the host opened it up to questions for the Chief. Of the eighty-or so smiling faces, there was not one question. Awkwardly, the group adjourned to a liquored reception.
The first legal education seminar I attended long ago, following law school, had a panel discussion by the big-hitter trial lawyers. The audience quickly became bored when one asked the other, “Well, Pinky, what would you do in that situation”? Whereupon, I learned my first lesson about cocktail talk with lawyers/judges. When any legally trained person begins a sentence with: “I remember a case I had once…….”, it is time to head to the door. Friday’s program was filled with such panel discussions.
One of the most interesting things about lawyer/judges who talk too much; is that they never learn. Leading the panel hit parade on this good Friday was portly Supreme Court Justice W. Michael (Mick) Gillette. Here is the bill of fare:
- History of the State Supreme Court -- Jacob Tanzer is a tall drink with ‘down-home’ elocution that fairly drips with common sense. He spiced up a boring presentation with his humor and recollections. He violates the rule, but what the heck. Humor overcomes all.
- The State Supreme Court’s Contributions to American Law Law -- Justice ‘Mick’ moderates this search to nowhere. The State Supreme Court ranks at the bottom in contributions to American Jurisprudence. Only no one has the courage to state the obvious. A former important-person-in-state-law attempts to establish a linchpin between state contributions and national jurisprudence, but fails.
A bright spot was New York University School of Law Professor Catherine M. Sharkey’s presentation on punitive damages. While not a subject that necessarily perks up one’s ears, in this crowd there is a worthy audience. You see, the United States Supreme Court has expressed the view that our State assiduously avoids following their instructions on remand. The local State Court does that by finding “an independent state ground” for ruling which nullifies what the United States Supreme Court really meant for the State Court to do when it sent the case back on remand. It all began with Bill Gaylord and the Honda case.
Break-Out Sessions -- Ostensibly, these sessions are supposed to encourage give and take between law minions and law stalwarts. It didn't work. Former Chief Peterson droned on about how things used to be twenty or thirty years ago and everybody yawned. Mick chaired another panel about diversity. A Woman, a Hispanic, a Gay all championed their positions of long ago. What we really need is a Break-Out of this staid profession into new areas where the young can breath new air.
Justice Linder spoke of how she won her contested election against a name/male opponent for a cool $200,000. This begs the question of how does an electorate know who deserves reelection? Even though state law requires that judges be selected by elections, the State Governor has selected over three fourths of our state judiciary according to Garden Party statistics. How can you let that be???
The Key Note Address -- The Chief Justice Paul De Muniz: He wants more judges, more courthouse repairs yet laments there are fewer jury trials to train young litigators. He is for judicial accountability yet is against formal statewide judicial performance evaluations. Go figure. At the end, there was awkward silence. Then everybody repaired for drinks to pronounce the Garden Party a well-done success. Judicial nuggets worthy of reincarnation -- Hans Linde, Betty Roberts, William Richardson, Jacob Tanzer, John Jelderks and no others. Well, maybe Ellen Rosenblum.
It was a fine fall afternoon so I went out to look at the stars and the moon. Don’t get any ideas. This evening the United States bombed the moon to see if there is any water there. Head for your bomb shelters, they may be looking here next….. And yes, the Garden Party was a lame bomb in search of an idea and an audience.