A judge's son was facing a probation revocation hearing, in a court to which his father was permanently assigned. Accordingly, his father was designated to another court on that day and I was appointed to sit in his place and preside over the case. It was a court in the western part of the state at which I had never before sat. It was an appointment inherently recognizing perceived responsibility, and I received it as such.
As I drove to the court early that morning, I was of a singular mindset. A judge's son was not going to jail on my watch. I offer this as neither confessional nor boast, but rather as self-defination. That's who I am.
At 8:45 a.m., before taking the bench, I summonsed D.A. and defense attorney to my chambers. I was the new kid on the block. The clerk, probation chief and court officer were also in attendance. They were obviously trying to take my measure. The defendant had been put on probation pursuant to a misdemeanor conviction of one year ago. He had just been arrested for disorderly conduct stemming from public intoxication. He was twenty-one years of age and booze was his problem. The issue before me: whether to deem his probation as having been violated and impose sanctions, one option being incarceration.
I began: "Gentlemen, I am quite aware of the fact that the defendant is the son of a judge who sits at this court. Be advised that this shall in no way be a factor in my consideration of what justice requires. It shall in no way warrant any special or favorable treatment. On the other hand, that is a two way street, for it shall not reflect against him, under any circumstances. Is that understood?" Everyone nodded, affirmatively. I had set the table.
I heard from both sides, intentionally starting with the prosecutor. I wanted to take his temperature. It was clear, from his manner and tone, that not only was he not out for blood, he was also acutely aware of the practical consequences involved. So was the defense counsel, for he asked for no specific relief, but rather left it to my discretion. Sub rosa messages, back and forth, taking their cues from me. I was over the hump, with a smooth road ahead.
Relying on the presumption of innocence, I found no violation of probation. In open court, I heard from both sides on the record,and the matter was dismissed. During the lunch break, completely by chance, I was approached by the defendant as we passed each other on the street. As he began to thank me, I interrupted him and delivered a scathing lecture on how booze was destroying his life. "If you f--k up again, you'll go in." He said that he understood and walked away.
Several months later, his attorney appeared before me on my home turf. He asked for a sidebar and reported that his client had been clean and sober, and trouble free, since our conversation, of which he had immediately been informed.
Later still, I attended a judicial function and saw my colleague across the room. He said nothing. He didn't have to. His eyes conveyed deep and sincere gratitude. But that had not been my motivation. I had done what I perceived to be the right thing.
I worry not what criticism this post might engender. Comes with the territory. And, besides, if the situation had been reversed, I'd hope for reciprocal treatment. We're all human.