Saturday, August 6, 2011


The Clerk was "calling the list." All the cases scheduled to be heard that day. I had a copy before me on the Bench, and was following the names of the defendants. Something pulled me up short.
Defendant: Lawrence Ryder. For the defense: Attorney William Ryder. The charge: possession of pot.

I had known Bill Ryder for many years. As a peer. He was an outstanding criminal defense attorney, a veteran of the wars, with an excellent reputation which preceded him, everywhere. We had tried double-defendant cases together and the memories were alive and well in my mind. It's an exhilarating experience to try a case with a pro. No stepping on each other's toes, being able to anticipate moves and displaying our individual talents while remaining completely in sync.

I looked around the courtroom and spotted him, easily. He wasn't in the lawyer's well, but, rather, with the spectators, sitting beside a very young man. When the case was called, I interjected, "I'll see Counsel in my chambers." The Clerk announced, "Court's in recess", and in we all went: both counsel, a Probation Officer and my Court Officer. No tape recorder. This was off the record, per my long-standing rule as to how a lobby conference should be conducted. Relax and be able to talk freely. No bullshit.

"Billy, is this your kid?" He nodded "yes". I turned to the D.A. whom I had grown to know well, as with all the prosecutors who appeared before me on a regular basis. I always strived for a relationship of mutual respect with all lawyers, on both sides. Nice to have that to rely on. My personal code of conduct was to treat attorneys the way I wanted to be treated when I was in the pit. After all, I reasoned, a Judge was a lawyer who had asked the Governor for a job, and had gotten it. But, don't forget where you came from. The Robe, notwithstanding, you still can't walk on water.

"I have known Billy a long time. Through many trials together. You have a job to do and don't be afraid to do it. I may go the other way, but you will never piss me off. Billy, what do you want me to do? Dismiss the case right here and now?"

The prosecutor was in no way surprised. Like I say, he knew me and the fact that my judicial scales would inevitably balance. His day would come.

"Thanks, Your Honor, but no thanks. I stand behind my son, 100%. But I want to bring him a little close to the flame. Would you continue the case for six months and dismiss it then if there's no further problems? But, today, give him a stern lecture, in open court."
The D.A's eyes showed the slightest hint of a smile, and out we went. It went down as scripted, and Billy marched his chastened son out of the courtroom. No more transgressions.

You can take a Judge out of the criminal defense world, but you can't take the criminal defense world out of a Judge. Not on the experience side of the ledger. The attorneys are somewhat of a strange bunch. Maybe that's why they tend to stick together. Was I an "activist' Judge that day? I don't think so. Not when you look at it through the eyes of a conscience.

Bottom line; I did what I thought was the right thing to do. You sleep well. And if heat comes, you can deal with it without furrowing your brow. Amen.

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