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Judges: not all black robes and gavels

By Amelia Newcomb / February 7, 2002



What does a judge really look like?

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Most of us don't see judges very often, which is a good thing, on the surface of it. Our impressions are shaped instead by more distant images: dignified black robes, imposing oak benches, lengthy articles on how a particular judge's deeply considered philosophy will shape the trial of the century.

Which is why it's fun occasionally to get a glimpse behind the scenes (see story, page 16).

The judge I knew best was my grandfather. He shared traits common to those on the bench, by one estimate: decisiveness, punctuality. He really could see an issue from all sides. His unflappable nature helped him handle all the vituperation that comes to highly placed judges through the mails.

Maybe that's what made it hard for his secretary to believe what she heard about his life beyond the bench. I don't think she was concerned by his choosing to watch Captain Kangaroo with his grandchildren, or his delight in practical jokes. I suspect she got a kick out of the "Jiffy Adjudicator," a small homemade device designed to end judicial wavering. When switched on, it would highlight one of these options on its front panel: "constitutional"; "unconstitutional"; "reference"; "mandamus (send for chocolate bar)"; or "recess."

What didn't register with her was a scene I witnessed myself: Her dignified boss, arbiter of tough cases, careening down the road as a passenger in a Bugatti race car. His hair was flying - and he wore only khakis and his undershirt.

It couldn't have been. She expunged it from her mental records. But there was more than one side to this judge's judge.

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