A Shoe and the Other Foot

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A local judge fears for his life. The newspaper article quotes him: "Most killings of judges usually stem from domestic cases, so I’m concerned. I’ve been terrified all day." Well, his fear would seem justified.

The judge had granted power of attorney for a man — suffering from dementia — to his two children, and ordered his wife to turn over his money and assets to the children as well. She was, to put it mildly, displeased. Over a year ago, store employees at the drug store where she works had seen her follow the judge — he was a frequent customer — from the store into the parking lot, demanding that he rule in her favor.

The woman recently told her co-workers at the drug store that she was planning to bring some guns to work and blow his "head off his shoulders" when he next came in to shop. Word of this reached the judge. Now it was his turn to be displeased. He sought, and received, from a colleague, an order of protection.

The judge has expressed some indignation that the drug store did not notify him of the woman’s threats. "I’m in there all the time with my children. It strikes me as off the charts that (the drugstore) didn’t notify me that she was threatening me to her co-workers." It’s an interesting point. Is one expected to report to the authorities every bit of threatening bluster that one hears? And if so, what are the authorities — presumably the police — to do about it? I believe it has been settled by the courts that the police cannot be held responsible for failure to protect. For instance, if you threaten my life, and I report your threat to the police, can they be held liable if you do, indeed, kill me thereafter? The answer is NO.

It’s even more interesting that the judge is "terrified" of a member of the public. I recall being told, on several occasions, that every surgeon should himself undergo surgery. Undoubtedly, surgeons would regard surgery in a different light if they were on the receiving end of the knife. Perhaps this unsettling episode might remind the judge that people are, quite often and regularly, "terrified" of him. He can, and in the case resulting in the threats on his life, did, rule that what the woman evidently regarded as her property was, in fact, not hers. Judges routinely issue orders making people do what they do not want to do, or abstain from doing what they want to do. Of course, they base their judgments upon the law, or precedents, but they are part of the corporation that makes the laws. Their decisions, therefore, may or may not be just, but they are certainly "legal," if only, in the final analysis, because their fellow state employees have made it so.

Consider the growing number of individuals sentenced to long prison terms, or even death, who have been exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence that was not available at the time of their convictions. Were they "terrified" of the judges who pronounced sentence upon them? To whom could they appeal for an order of protection from what they knew was an unjust sentence?

I freely admit that I know virtually nothing, except what the newspaper article contained, of the facts in the case which produced this threat. Whether or not the decision of the judge was entirely just and proper is beyond my ken. And the threats of the woman are, clearly, wrong. But — they are understandable. I do not seek to justify, but explain, them.

It would be wonderful if, as a result of his experience, the judge would give extra thought to his future decisions. What may be to him a ho-hum, routine, matter is, from the litigants’ point of view, of great importance and significance. While his judgment should not be clouded by emotion, neither should it be ossified by rigid application of the law, since few cases are without multiple shades of grey. Even God tempers justice with mercy. Perhaps, come to think of it, ONLY God tempers justice with mercy!

It is a wholesome thought that our rulers, from time to time, be frightened of us!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is author of All Work & No Pay, which is out of print, but may occasionally be obtained on eBay.

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