Meting Out Punishment


The two men were apologetic, and with good reason. Last December, on the way to a Ram’s game, the two men stopped at Tim & Joe’s tavern, in Belleville, Illinois, not far from St. Louis. Both had a few drinks. According to the subsequent complaint, quite a few: each consumed eight beers, and two Bloody Mary’s. Then, on their way to the game, their car crashed headlong into a pickup truck, doing such damage that emergency equipment had to be summoned to extricate its driver, who suffered a broken leg, and required hospitalization. The driver of the car, in a plea agreement, was placed on probation and fined $1500. His companion pled guilty to a charge of illegal transportation of alcohol (cops reported seeing him trying to conceal a can of beer when they arrived at the scene of the accident) and was fined $500.

Did I mention that the two men were judges? One, the one trying to conceal a can of beer, was chief judge of the 20th judicial circuit. He has since stepped down from that position. The drunk doing the driving was a St. Clair County (Illinois) judge. The two men made their apologies, mentioned above, before a judicial discipline board. From the newspaper report, it seems that the board met to ascertain the harm done to the reputation of the judiciary, and carry out damage control.

"I certainly owe the judiciary an apology," said the drunken judge driver. His lawyer agreed: "It’s a sad day he had to do this to the judiciary," he said.

Gosh! The judiciary is certainly something special! If, when I was practicing medicine, I had gotten drunk and smashed into someone’s vehicle, destroying it, and putting its driver into the hospital, would I apologize to — the local medical society? If you worked at Wal-Mart, and on your way home from work, got soused, and damaged someone else’s property, would you owe the Walton family an apology? But if a couple of judges get drunk and seriously damage another’s property and person, they are expected to apologize to the judiciary! And it evidently worked. The discipline board’s punishment was light.

No, correct that: it was non-existent, unless you call an official reprimand "punishment."

The two men will remain on the bench; will get paid as always, and, upon retirement, collect their retirement benefits. But the drunk driver’s lawyer thought it was fair. "It will always be a mark against their name. This will always get brought up." Maybe, but so what? They’ll continue to adjudicate as though nothing had happened. And as far as their good names are concerned, I’ll bet that, in six months, if not sooner, not one St. Clair County resident in a hundred will recognize their names.

And no doubt the "harm" to the judiciary was minimized by the combined fines of $2000 paid by the drunken duo.

And what about the poor unfortunate fellow who was just driving along, minding his own business, when a couple of inebriated judges hit him head-on, destroying his pickup, and putting him in the hospital? Well, he wasn’t and isn’t a member of the judiciary! Why should any concern be wasted on him? Insurance will take care of him, I suppose. But apologies, with appropriate groveling, must be made to the "judiciary," and money thrown at it as well.

The drunks are called, and probably refer to themselves as, "public servants." That makes the fellow whose truck they destroyed, and whose leg they broke, their sovereign. So when the servant seriously harms his master, he apologizes too — his union? It’s enough to make you laugh — or cry.

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