Gavel Gamut By Jim Redwine


Gentle Reader do not despair. We have reached the final week of our discussion of the Internet course for Rural Court Judges. You will no doubt recall our previous sessions on the scintillating topics of Rural Court Case and Court Management. Well, the best is yet to come. I only wish we could hear from the student judges from Alaska to Maryland who attended the seven week National Judicial College course that I helped teach. Surely they were filled with the same excitement I felt as an Indiana University freshman law student during Contracts classes, perhaps much as you have been while reading Gavel Gamut the past few weeks. But, all good things must come to an end so let us summarize what we have studied.

We started with the proposition that the most essential criterion for being a Rural Court judge, or any judge, is good character. Intelligence and industry are fine attributes but ring hollow if a judge cannot choose the harder right over the easier wrong. As Socrates told his Athenian judges who tried to have it both ways, “Your job is to do justice, not make a present of it.”

You may remember the prescient observation made by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) when he wrote of his impressions of America in Democracy in America: “In America practically every political question eventually becomes a judicial one.” Of course, for those questions to be answered properly the judiciary must be fair and impartial and the public must have confidence they are; politics must not enter into a judge’s decisions.

That astute one-time Hoosier Abraham Lincoln who knew a little bit about politics and a lot about judging saw the legal profession’s role as to first be peacekeepers. To keep the peace judges must enjoy the public’s confidence in the absolute impartiality of judicial decisions. Character is the cloak that must robe a judge.

And when a judge is faced with those difficult cases where he or she is tempted to slip off the blindfold and tip the scales of justice, the only refuge a judge has is his or her character. That is what judges heard during our Internet course and what Bobby Kennedy meant when he said, “Some see things as they are and ask, why? I dream what things could be and ask, why not?”

Of course, society often rewards those of weak character and severely punishes those who choose the harder right. But that pressure is what judges must withstand. So where we start and end our course on Rural Court judges is the same proposition: judges must keep the blindfold on and their thumbs off the scale.

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