One of the purposes of this blog is to describe what federal trial judges really do. Although I could never do it in his beautiful and gentle manner, I have a good role model just down the hall.
The man I was appointed to succeed as a federal district judge here in Lincoln, Senior Judge Warren K. Urbom, has written about what it is like to be a federal trial judge with great candor and uncommon wisdom. And he has written about so much more. See Warren K. Urbom, Called to Justice, The Life of a Federal Trial Judge, (University of Nebraska Press, Law in the American West Series, 2012) (forward by Chief Judge William Jay Riley of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit).
Numerous luminaries have expressed glowing praise for Warren’s book. They include Deanell R. Tacha, Dean of Pepperdine Law School and former Chief Judge of the 10th Circuit; former Director of the FBI and CIA and former judge on the 8th Circuit, William Webster; Bob Kerry, former U.S. Senator and former President of the New School in New York; and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of the Great Sioux Nation: Sitting in Judgment of America.
Here is a quick summary of Called to Justice, the Life of a Federal Trial Judge:
Early in his judicial career, U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom was assigned a yearlong string of criminal trials arising from a seventy-one-day armed standoff between the American Indian Movement and federal law enforcement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In Called to Justice Urbom provides the first behind-the-scenes look at what quickly became one of the most significant series of federal trials of the twentieth century. Yet Wounded Knee was only one set of monumental cases Urbom presided over during his years on the bench, a set that in turn forms but one chapter in a remarkable life story.
Urbom’s memoir begins on a small farm in Nebraska during the dustbowl 1930s. From making it through the Great Depression and drought to serving in World War II, working summers for his father’s dirt-moving business, and going to school on the G.I. Bill, Urbom’s experiences constitute a classic American story of making the most of opportunity, inspiration, and a little luck. Urbom gives a candid account of his time as a trial lawyer and his early plans to become a minister—and of the effect both had on his judicial career. His story offers a rare inside view of what it means to be a federal judge—the nuts and bolts of conducting trials, weighing evidence, and making decisions—but also considers the questions of law and morality, all within the framework of a life well lived and richly recounted.
What’s my take on the book? If you like exquisite prose, you will love this book. If you like history, you will love this book. If you like the law, you will love this book. If you like an autobiography that reads like a novel that keeps you up at night, you will love this book. Most of all, if you want to rekindle your belief in the basic goodness of this country, you will love this book.