A PS to the posts on “casual cruelty” plus something more

The first law clerk I hired was Mary Buckley. With an advanced degree in linguistics and honors from the Creighton Law School, Mary worked with me when I was a magistrate judge. That was so long ago that Mary was the one who taught me how to use a computer. Do you remember DOS commands?

Anyway, Mary read my posts on “causal cruelty” and sent me an e-mail about her experiences. You should know that Mary is a brilliant person who has always been committed to doing good in this world. (See photos of Mary and her children near the end of the link.) After she left me, she worked for Chief Judge Bill Cambridge on our court, then worked as a federal public defender, and concluded her career with the feds as a clerk to Chief Judge Smith Camp. Mary wrote:

Though I spent 18 years in judges’ chambers, I still forget that you all exist in a sheltered world. Douglas County is notorious for being horrible about getting inmates their meds. At least between 1994 and 2001 it took an Act of Congress to get a guy his pills.

And I had a horrible situation with [the] Sarpy [County jail] and the Marshals once. My client appeared for his plea. His entire head was red, scaly and swollen, and he had a gross cloudy liquid coming out of his ears. I didn’t recognize him. The prosecutor and I went and talked with WGC [Judge Cambridge] prior to the hearing about the situation. Apparently, the nurse said the situation got to that point because my client was using too much dandruff shampoo. WGC repeatedly asked the Marshal, John LNU, why my client had not been taken to a doctor, and John kept repeating, “He saw a nurse. And he caused the situation himself.” Finally WGC yelled at John in his loudest voice, “I want this guy to see a doctor today, do you understand me?” And voila, it finally happened.

No need to respond – I just think someone needs to hear these horror stories – maybe someday it will have an effect and local inmates won’t be treated like cattle, or worse.

While Mary’s horror stories regarding “causal cruelty” are worth the retelling, I find the first line of her e-mail the most important. She is right. Federal trial judges “exist in a sheltered world.” After doing this work for decades, I still need to be reminded of that truth. Young federal trial judges, especially, should take heed of Mary’s insight. It is terribly important.


10 responses

  1. Thanks for acknowledging that judges–not just federal judges–live in a sheltered world. Indeed, all too often, it’s hermetically sealed. Some of this is societal: We dress judges up in black robes; everyone stands when s/he comes into the courtroom; we address the jurist as “Your Honor,” even when we think that s/he might be a candidate for commitment. And perhaps part of it is a product of the type of personality who seeks to become a jurist.

    Not all judges are like that, of course. I had a hearing before the great Jack Weinstein, in the Eastern District of New York, scheduled for 8:00 A.M., during a huge criminal trial that he was conducting. Without any announcement from the clerk, the judge came out in his shirtsleeves and sat across a counsel table from us. When Judge (now Justice) Ralph Gants, of Massachusetts, was a new trial judge, I had a multi-week case before him. One morning, as counsel were preparing, the judge walked in in his shirtsleeves. My brother for the defense saw him first and rose. As I was doing likewise, Judge Gants waved us down. “You’d be surprised how many rooms I walk into where nobody gets up.”

    But the inducement to be insulated is a powerful constant, even though thoughtful judges will, I suspect, admit that it is a handicap.

  2. As vociferous and strident as my critiques of our decrepit judiciary are, I try never to forget that there are still a few men and women of sterling character on our benches. Though I despair of ever actually appearing before one, and fully recognize that the system discourages principled behavior, it is folly to not encourage them to give voice to their better angels.

    When you have been on the business end of injustice, you develop a low tolerance for it. Most judges have never had that experience, and don’t grasp it at a visceral level. It is heartening to me that you recognize it and hopefully, that that intellectual recognition that you exist in a bubble is enough to restrain you. Tread softly, because you tread on our dreams.

  3. Jon,

    Indeed, the “inducement to be insulated is a powerful constant . . . .” That is particularly so for those us, like me, who crave solitude anyway. All the best.


  4. Rich, of course it’s not just judges. We academics can be among the most insulated if we want to be. I take pro bono cases if it’s something that I can do usefully, but even that only occasionally brings me into contact with people outside my usual world. Lawyers in big firms, a good share of doctors (specialists notably) — professionals of all types are insulated unless they make a conscious effort not to be. One of the warm days last week I was outside. About 3 lots down they’re putting in a new house, and a construction supervisor and a worker were in a shouting match with variants of the word “fuck” being used like a comma. I was startled for a second until it occurred to me that this might be a five-time-a-day event in their world. Incarceration is so far removed from my world and that of my friends and neighbors that if someone’s kid gets picked up for a DUI and has to spend 4 hours in lock-up that everyone needs medication for PTSD. Best, Pat.

  5. Pat,

    And it is very hard to avoid.

    I try to eat every week or so at the 24 hour Highway Diner here in Lincoln ’cause I get to mingle with all sorts of folks. I used to take my trial ad class there for breakfast and tell them that if they wanted to to learn the real practice of law they must resolve to hand out professional cards at such places upon graduation. I did this while consuming a double order of bacon and very greasy french toast–it absolutely horrified the munchkins. So fun!

    All the best.


  6. John,

    If you refer to the problem that initiated these series of posts, defense counsel brought the matter to my attention. There was very little else for him to do since the defendant was in transport status the day before and the lawyer did not become aware of the medication problem until he saw his client the morning of sentencing.

    All the best.


  7. Signing off, are you? Well, thanks for the posts and your thoughts. I’ve enjoyed it, and the opportunity to participate in a community I have, for a long time, deemed closed. Yours, among so many others that I deal with in my work, seem to find solace and protection in exclusion. Mine too but not as absolute as other religious contemporaries. I find freedom in the transparency where they are hapless and threatened by the same. Still, loneliness and isolation seem the antithesis of human need. Inbreeding is the same for thoughts as well as sex, the results are powerfully announced in the most insidious of ways over time. So, we leave off. Thanks, many times over.

%d bloggers like this: