After the Urbom celebration, I embraced an old friend who is running for the U.S. Senate and who happens to be one of the best trial lawyers of my generation. He has a national reputation. We have been close friends for over 40 yours.
Since 1987 when I became a magistrate judge, our friendship has been necessarily distant because he is a trial lawyer and I am judge. We never socialize. But I know if I ever needed serious help my friend would come running and I would do the same for him.
Anyway, when I saw my friend, he was heading to the elevator. I was standing with some others lawyers, and I yelled his first name, He turned and walked over. He extended his hand and said something like “Judge, how nice to see you.” We engaged in a short conversation, and then I hugged him as he turned to leave. I said I missed seeing him and we parted.
I don’t like being called judge when I am not judging. It puts a distance between the other person and me. But, it is awkward. Social conventions require formalities and when such a convention is not followed the omission can be misunderstood (often by those who are inclined to see bad in good).
Today, I received the always fun and informative Jackson List. It appears that the problem of what to call a judge outside of the courtroom confronts the Justices as well. Here are the guts of the most recent letter, which I find fascinating:
For the Jackson List:
In early 1948, Dr. Jacob Billikopf wrote from Philadelphia, his home, to Justice Robert H. Jackson at the Supreme Court of the United States. Dr. Billikopf, a noted national leader in social work, Jewish philanthropy, labor relations and other pursuits, wrote as a trustee and chairman of the executive committee of Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Billikopf explained that he and another Howard University trustee had been, for the past few years, hosting private dinner meetings on campus “for the purpose of making friends for that great institution.” He explained that Howard’s president Dr. Mordecai Johnson, members of his administrative staff, “key men” on the faculty and 25-30 other guests attended the dinners. Dropping mention that Jackson’s colleagues Justices William O. Douglas and Felix Frankfurter had been guests of honor at previous dinners, Billikopf asked Jackson if he would be the honored guest at dinner a month hence.
Justice Jackson promptly dictated and sent back his positive answer. It was contingent, he explained, on another pending matter not claiming his schedule on the date in question. Although Billikopf was not someone who Jackson knew well, he signed his short letter “Bob.”
Billikopf, writing back immediately, focused first on Jackson’s signature:
Dear Mr. Justice:
When my good friend, Benjamin Cardozo, was appointed to the Supreme Court, I naturally greeted him as Mr. Justice. “Don’t call me Mr. Justice. Please don’t,” said he. “How then should you be addressed?” “Call me Ben,” was the reply. Of course I couldn’t be guilty of such irreverence and so we reached a compromise.
Now, then, when I received your letter signed BOB I was naturally flattered and then it occurred to me that it must have been a case of lapsus calami [a slip of the pen]. …
In the heart of his letter, Billikopf wrote that that he was “so happy” that Jackson had accepted the invitation, if somewhat contingently. Billikopf proposed an alternative date, one week later.
For Jackson, that date, February 27th, was clear. On that Friday evening, Jackson attended a private dinner in Frazier Hall at Howard University. He spoke to the group about his 1945-46 work as U.S. chief prosecutor at Nuremberg of Nazi war criminals.
Justice Jackson’s rough notes, from which he spoke, indicate that he discussed the Nuremberg trial and its lasting implications. He described how the Nuremberg judgment recognized individual responsibility under international law. Jackson explained that international law fetters national sovereignty in ways that resemble how the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits the sovereignty of States to violate the rights of individuals.
Following the dinner, Dr. Johnson wrote to Justice Jackson, thanking him for his presence and his remarks. Noting that Jackson and his Nuremberg colleagues had worked there to establish “world community,” Johnson stated his “hope that our own nation may come to exercise increasingly effective leadership toward its realization.”
There is, interestingly, no record of a Jackson response to Billikopf’s comment on Jackson’s “Bob” signature. Following that Billikopf letter, Jackson’s secretary, not he, handled the additional pre-dinner correspondence.
At the Howard University dinner, Billikopf surely greeted Jackson and introduced him to the group as “Mr. Justice.” That would have been consistent with half of what I suspect were Billikopf’s modes of interacting with his friend Justice Cardozo. Their “compromise” was, I think, that Billikopf called him “Ben” in private communication and “Mr. Justice” in public settings.
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This got me thinking. I wonder how readers (particularly trial judges and trial lawyers} handle these situations. If you get a chance, add a comment. I am interested in your views, particularly your “war stories.” Thanks!
And once again, a “shout out” to the delightful Jackson List and Professor John Q. Barrett.*
*You can go to this link to subscribe to the Jackson List which is delivered by private e-mail. It is free.