On being vetted

One reader suggested that I might add some posts on what is like to being vetted to become a judge. I think that might be of some interest.  So, for the next several days, I will post pieces about what happened to me in the vetting process.

I have been “vetted” four times. Once by our Court with the assistance of the FBI when I became a magistrate. Twice by the White House when I was considered for the position of district Judge. And, once by Senator Chuck Hagel for a circuit judge position.

The day after Christmas in 1986, and after the FBI was done with me for the position of magistrate judge, my wife died unexpectedly while we entertained a client who had just gotten out of prison. Since my wife was perfectly healthy or so everyone thought, our wonderful friend and family doctor urged an autopsy. He said it was particularly important to know whether there was something genetic going on. I agreed.

The autopsy came back. My wife had idiopathic myocarditis. Essentially, this is an inflammation of the heart that interferes with that organ’s ability to function. Not infrequently, young men and woman in the 40s just fall down and die without any symptoms to speak off. That’s exactly what happened to my wife in the kitchen of our home as she was gathering more to eat.

I don’t remember when, but around the time the autopsy was complete, I received a letter from the Special Agent in Charge at the Omaha field office of the FBI. He expressed his condolences for the death of my wife due to idiopathic myocarditis.

The only way the SAC could have known of the precise cause of death (because the death certificate showed only “heart failure”) was for him to have read the autopsy report. I had certainly signed all the waivers necessary for him to obtain whatever he wanted at the beginning of the FBI inquiry. After reading the letter, I was impressed with the FBI thoroughness and “wink and a nod” kindness of telling me that the FBI knew exactly the cause of death and there was no concern. Sometimes, being “vetted” is sad.





9 responses

  1. Your and/or your wife had to release her medical records as part of the vetting process?

  2. Skink,

    Once my wife died, I had legal control over the medical records. Thus, upon her death, the releases that I signed for myself also extended to my legal rights in her medical records. I don’t remember, but I also probably signed a release at the hospital late in the evening after her death that was probably pretty broad in the sense of allowing the county coroner and law enforcement to have access to it. Remember, this was long before HIPPA.

    All the best.


  3. , , , ,which is probably one of the reasons no one every put me up for judgeship. That, and I probably wouldn’t survive vetting because of the shower cap, eating roadkill and the disappearance.

    I think I’ll just take a walk around Florida.

  4. You were blessed that a friend offered such wise counsel and that the agent understood the reason for the medical report.

    The agent (not FBI) that conducted my federal background check was far less intelligent/ insightful.

  5. Judge-

    Very sad indeed. I am sorry that this was part of your experience, and for your loss at that time. At the same time, I share your impression of the courtesy of the SAC in letting you know that they knew, it was OK and they, too, offered condolences. Kinda classy, circumstances not withstanding.

    I appreciate your being willing to write about this experience, and to plunge into your impressions of the vetting process.


  6. Skink, be sure to stop back here once in a while and tell us of your travels and tales. We need a Skink or three to stay sane.

    All the best.


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