So much for the majesty of the law

Jim Redwine

Members of most occupations and all professions, including judges and attorneys, are obligated to engage in continuing education. In response to both the states of Indiana and Oklahoma’s CLE requirements, I am currently engaged in a 40-hour online mediation course presented by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.

I may subject you, Gentle Reader, to the exciting content of this course before long. Hey, why should I have all the fun alone? But for this week I thought you might prefer another of those true courtroom dramas such as the one presented in last week’s column about my service as a prosecuting attorney that helped keep me from falling too deeply into the Black Robe Syndrome.

The case that today’s column is about occurred about 25 years ago in front of me in the Posey County, Indiana, Circuit Court. To my chagrin, I confess it is all too true and was first confessed to by me in a Gavel Gamut article on Aug. 7, 2006.

The whole embarrassing courtroom episode reminded me of Dorothy’s serendipitous traipse along the Yellow Brick Road in the land of Oz with the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man in search of a brain for the Scarecrow, courage for the Lion, a heart for the Tin Man and the Wizard of Oz for Dorothy. When the mighty Wizard of Oz is finally seen for what he really is by Dorothy, his façade of omnipotence gets shattered.

It is probably a good thing that we sometimes have false images of our leaders. I remember my feelings of dismay when I was told by one of my grade school teachers that the painting of George Washington that hung in our classroom, and in which The Father of Our Country looked so stern and powerful, portrayed Gen. Washington with his lips tightly pursed because he had ill-fitting false teeth.

And I will not disclose at what advanced age I still clung to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I might have been slow to catch on, but I was happier than my peers. 

We may be wrong, but most humans believe in pomp and circumstance and the regalia of office. Police officers have badges, soldiers have uniforms and presidents have Air Force One. We do not need to know about what happens behind the scenes.

Then there are judges. Judges have courthouses, high benches, gavels and those flowing black robes. Hey, it’s kinda cool. And, of course, some judges have spouses who are not so easily impressed by all the accoutrements since they see their judges asleep on the couch in dingy T-shirts and torn Levi's.

But what brings the old “feet of clay” sharply into focus are those unexpected events that occur in court, where some citizen decides to act like this is a democracy and he or she is an American.

While there are many instances where I have been made to realize that the trappings were for the office and not for me personally, my wife Peg’s favorite story involved a case from about 10 years ago where I was imparting great judicial wisdom and admonitions to a young woman who had been found guilty of stealing.

As I was regaling the full courtroom with the majesty of the law and how it fell so heavily on this poor young miscreant, all of a sudden the huge double doors in the back of the courtroom burst open and a large woman with her hair in curlers wearing a housecoat and bunny slippers charged up towards my bench. She was the young woman’s mother and she was not amused, and certainly not impressed by my lecture to her daughter.

The lady stopped just behind the bar that separates the hoi polloi from those who are paid to serve them. She stood to her full height and said very loudly: “If you weren’t wearing that long black dress, I’d come up there and slap your face!”

Then she turned and marched slowly and grandly out the back of the courtroom giving me what for the whole time. The packed courtroom was split between amazement and amusement.

As for me, I knew how the old Wizard of Oz felt.