The One-Armed Judge

I look forward to watching Judge Donna Miller dispense justice on local television. She is wise, knowledgeable, patient and compassionate. I can’t help comparing her traits to one of my Dad’s best friends, Judge D.R. Smith, who was wise and knowledgeable but not very patient.

Judge Smith was a one-armed, six-foot tall, handsome man with a stern demeanor. Wednesday afternoons he and my dad had a standing golf game. It drove my father crazy that he couldn’t beat the one-armed judge; he could hit the ball farther but D.R. could chip and putt with the best of them.

Throughout North Central Florida, D.R.’s reputation was one of being a tough, no nonsense judge. Bad guys would live in his district but to avoid having come before him make sure they committed their evil deeds elsewhere. There’s a story that D.R. got pulled for speeding in a town just out of his district. Supposedly, the cop told him, “I have to give you a ticket, that’s the bad news but at least you won’t have to go before that one-armed SOB in Ocala.” The story goes that after D.R. gave him his driver’s license and showed his empty sleeve, he drove off with an apology.

Earnest Mars, an employee of mine, told me he had to have the day off because he had to go to court and asked if I would give him a ride. I agreed to do so and sat in the back of the courtroom as he went before Judge Smith on a DUI charge. The judge asked him what he had to drink on the night he got stopped and Earnest began to enumerate a list of alcoholic beverages that could stock a bar. Holding up his hand, the judge halted Earnest’s testimony, pointed at me and inquired, “Mr. Tucker are you here with this defendant?” When I answered that I was, he instructed me to approach the bench.

As I walked to the front of the courtroom I couldn’t help but think, “Earnest has messed up so bad that Judge Smith is going to put me in jail for driving him here.” When I reached the bench, looking not at Earnest, the judge said to me, “Mr. Tucker, I am suspending Mr. Mars’ drivers license for six months and placing him on probation for one year. You understand that he is not to drive and you will see that he reports to his probation officer weekly.” My goodness, Earnest drinks most of the liquor in Marion County, gets pulled for DUI and I became responsible for his behavior. Believe me, I made Earnest’s appointments with his probation officer and made sure he kept them.

My brother, who was an attorney, and I used to kid about how different the O.J. Simpson trial would have been with Judge Smith on the bench. I could just see it: the judge instructing the bailiff to shoot Johnny Cochran if he rose to make one more objection. The astonishing thing is, my brother and I both believed that the bailiff would have done so.

Judge Smith was a roll model to many of us. From him we learned that a handicap was not an impediment to enjoying life; we learned that there is no middle ground between right and wrong and we learned you earn respect by being tough but fair. Times have changed, we are now in an age where shades of gray cloud the difference between right and wrong; when people, rather than applauding the achievements of the handicapped expect them to fail; when being tough – having high expectations – is considered to be foolhardy and harsh; and being fair is defined in relative terms.

One of the reasons that I enjoy watching Judge Donna dispense justice is that even after adjusting to the times we live in, she reminds me of Judge D.R. Smith. I look for the slight ironic smile that appears when she catches a lie and wait to see the look on the defendant’s face when he realizes he has been caught and is in big trouble. It’s great television.

Judges and Justice

The job of a judge is to figure out what the law says, not what he wants it to say. There is a difference between the role of a judge and that of a policy maker… judging requires a certain impartiality.” – Clarence Thomas, “in the Wall Street Journal“, Conversation with Dinesh D’Souza, July 2, 1991

In short, justice discards party, friendship, kindred, and is therefore always represented as blind, that we may suppose her thoughts are wholly intent on the equity of a cause, without being diverted or prejudiced by objects foreign to it.” -Joseph Addison, Guardian, No. 99, July 4, 1713

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