"All Rise!" Not For Me


If I were to tell you that I’ve engaged in soul-searching for the past few months, would you scoff? What! A trial lawyer with a soul? And me, of all people, a scrivener with a poison pen? What provoked this?

The prospect of a judgeship was dangled before my eyes. I was in New York when the question was popped: "Have you ever thought of becoming a federal judge?" The questioner’s eyes bored in, searching. My interlocutor was a person of some influence.

"Er, um, no," I said. The circumstances were such that it took me a moment to say what was really on my mind. "Are you are out of your mind? How much do you think you know about me?"

The questioner was well prepared, and recited from memory details about my education, the trajectory of my legal career, my bookstore. "The Obama administration is looking for civil rights and criminal defense lawyers for the bench," I was told. "You are very well regarded."

I called my wife immediately afterward. "You won’t believe what I just heard," I told her. And she didn’t. She was at first put off by the idea, even troubled. Her father, you see, did federal time for refusing to take a loyalty oath in the 1950s. She still recalls visiting him at the Danbury penitentiary. My father was luckier, although an illegal immigrant and sometime armed robber; he never did time. Things got sticky once when he shot a man, so he fled town with the woman he was dating and put down roots elsewhere. The couple soon became my parents.

After the shock wore off, I started to make phone calls. My first was to a wise politico in Washington, D.C., who had himself once managed judicial candidates for a U.S. Senator. "You’d be great," he said, digesting this improbable prospect. But as he described the process of appointment it looked like more than a long shot. Of all the qualified folks out there, a Senator suggests someone who helps satisfy a political debt.

"I’m a lone wolf," I said dejectedly. "I owe nothing to anyone."

"And that’s your best defense," the politico said.

I called friends and colleagues whom I know to have some regard for me, trying to see just how crazy the idea sounded. Kind words flattered my vanity, so I called people whose reaction was uncertain to me. More kind words, and a few barbs. "Well we want a diverse federal bench. You would certainly provide that," one person said. Was that an icicle I heard falling in the summer heat? A few folks looked at me with thinly veiled hostility, struggling hard to find something safe to say.

After a month or so of reality testing, I screwed up my courage and laid out my prospects to a man with clout here in Connecticut. He was gracious; even enthusiastic. Calls were made to the state’s two Senators. One office called immediately and wanted more information. But the other office was silent.

I continued making the rounds, letting folks know about my interest. "Don’t tell too many people," I was counseled. "Don’t let your enemies mobilize." And I began to wonder what life would really be like if I were left alone with the law and was not tethered to the needs and demands of clients in crisis. My wife and I are already near recluses; the prospect of social isolation did not daunt me. My only doubt was the loss of independence. I am now free to do and speak as I please. Would the robe muzzle?

The idea grew on me. Being something other than an outsider appealed. Could I be happy as something other than a resident alien among people of goodwill? I thought I might be.

It all came crashing down on me the other day. I am told that I will not enjoy the support of the Senator who matters in these things. And my congresswoman won’t extend a hand either. I am dead in the water, it seems, despite the good wishes from folks in New York.

I am not surprised, even if rejection hurts. I’ve thrown so many stones in my life it was hard to believe that some would not boomerang and come hurtling back at me. So in the trenches I remain, free to speak my mind and do as I please. Things could be worse.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

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