Columnist Jimmy Breslin once asked why, in a democracy, everyone should have to rise when a judge enters a courtroom. Notwithstanding that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a republic, one must always keep in mind, when talking about judges that we stand for them, because as we all know, all judges are honorable, incorruptible, and honest.
In Friday’s issue of The Australian, a national newspaper Down Under, the subhead for an op-ed was, “Courts have to depend on lawyers being honest in order for the courts to function properly writes Ysaiah Ross.” No problemo! Which brings me to Australian Judge Marcus Einfeld.
Einfeld, a former Federal Court judge who is “an Officer of the Order of Australia and was voted a Living National Treasure,” has in recent years made a profession of lecturing public officials on honesty and ethics. In January, Judge Einfeld’s Lexus was photographed speeding, and incurred a ticket for 77 Australian dollars ($66 U.S.).
Judge Einfeld insisted to Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court that he was not the driver at the time; he’d lent his car to a lady friend, visiting American professor Teresa Brennan. Professor Brennan was hunted down, and found to have died in February 2003, almost three years before she had gone speeding in the judge’s car. Now, that’s one complicated girlfriend.
When the little matter of Prof. Brennan’s being dead was brought up to Judge Einfeld, he had a ready answer: No, no, no, not that dead American Prof. Teresa Brennan, it was a different dead American Prof. Teresa Brennan!
The good judge insisted that his dead American Prof. Teresa Brennan was alive long enough to go speeding in his car, but died shortly thereafter. (From grief over the ticket? Out of shame for having besmirched the ethical jurist and Living National Treasure’s driving record? Due to guilt over having dragged the first dead American Prof. Teresa Brennan’s name through the mud?)
In 1992, I published a wonderful short story, “Morning in Bond Court,” in my since long-defunct magazine, A Different Drummer. The story, which perfectly balances cynicism, wry humor, and poignancy, by retired Cook County cop Paul Pekin, is based on Paul’s experiences on “the job.”
The narrator is a Cook County cop who spends a day taking various small fry back and forth from the jail to the courthouse for bond hearings. One such small-timer is a “young black man, greasy upright hair. He stands before the bench, hands behind his back. Maybe he thinks he still has the cuffs on….
“The young man with the ugly hair is charged with stealing eighteen packages of spark plugs from an auto supply shop. Even worse, he failed to appear at his last court date, failed to appear at the date before it, failed to …
“‘I can explain all that. They told me courtroom B and I went there and they said it was someplace else …’
“‘You’re saying you went to the wrong courtroom?’
“Only the young man with the ugly hair fails to be amused. He is led away, frowning. Five thousand dollars bond. That’s a lot of spark plugs.
“Next, we get a redheaded guy with no teeth. Charged with battery.
“‘It’s all her fault, your honor. She makes me go with her to her sister’s, it’s about the money they got for the car, and this guy her sister sold it to gets arrested and his old lady wants her purse back, and that’s when it turns out she’s the one with the …’
“‘You seem to hang out with complicated people,’ the judge says.
“Yes sir, I certainly do.”
“‘Well, you hang around with complicated people, you get complicated results.’
“Bond is twelve hundred dollars and the redhead is taken away.”
Back in Australia, Judge Marcus Einfeld hangs around with complicated people, and gets complicated results. In the meantime, in his scorched earth campaign to beat a 77 dollar traffic ticket, Judge Einfeld is now up to four different stories, with no end in sight.
Legal observers in Australia are concerned that the Judge’s travails might tarnish the reputation of the judiciary. I have unshakable faith, however, in the good Judge’s ability to uphold traditional standards of judicial ethics and honesty.