``What do you do?' I asked the attractive young woman at the party. The woman took another sip of her vodka and said, ``I'm a judge.'
I do not expect attractive young women I meet at parties to be judges. I think of judges as aloof and wise ... as listeners, not talkers. I don't think of judges as having a good time.The judge talked easily about several things. We agreed and disagreed, the way you do at a party.
She mentioned her ex-husband. I know that about half the people who get married today also get divorced, but when I think of a judge, I'm looking for someone who doesn't make important mistakes.
What if she's a bad judge of character? I thought to myself. If she made the same mistake with a defendant that she made choosing a husband, she might send someone innocent to prison or let someone guilty go free because she misjudged his character. This was an unfair thought and I didn't let her know I was having it.
I liked the woman and I'll bet she's a good judge. I'm pleased she's willing to do a job that I wouldn't take for any amount of money. She must have confidence in her opinions that I sound as if I have but do not have.
The judge said, in a manner that suggested she didn't really have much power, that her lower court could sentence criminals to a maximum of only four years in prison. Only? Can you imagine sentencing someone to spend four years in a confined space behind bars? I have the same lock-'em-up-and-throw-the-keys-away feelings as anyone else, but if I sentenced someone to prison I wouldn't go to sleep without worrying over the possibility that I'd made a mistake and sentenced an innocent person.
I remember a bit of doggerel by some minor poet whose name escapes me:
``There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us.'
The good judges among us are heroes because they surely feel the same way the poet did but they do what they have to do because they feel responsible for maintaining some semblance of our civilization.
The judge who sentenced junk bond dealer Michael Milken to 10 years in prison last week, Kimba M. Wood, deserves some kind of Nobel Prize for justice. She not only handed out a tough sentence to this man who has made life worse for millions of Americans by tampering with the free enterprise system but, in her brilliantly written verdict she also explained, eloquently, why she was sentencing him to 10 years.
``You have attempted to mitigate these crimes by claiming they represented no more than overzealous service to your clients ...
``To the extent that your crimes benefited your clients, that is, of course, no excuse for violating the law.
``It was suggested that ... you could have made much more money by committing more blatant crimes ...
``These arguments fail to take into account the fact that you may have committed only subtle crimes not because you were not disposed to any criminal behavior but because you were willing to commit only crimes that were unlikely to be detected.
``We see often in this court individuals who would be unwilling to rob a bank, but who readily cash Social Security checks that are not theirs when checks come to them in the mail because they are not likely to be caught doing so.
``Your crimes show a pattern of skirting the law, stepping just over to the wrong side of the law in an apparent effort to get some of the benefits from violating the law without running a substantial risk of being caught.'
In a world where evil so often seems to win, Kimba Wood is a judge to be cherished for not letting it happen this time.
I'd like to meet her at a party.