Abe Laeser said...
Can you really be surprised that no one described what they really do? Why would I let anyone into the recesses of my soul? Do I go about my tasks blithly oblivious to their effect, or do I live in a tortured purgatory of psychic pain?
Capital prosecution is not an unexamined life. It just cannot be shared.
People who know me (as me, no one knows me as Rumpole) know I am an intensely private person. The very hardest post I wrote was the post about what I did. I sat with it for a few days, feeling very uncomfortable, as I found it hard to lay my feelings bare for readers to see.
I am a big proponent of a life examined, although the prospect of examining it in front of my colleagues is more than a bit troubling. All the more reason I protect my identity like the confidences of my clients.
There are however, stories to be told and lessons to be learned.
The question is whether the possessor of those stories
chooses to be the teacher of those lessons.
Your insights would be most valuable. But they belong to you.
As a young lawyer, I watched in fascination as Judge Norman Gerstein struggled over the re-sentencing of defendant Manuel Valle, who stood convicted of murdering a police officer. Valle had been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in less than a month after the murder, Judge Morphonios presiding. That conviction and death sentence was vacated. Valle was again convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was overturned, and thus ended up before Judge Gerstein, who was not a proponent of the death penalty.
Day after day Judge Gerstein’s courtroom was crowded with uniformed police officers, even on days that no hearing was scheduled. In the end Judge Gerstein sentenced Valle to death, closing his remarks with the quote from the Poet John Donne: Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
(My apologies to Judge Gerstein if I have got anything wrong. This is from memory, but the memory of those days appears pretty vivid.)
It would be fascinating to hear from Judge Gerstein on that case, or from any Judge who has struggled over a sentence, or from a defense attorney who has struggled to do their level best for a client they detest, or from a prosecutor involved in the decision to seek the death penalty.
These are the decisions that fascinate us. The struggle of an individual’s morality versus their intellect, versus their beliefs, versus the duty to uphold the law.
Where are the lines drawn? How are the decisions made?
In retrospect would they make the same decision again?
As a lawyer, I have contempt for Judges who make the popular decision rather than the correct decision.
But how do I feel when my client benefits from that decision?
Ah, there’s the rub- the deep dark place none of us wants to examine, where troubling outcomes turn to guilt, which festers until it erupts into a substance abuse problem, or troubles at home. How do we handle that aspect of our job without letting it affect our life?
What about the Judge who issues sentences or denies motions to avoid the wrath of prosecutors or the police? As the election fights over judicial seats reach unprecedented levels of rancor, Judges feel increasing pressure not to do anything that brings them into the limelight in a manner that the public may misunderstand. Are there any Judges who want to (anonymously) write about the decisions they have made? Wouldn't that be something to read?
[As an aside, the more we examine this issue, the more we are against Judges having to stand for election.]
The poet Robert Frost wrote:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.
I think about those words often, and have come up with this:
There is a great benefit in the life examined.
The path each of us has chosen
And the sum of those choices
Is nothing less than who we are.
See You In Court.