Alternative title: “Our standards are so low”.
Remember David Pollitt? [Previous posts here, here, here and here] Yeah, he’s the guy whose release from prison after maxing out from his sentence had his rich neighbors in an uproar. They didn’t want him living in their cul-de-sac, so they staged protests and feverishly dialed into “Idol Governor”, simultaneously pressing 0 for the operator (I guess 1 for complete abrogation of the rule of law and 2 for abandonment of common sense weren’t enough. They went straight for the operator Governor).
So the Governor, as any good Governor would do, stepped in and asked the chief prosecutor attorney general to intervene to see “if we could have this here guy locked up longer than his sentence”, because well, “I’m the Guv’nor dammit and I should be able to”^.
Thankfully, the only person who could actually make Mr. Pollitt go back to jail remembered that there’s something called the law, which is written in these things called books, to which we do something called follow.
Judge Susan Handy was rather skeptical of the legal basis for this “request” from the Governor and reached back into obscure legalese to pull out a rarely heard term called “Illegal”. Never heard of it.
Anyway, whatever this “illegal” action was, it was coupled with some other bizarre phrase known as “standing”. I guess if you aren’t standing, you can’t do something illegal. My head is spinning.
[insert deafening silence, followed by sound of crickets chirping]
So. The point of this nonsense post is that this past Thursday was the 50th Anniversary of Law Day. Judge Handy received an award from the New London County Bar Association. In keeping with the tradition that lawyers are the most uncreative people on Earth, who have an affinity for campy, cheesy names, the award was called the Liberty Bell Award. Because, I guess, someone rang Liberty’s bell.
“I am both humbled and, I have to say, completely overwhelmed, to receive an award for simply doing the job you entrusted me to do,” said Handy, who was appointed to the bench 15 years ago and serves as presiding judge for criminal matters in the New London judicial district.
Let’s be clear: this post is not about Judge Handy at all. She obviously did the right thing. What disturbs me is that doing the right thing now leads to awards and needs to be recognized. How skewed has our notion of justice become that a judge who follows the law and does the most obvious thing has be to feted.
“Let’s imagine if Judge Handy had not ruled as she did,” [Chief Court Administrator Judge Barbara] Quinn said. “A man who had completed his prison sentence would have been unjustly held. The neighbors and some politicians would have rejoiced, along with many members of the public. I would submit to you, however, that the damage to the constitutional rights of every member of the public would have been shaken to the core.”
Why must we imagine? It should be unthinkable that she would rule any other way. This should have passed silently in the night – yet now we have to beat it over people’s heads that she did the right thing.
Congratulations, Judge Handy and I hope this keeps giving you the courage to do the right thing. What worries is me is now I don’t know how many judges would have done the opposite.
^Obviously she did not say that. I don’t know what she said. That was an attempt at humor.