Maybe we ought to make jurists wear see-through robes. There’s something about the combination of wearing a black robe, sitting high above the rest of us, and being addressed as an institution ("the court"), that tends to go to judge’s heads. 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 they are a class dominated by the grimiest political hacks, most of whom owe their positions to party machines and backroom deals. The majority are privately beholden, even as they speak publicly about "the independence of the judiciary." They couch the most corrupt and politically partisan decisions in the language of moralistic sanctimony, as if they were speaking from Mount Olympus, rather than from the sewer.
Granted, not all judges are so phony and full of themselves, but an awful lot are. In Friday’s issue of The Australian, a national newspaper down under, the subhead for an op-ed is, "Courts have to depend on lawyers being honest in order for the courts to function properly writes Ysaiah Ross." So much for that idea. When my sister graduated from liar’s school 12 years ago, I congratulated her on stepping up from being an amateur to a professional liar. As a graduation gift, I gave her the foundation of all contracts: A baseball bat. (It was a miniature bat, for symbolism’s sake.)
Which brings me to Australian Judge Marcus Einfeld, an expert on ethics for public officials.
Judge Einfeld is a former Federal Court judge who in recent years has made a profession of lecturing public officials on honesty and ethics. He is also "an Officer of the Order of Australia and was voted a Living National Treasure."
Judge Einfeld is what Harry Truman liked to a call a "high hat." A high hat is someone who’s got money, and who publicly lectures everyone else on morality, but in private is the best customer at the local bordello. (Those are are my words, not those of the old Missouri dirt farmer and failed haberdasher, but I believe they capture Harry’s sentiment.)
In January, Judge Einfeld’s Lexus was photographed speeding, and incurred a ticket for all of 77 dollars Australian ($100 U.S.). But Judge Einfeld had no intention of paying the ticket. After all, what’s the point of being a judge, even a retired one, much less a Living National Treasure, if you can’t beat a speeding ticket?
Judge Einfeld insisted to Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court that he was not the driver at the time; he had lent out his car. But even if the story were true, it would be irrelevant. If you lend your car out to a girlfriend, and she gets a speeding ticket, that’s something you take up with her, after you pay the ticket. But what you don’t do is say,
‘Your Honor, the ticket isn’t my fault. You see, I lent my car out, and my girlfriend, she went speeding, and she got the ticket, and so, I shouldn’t have to pay the ticket.’
Judges and lawyers hear dumb, convoluted stories like that all the time. Hell, they trade ‘em for laughs at dinner parties!
In 1992, I published a wonderful short story, "Morning in Bond Court," by a retired Cook County cop named Paul Pekin in my since long-defunct magazine, A Different Drummer. The story was based on Pekin’s experiences on the job.
In a story with a perfect balance of cynicism, wry humor, and poignancy, the protagonist is a Cook County cop who spends a day taking various small fry back and forth from the jail to the county court house 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."
Judge Marcus Einfeld has complicated friends, and he tells complicated stories.
His first story was that he had lent out his car to a visiting American professor named 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’s driving record? Due to guilt over having dragged the first dead American Prof. Teresa Brennan’s name through the mud?)
In the meantime, Judge Einfeld is now up to four different stories, with no end in sight, in his scorched earth campaign to beat a 77 dollar ticket. He went into the wrong trade; he should have been a ditch digger, because he sure can dig himself a hole.
You can’t make this stuff up.
How many times does a judge, in the course of a year’s cases, see someone who, in trying to evade the long arm of the law, turns a minor infraction into a major felony? You’d think they’d learn from experience, and not want to come across like the spark plug thief with the bad hair or the hot-tempered, toothless redhead.
It doesn’t look as though Judge Einfeld is going to be prosecuted for perjury; such prosecutions are for the little people who have to obey the laws, not for jurists and ethics lecturers. However, legal observers in Australia are concerned that the Judge’s travails might tarnish the reputation of the judiciary. I say, the judiciary’s bad name is in no danger from Judge Einfeld.
Meanwhile, I think this is one of those rare cases in which the wheels of justice can’t grind slowly enough.
However, the judge might want to get some help for his necrophilia problem.