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The bench

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The Observer has spent the past few weeks doing the backstroke in the poo lagoon of another terrible tale. Read on in this issue for more, if you dare, and if your heart can stand it. It's the job, sons and daughters, and we're happy to do it. Keeps us off the streets, with three hots and a cot. That ain't chickenfeed.

The story, as you'll soon read, is about a judge who has been accused of doing terrible things — of allegedly twisting Lady Justice's arm behind her shapely back to get what he wanted from defendants who came into his court. Uncle Max taught us to never assume anything, up to and including our dear ol' mother's love, but it looks pretty bad when seen in the whole.

Swimming once again in Turd Cove got us thinking quite a bit about justice and the law. The Observer spends quite a bit of time in courtrooms, All Rising and Being Seated, watching attorneys approach and pass the witness. We know and count as friends quite a few lawyers, who always manage to tell the best lawyer jokes. There was a time when Yours Truly thought seriously about putting a couple of suits on the credit card, taking some night classes, and joining the world's second oldest profession, but that impulse soon passed. We are smitten with the law, but not enough to marry — unwilling to spend the late nights and bouts of heartburn, to fail, to plow through legalese. All that's beside the fact that some judge would have long since thrown us in the slammer for pulling stuff like dragging in mail sacks full of letters to Santa Claus to prove our batshit crazy client right and springing surprise last-minute witnesses to put the SYSTEM on trial, man!

That said, it is the judges who have most impressed The Observer over the years — those plain ol' human beings who we have given power that would likely turn your average person into Voldemort, without even having to invest in a robe. As proud as The Observer is of the people who sit on the bench, while working on the story that follows, we often thought: Maybe what we need is some kind of judicial supercomputer, installed in a lovely marble hall somewhere, camera-eyed and microphone-eared, before which lawyers can lay out the bare facts of each case; a judge of wires and flashing tubes which never tires, never gets cranky before lunch or sleepy afterward, and never, ever has to thread the needle between what is legal and what's right, between the law and the unique freight of passions and prejudices every one of us clings to in our heart, whether we know it or not. A black box of impartiality! One that can mulch confusing testimony, hard evidence and the law together and spit out neat, individually wrapped cubes of justice, devoid of all the troubling humanity we are heir to.

Or maybe, we thought, not. Maybe it takes a human being to sit in judgment over other human beings, because only another person can ascertain that rare and delicate moment when two wrongs do, in fact, add up to a right.

One of the voices we didn't use in the story was from our friend, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. If ever a man was wise enough to be a judge, it's probably him. He's reliable for a solid quote, too, which warrants him gold star status in our Rolodex. In the midst of our wilderness of doubt, The Observer called him up and asked him the hardest question: How should we as a people carry on in faith in the wake of terrible accusations like this? He, of course, had the answer.

"We need to keep in mind that this is one grievous incident in a statewide judiciary that has district judges and circuit judges in every county and every jurisdiction of the state," Hizzoner said. "These folks, every day, do their jobs with impartiality and dignity and responsibility. ... We take the trust that the public has given us seriously. We're human beings, and we're certainly as susceptible to human foibles as everybody else. But we try to do our job responsibly."

You'll hear no objection from us.

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