I attended the annual Judge’s Soiree last Friday, at John Ash & Co’s Vintner Inn in northern Santa Rosa, presented by the Sonoma County Bar Association. The food was great, the wine was tasty (as one would expect from Chateau St. Jean’s award winning wines) and the layout of the room was conducive to meeting new people and visiting with old friends.
As promised, the “country casual” notation on the invitation was strictly adhered to, evidenced by the sign stating that all ties must be surrendered at the coat check counter, prior to entering the event. With a law school decision pending in my near future, I was encouraged to see that several lawyers I know and respect would be attending the event. Also on the list were most of Sonoma County’s judges as well as those currently running for a seat on the bench.
My main interest in a career in law revolves around my desire to become a judge, a desire I have held since rendering my first playground decision, as a child. With an uneven group of second graders, I was honored to be given the final decision on how two baseball teams would be fielded. Ever since that time, I have taken great pride in my ability to listen while remaining impartial. It also doesn’t hurt that I am always right, a fact that was lost on a recent traffic court judge, who ruled against me.
Still not being 100% sure about taking on the cost of law school in exchange for a less than financial optimal career in civil service, I was hoping to get some advice from both current judges and judicial candidates. I wanted to find out why they had become judges, what road they had taken and what they enjoyed and disliked about their position.
I found out that some of them had been appointed; some because of their record and some because of who they knew. Others had been elected. Of the judges that had been elected most had won a campaign battle to fill a seat left vacant by a retiring judge. In those cases it was a fairly even fight, with two lawyers espousing their credits, in the hopes of convincing voters that they were the right person for the job. If you aren’t familiar with judicial campaigns, they rarely involve slandering the opposing candidates, which is not only refreshing but also encouraging, considering these are the people sworn to interpret our laws and protect our rights. I understand that they are not emotionless rocks, but I want my judges held to a higher standard and running clean campaigns meets these standards. One well respected judge actually beat out an incumbent, which is rare in judicial campaigns. He spent quite a lot of time answer my questions about law school, his path to the bench and his tenure on the bench, which I greatly appreciated.
Many of the visiting attorneys mentioned how unusual it was to have a room full of such friendly judges. I guess in other parts of the country the judges are a bit more stand-offish towards us “common folk”, but not here in Sonoma County. If it hadn’t been for the easily recognizable yellow “JUDGE” ribbon on their name tags, I would have never known they were anything other than intelligent, respective, and friendly everyday citizens.
It is great to live in an area where everyday people aspire to do great things, without losing their humanity along the way. As one of the only non-lawyers in the room, I was expecting the cold shoulder as I wandered the room introducing myself and asking lots of questions. As non-lawyers, I think we have preconceived notions that the nobility of practicing law is something of the past. The overwhelming impression I got was that these people really are trying to protect our rights and above all else, nurture the idea of justice. I expected a lot of the lawyers to discourage yet another perspective lawyer from entering the field but all I received was encouragement, coupled with some very valuable advice.