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Talking calmly to judges

Sep 21, 2007 Talking calmly to judges

This follows up on last year’s Underdog blog entry on dealing with difficult judges.

With difficult judges, trial master Steve Rench applies the basic and effective lesson of the magic mirror. If a judge knows s/he has a poor reputation with lawyers, that presents all the more a reason for the lawyer to empty the mind of any such thoughts, and to give the judge a clean slate that day. Over-simplistically, it is like trying to find the thorn in the lion’s sole and to pull it out, rather than trying to slay the lion. T’ai chi master Cheng Man Ching believed conflicts should be addressed by harmonizing the situation, and emptying ourselves of any tension, anger, or fear, which all weaken us in any battle. I have found no better way to do this than the daily practice of t’ai chi — physically AND mentally — over the last dozen years.

Atlanta and Smoky Mountain-based Buddhist Monk Denise Laffan — whom I first met eight years ago — is very patient and understanding about judges who are unduly harsh. About a judge who handed out particularly harsh sentences to demonstrators at the School of Americas, Sister Denise said: “Judge Faircloth is a patient man because in every single case he has listened while these women and men speak of the moral convictions that led them to ‘cross the line.’ And in every case I saw, he sought to engage the defendant on some point he or she made in a statement to the court. Honestly, I sometimes found his observations pedantic, sometimes mean-spirited, other times quite logical and fair, even compassionate. Judge Faircloth is a mixed bag. But he is listening.”

In the midst of Judge Faircloth’s handing down harsh sentences, he sentenced Julia Shideler to a suspended jail sentence, even though she refused to self-report to a less uncomfortable detention facility at a later date. Sister Denise concluded:

For me, Julia’s words and demeanor in the courtroom were a revelation. I have seen nonviolence used and taught in the peace movement as a tactic. But that day in court it was the first time I saw nonviolence as a living force, a beating heart, a light which casts no shadow. I believe that Julia never saw Judge Faircloth as an enemy or as a representative of the system but simply as a human being with as much potential as she has to do the will of God. She believed that even before he passed his sentence.

“As for Judge Faircloth, some have wondered if the judge, knowing Julia had prepared herself completely for jail time, wanted to punish her in a new way by denying the martyrdom of incarceration. Julia does not believe this and neither do I. If we do not believe a human heart beats in the breast of Judge Faircloth then we might as well pack our bags, go home and never show up at the gates of Fort Benning again. I wonder if we, the so-called faith-base, do not believe in the power of conversion because we never plumbed the depths of our own divine nature. Julia knows her own holiness. And she saw the same in Judge Faircloth. I, for one, am a believer.” Jon Katz.

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