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An Encounter With a Judge

The Bear was in court today, in front of a circuit judge in a small county, defending a client on sex charges. He thought he might try something different this time. There was nothing to lose. So when it came to sentencing, the Bear boldly challenged the judge himself. He is one of the older judges, maybe even old-fashioned.

"Who are you to judge?" the Bear asked quietly, but dramatically.

Since the Bear was not held in contempt, the judge was apparently in a tolerant mood, which was a hopeful start. Instead, he leaned back in his chair and said:

"You are not the judge. That's not your job. You are an advocate, and that is important, but it is not your job to judge. I, on the other hand, have a different role in this enterprise of justice. To remind everyone of that -- including myself -- I wear these distinctive robes. You must address me by my formal title. My words have authority. They make a difference."

He thought a moment, then leaned forward. "My words enforce the law, the standards of our community. If I fail to do that, why, there might as well not be any right and wrong at all. It would be every man for himself. If I might cite the last verse of the Book of Judges, in those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes. If I do not judge, I am unworthy of my office, because I do not uphold the right or instruct the people."

"I am just a man, but a man with a duty, one I take seriously. Often it is a hard duty. I feel sorry for people, and would rather not pronounce judgment. Believe it or not, sometimes I sit up here and envy you, because you don't have to judge. Then I remember that the community looks to me to show them the consequences of breaking the law. Oh, yes, I would often love to dodge my duty and take up your question for my own, to shrug and ask 'Who am I to judge?' But I know I can't."

Then, he actually smiled. "Of course your question was even more impertinent than usual, counsel. But it gave me an opportunity to say something I guess I've been wanting to say for a long time. So that, counsel, is who I am to judge."

Perhaps the sentencing that followed was a little more merciful, perhaps not. The law is the law, after all. But I will never look at judges the same again, nor anyone who has the duty of saying the unpopular thing, of not backing down from what is right though the whole world would applaud, who puts duty ahead of pleasing men, and truth ahead of everything.

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