Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 6:49 am | Fair 34º


Brian Burke: Judicial Power (Column 169) — What It Looks Like

Judicial action and unexpected consequences

The authority of a judge can radiate from his or her being, or so it can seem. That’s the lead into a story I haven’t told during the six years I’ve had the honor and opportunity to write this column for Noozhawk. The time has come.

My father was a federal district court judge in Northern California. His chambers and courtroom were in San Francisco; we lived in the East Bay, and he didn’t like to drive.

Federal judges can engage a crier, who receives a government salary and serves at the pleasure of the judge who hires him.

A crier does four things: calls the court to order in the morning; calls the court to order in the afternoon; goes to lunch with juries deliberating a verdict; sits in court and does nothing.

My father always hired criers who lived in the East Bay. Once engaged, my father gave him the use of his old black Cadillac and a credit card. Gas was cheap

The crier could use the car as his own as long as it was operable during the week, when the crier would use it to drive my father (often asleep in the back seat) to and from work.

“Junie” Turman spent nearly 30 years working for his father, “Buzz” Turman, at the “Flying A” gas station, which in the center of town and next to my school. It was where we took our cars for gas and basic repair.

When the station was shut down to make way for a convenience store, Buzz retired and Junie needed a job — the basic qualification to be my father’s crier.

With his judicial appointment, my father received several government-issued leather briefcases bearing the initials of former judges who had previously occupied the same chambers. I remember one was called Judge Murphy.

My father could have ordered a couple of briefcases with his own initials from the General Services Administration, but he didn’t. He was determined to avoid the necessity of working at home.

I could have had one of the Murphy cases but declined; my brother surely took one — possibly two.

When Junie mentioned that it felt unseemly (my word not his) to bring his lunch to federal court in a metal lunch bucket, the use my father found for the remaining Murphy case had an unintended, but brilliant, effect.

He didn’t talk about it because it had to be observed firsthand to be fully appreciated.

At the time, Joe Alioto, San Francisco’s leading plaintiff’s anti-trust lawyer, was trying a case in my father’s court.

He sat alone at the plaintiff’s table while fighting off the half-dozen lawyers from Pillsbury Madison & Sutro the law firm representing the defendant — Sony Corporation. Six against one: it was high lawyer-drama, and I wanted to see it.

So one morning during the trial I went to court with my father and Junie.

Typically, we went from the parking garage to the courtroom by taking the judge’s private elevator, but this day we walked up a few stairs to the public entrance of the federal building and then to court in a public elevator. I soon realized why.

As we moved from the entrance of the federal building’s foyer and got into the elevator, at least two-dozen people said, “Good morning, judge ...” not to my father, who was ignored, but to Junie — the former pump jockey — because he was the guy with the judge’s briefcase.

It was both horrifying and hilarious. It would have been impossible to stage a scene more entertaining to my father.

Junie stayed in role and played it to the hilt. He said that when he carried the judge’s briefcase through the courthouse he felt almost as good as he had when he was once a high school athletic hero.

I don’t know how often they eschewed the judges’ elevator, but I suspect it was frequent enough to allow my father to meditate on the nature of power.

It can be real or illusory. Both forms are transitory. Both are contingent on circumstance and power can sometimes be nothing more than the matter of: Who’s got the briefcase?

The next column will be about the divorce lawyer, Steve Adams.

He didn’t like working directly with his father’s clients, so, beginning in the early 1980s, he spent his time establishing the way the specialty was practiced then and is still practiced today — for better and for worse.

— Brian Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he also is the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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