April 10, 2020

No News From Doodlebug Island…by William F Jordan

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Anslow Reddington– Judge Reddington to those appearing before his bench– has lived on Doodlebug Island for the whole of his adult life although his law practice and court experience have been off Island where duty has been that of a circuit attorney or judge. Not that his fellow residents haven’t needed the law’s interceding benefits from time to time—the temptation to speed or imbibe beyond moderation being factors in the matter—they, like people everywhere, have occasionally found themselves in court.

But far from the hard-nosed, judgment-driven arbiter of legal technicalities and sentences, Anslow wages an effort to keep a human face on verdicts rendered despite the automatic sentencing requirements mandated in legislative quarters.

“If you can find any two cases the same,” he says, “then you can settle on a similar outcome. But, since they’re not, I, for one, won’t try to make them so. We need to keep the ‘prudence’ in juris prudence!”

Of course, he catches flack from those given to the notion that the law is arbitrary and that punishments should be standardized. “But until the bean counters succeed in getting me removed from the bench,” he’s been heard to say, “we’ll try it my way.”

And that ‘way’, in the view of most folks, has been most effective, especially among the young. “It comes as a shock when juveniles and young adults learn the law actually works for their benefit. They seem to think the legal system is an enemy, so that’s where I begin, helping them learn to trust.” This simplistic explanation, however, masks the fact that gaining trust is both arduous and slow but immensely profitable in the end.

“We need to be reminded that law is basically a system of agreements regarding conduct. It’s there to protect the interests of the individual as well as society ‘Protection’ is the operative word here, so I believe a course in citizenship is more important than ideas related to punishment, and, by the same token, classes in anger management, or membership in AA are better answers than incarceration or the imposition of fines.”

As unorthodox as it sounds, Anslow has often been known to offer a younger offender a choice. “How would you like to clear your record and avoid a penalty in exchange for completing a reading assignment and presenting an oral argument before the court?” he asks. Nearly always interested but nevertheless leery, the response is in the form of a question.

“What do I need to read and then speak about?”​

“You’ll read what a very wise man said twenty-five hundred years ago, and you’ll reason publicaly how what he said plays into your life. Interested?”

However little something from twenty-five hundred years ago could be of interest in modern times evokes a smile and a ready acceptance, so the bargain is soon struck. Judge Reddington gives the defendant Plato’s Dialogues of Socrates with the injunction to read what he or she likes but to include the Apology, Crito and Phaedo before preparing to speak in court. “I’ll be interested in what you think of Socrates, and especially the conclusions he reaches in the book attributed to Crito.” With that he schedules a final court date.

Given the responsibility of representing themselves in this public way, defendants read and prepare as they might never have before, and with predictable results: “Your honor, before reading what Socrates said, I had given no thought how societal laws had benefited me, laws that have guaranteed my education, safety, and personal welfare. When he pointed out that disregarding or defying the law—even when it negatively affects us—is an attempt to overthrow the rule of law, I realized that such things as driving and the use of public facilities is a privilege, not a right. If we accept the benefits provided under the law, we should also accept an individual responsibility to support it and behave wisely. I was guilty of the charge brought against me. I hope never to embarrass myself in this way again.”

This or a variation appears to be a consistent result. To this date, no one has raised a defense suggestive of personal privilege or right. On the contrary, such confessions and newly-acquired insights have worked to reduce traffic incidents and lawlessness of all kinds.

When complimented, Anslow is modesty personified. “This is not the stuff of christian Sunday-school,” he’ll say. “By definition, Socrates was a pagan, but maybe it’s going to turn out he did know something, after all.”

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