The theatre house lights went up and a couple two rows away stood and put on their coats. As the man turned one glimpse of his face took me on a sudden trip down memory lane. It was “Judge Charlie” (an affectionate nickname never used in his presence) who I gave evidence before for some 20 years.
I introduced myself in the hallway and we began renewing our acquaintanceship after two decades of separation. Charlie, now retired, was well-respected, viewed as fair and a shining example of everything a judge should be. During my tenure as a cop I admired him from afar and so relished this chance meeting.
Charlie was lauded because he consistently gave his decisions in a fair manner. No matter what the verdict, he always had a reasoned response. If a case went south there was simply no chance Charlie’s judgements could be the issue.
I still recall preparing my cases for court and thinking, “How is this evidence going to look to Judge Charlie?” That was enough to send me back to review everything he would see or hear.
Late one cold night I saw a young man on an unlicensed motorcycle wobbling down a residential back street. I activated the scout car’s “rabbit gear” and the young man accelerated rapidly. As I grabbed my radio to call it in he made a sudden turn into a community park and promptly dumped the bike on the damp grass. I made a football tackle the “Blue Bombers” would be proud of and my quarry came crashing down.
Any thoughts of simply cuffing the young lad vanished with a fist to my face. I was surprised by the young man’s shear strength and, deciding a night stick was in order, I found it was knotted into the lining of my winter jacket. After a brief one-handed battle I managed to get it free and struck the youth once on the shins. Suddenly the fight was gone and the tears began.
I laid a series of charges, including assaulting a police officer. Before trial the prosecutor and defense attorney pointed out the lack of a criminal record, good parents, great school marks and a seemingly good work ethic as reasons enough to take a plea to common assault. I generally agreed with joint proposals and felt this was probably a good suggestion.
The accused was brought before Judge Charlie and he was told the culprit “did commit a common assault on one Morley Lymburner.” The judge suddenly cocked his eyebrows and quietly asked the prosecutor if this “Morley Lymburner” was a police officer. The prosecutor’s voice suddenly rose two octaves.
Yes indeed, he replied, but the Crown wasn’t alleging any connection between the victim’s occupation and the assault in question. Judge Charlie quietly looked down and continued to scribble notes in his journal. The accused plead guilty to the offence and the basic evidence was read by the now nervous prosecutor.
The defence attorney was asked if he had anything further to say and, upon his statements of past good behaviour, Judge Charlie simply asked what the victim did that brought on the assault. Both lawyers, seeing a plea bargain going sideways, jumped up and began talking at once. After many attempts to disentangle the assault from the fact that it was incident to an arrest, they finally stopped talking and stared into the baleful, doubting eyes of the judge.
The courtroom fell silent. Judge Charlie put down his pen, turned to the accused and simply asked if he had come to court with his toothbrush. Red-faced and clearly shaken, he replied that he had not. I will paraphrase what Charlie said next:
“I’m sorry son but you must go to jail. Regardless of the attempts here to minimize your actions in this case it is still clear to me that you knew it was a police officer who wanted to arrest you and you still lashed out in an attempt to escape. This is intolerable in this society and our community. Police officers have a difficult task to perform and this court will not tolerate anyone who does not assist or comply with their efforts.
“I am sorry but you must serve 14 days in jail. I view this as the absolute minimum for such an offence and if I had an idea this was committed by a person of lesser character than yourself the sentence would indeed be far greater. I will allow you two days to get your affairs in order before you commence your sentence.”
To be fair and a wise wielder of the judicial sword, a judge must first be an understanding citizen. Such a person commands the respect of everyone. Judge Charlie was and is such a person.