your Honor...

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-judgeToday was no ordinary day.  It was my mitigation hearing for speeding in a school zone.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Really?  Well, given it was a construction zone, poor sign placement, not normal hours for speed reduction, not having traveled down the road except for 2 times, I had my reasons. I had some shpilkes concerning the hearing, mostly because I am not a lawless person and don't desire hearings or an appearance before a judge.  But some things need to be done to help others in the community.

As I sat there waiting until roll call for the 2:30pm crowd, I crossed my legs anxiously and tried not to appear as if I was nervous.  I was fifteen minutes early so I was privy to the way the people who were called got up and addressed the judge.  Piece of cake.  This guy seemed like a nice judge and I shouldn't have anything to worry about, right?

judgment with compassion

The remarkable thing about my infraction is I received notice of it on Yom Kippur.  So what am I doing opening my mail on Yom Kippur?  Having one sick teen home resting, I came home midday to keep an eye on him.  The mail appeared before me and lo and behold, there was a foreign letter from Issaquah Municipal Court addressed to my husband and myself.  Hmmm... what could it be?  I couldn't handle the suspense and decided to open it.  There is something quite horrifying when you see pictures of your own car and license plate with a nominal fee attached to it due to a traffic infraction.  But such is life....

As I sat before the judge today waiting for the time he would get to the 2:30pm crowd, I watched as he handed down the penalties.  He was not only straightforward, he was funny.  Some people approached him with "Your Honor" while others just spoke with trepidation.  Regardless of how they addressed him, he handed down reduced penalties and even kidded around with people.  One man, who had a WSU Dad sweatshirt, got his attention and the judge kidded that he usually didn't reduce penalties with people who wore such garments; but in the end, he gave him a reduced penalty and was jovial.  The man, feeling relieved and laughing a little, went to the court attendant and paid his fine. 

honorable but human

What got my attention was that this man held in his hand the power of judgment but yet did not, for one minute, hold himself in high esteem or parade his position. He wasn't haughty; in fact, he was firm but humorous at the same time. I could detect from his attitude that he understood that people felt humbled, humiliated, and at the mercy of the court; yet, his response was one of warmth, instruction and candor.

Just because someone holds a position of honor or prestige does not mean one cannot act with lightness to some extent.  This judge showed me that despite the fact he held the power of fines and the future of people's driving records in his hand, he chose not to laud it.  Rather, he wanted all to feel as if they had a second chance and that there was compassion in the system. 

During the course of events, I found out my name was not on the roster.  Having not received an infraction for about 18 years, I had forgotten how the system worked.  I had submitted a written response for mitigation; therefore, I didn't need to show up and my name wouldn't be on the roster at the court. I was dismissed from the court immediately before proceedings even began.  To me, this was indeed a stroke of good luck. I was grateful as I would find out by mail what my ruling was this week and not have to endure the proceedings.  But more than anything, I was grateful that I was given the opportunity to witness some proceedings and affirm that despite position, rank, and authority, the judge presiding was a man of honor because of his compassion—not just because he was called "Your Honor".  Though his rank was indeed true, his authority was one that embodied humanity and sensitivity.  Truly, this is what righteous honor should look like.  I couldn't help but feel that this was a wonderful example of this week's middah and a timely experience.

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