IN MEMORIAM: Judge John White
Over the years, we who spend our carreers in and around the courts get to meet some truly memorable characters. Cops, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, defendants charged with all manner of offenses, and of course, judges. Consider the blend of egos, interests, points of view, bias, and responsibilities of the players on this stage; consider also the pressure of heavy court calls and limited time.
One such person who always stands out in my memory is the late Judge John White, of the Cook County Circuit Court.
Typically, a court call will begin when the Sheriff's deputy announces that court is in session, naming the judge presiding. The judge then proceeds to identify the court personnel and their functions, then describes the process and order of the call. There is usually an admonition that the court expects quiet and respectful conduct. In this way, judges seek to put people at ease and give them an understanding of what they are about to experience.
So, why do I so often think of Judge White? He went through the same basics, but added the following (as I paraphrase): "This Court will endeavor to give you a fair hearing and its full attention. If you stand before this Court as a defendant, you are innocent unless and until the prosecution proves you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or you enter a valid plea or guilty. This Court sits to protect your Constitutional rights."
With those last words - this Court sits to protect your Constitutional rights - Judge White captured the essence of the American justice system. The fact that such a statement remains so rare today that it remains remarkable seems...somehow sad.