Dear Mr. Schaeffer:
By way of introduction, I am one of the hardest-working and most important federal district court judges in the nation. As befitting my status, I have a unique rule in my courtroom: Lawyers are not permitted to call me “judge.” You see, calling me “judge” tends to diminish the importance of what I do. It reduces me to a single concrete word, as opposed to a more ethereal abstraction, and also confuses me with state court judges. As you know, state court judges are a wholly distinct judicial breed. It’s a breed that includes, for example, the sub-breeds of “family law judge” and “judge of the traffic docket.” I’m sure you get my point.
As a federal judge, I am much too important to answer to the simple title of “judge.” That’s why I began insisting that lawyers call me “Federal Judge S----.” But this was really too much of a mouthful. (As you can probably guess, lawyers who appear before me are tongue-tied enough already.) So I came up with a new plan. Starting two months ago, I began requiring lawyers who appear in my courtroom to address me as “your honor” or nothing at all. This requirement is certainly not too onerous. By means of some back channels, I put the word out that I’m also happy to be addressed as “your excellency.” Although I did not expect this option to be very popular with the lawyers, now they’re all doing it.
Now to my problem. Though I have complete and total control over what goes on in my courtroom, I lose personal jurisdiction, so to speak, when I mix with the common people at places like the dry cleaners and the grocery store. Most of the people I see there are still calling me “judge.” How can I get them to start calling me “your excellency”?
And please, Mr. Schaeffer, no jokes about federal judges.
Signed, Being Cruelly Diminished in Detroit
Dear Being Cruelly Diminished,
Your letter reminds me of a story I once heard, possibly apocryphal, in which a federal judge who was a former football star began requiring lawyers to kneel before him at the beginning of every docket call and kiss his Super Bowl ring. Whether he was a fanatical judge or a fanatical football fan doesn’t matter very much, since soon after he imposed the ring-kissing requirement, he dropped dead of a brain aneurysm. At that point, of course, rumors began circulating in the lay press that the judge was a former steroid abuser. But all the lawyers around town knew better: it was “federal judgitis” that did the poor man in.
Reading your letter, I knew immediately that you are fast on your way to a brain aneurysm of your own. Whether or not this would be a good thing is for others to decide. You came to me for advice, so that’s what I’ll give you.
It’s obvious that you are suffering from an advanced case of federal judgitis. Though you won’t learn anything about your condition on WebMD, it is well known among lawyers that once the condition proceeds too far, there is no turning back. Article III judges like you are judges for life, so the condition is akin to a death sentence. You’ll get older and older, making the lives of the lawyers who appear before you more and more miserable, until you finally expire, at which time everyone will throw a grand party and begin trading nasty anecdotes about you that will grow more nasty by the year.
Here’s the good news: it is not too late to change your ways. My prescription is as follows. As soon as possible, you must accept the fact that you are no better or worse than any other citizen of our great nation. From so high on your bench, this will be a hard thing for you to remember, but you must try.
If you desire some advanced therapy, I suggest you begin mixing with the “common” people by developing an interest in either paintball or NASCAR racing. While the latter will give you the thrill of being at a live-action sporting event, the former will help you get some much-needed exercise in the great outdoors. Whichever you choose, you should also make it a point to stop at a gas station to buy a couple of “2 x 4s” for the road. If you’re unclear as to my meaning, those are the large 24 oz. cans of beer that regular people drink when it would be too cumbersome to haul around a six-pack.
To be seen in public with a 2x4 on your way to Ronnie’s Paintball Extravaganza or the Mountain Dew Southern 500 will go a long way toward curing your federal judgitis. Within just a few weeks, you will notice that you’re issuing far fewer contempt citations. Within a few months, your staff will begin to smile at you. Before the year is out, you’ll be letting people in on the secret of your first name.
Your friend, Evan Schaeffer