Law Life: The wisdom to know the difference

By Barbara Grzincic
The Daily Record Newswire

Trust, but verify.

It was an oxymoron when Ronald Reagan used it in relation to Soviet nukes in the 1980s and it’s an oxymoron today.

It’s the same as saying, “I trust you, but only for as long you can prove my trust is justified.”

That’s not trust. That’s a suspension of disbelief. And there’s nothing wrong with it. In my business, skepticism is not a good thing: It’s the only thing. Trust no one. Verify everything.

Still, there’s something unsettling, unseemly even, about handing a robe and a gavel to a man you don’t trust.

I’m talking, of course, about Judge W. Kennedy Boone III, who made news last week for agreeing to take a breathalyzer test each day before hearing cases on the Washington County Circuit Court in Maryland. The agreement was part of a deal that resolved disciplinary proceedings against him with a reprimand instead of some harsher sanction, which could have included his removal from the bench.

Now, I’m not one of those people who thought Boone should have lost his job last March, when he entered the guilty plea to DUI that triggered the Commission on Judicial Disabilities’ action. In fact, I thought Boone’s 2008 run-in with the commission — after he referred to three African-American women attorneys as “The Supremes” and told their client to get “an experienced male attorney” — was far more serious.

Unlike the drunk-driving incident, there was no question but that Boone had crossed the center line with that line. And unlike the drunk-driving charges, it directly involved his behavior on the bench.

Boone apologized for the “Supremes” remark after a reprimand, saying he felt terrible about it; just as he apologized for the car crash, in much the same language.

The Commission on Judicial Disabilities believed him each time. But clearly, it doesn’t trust him.

If it did, why would it require a daily breathalyzer test?

One lawyer to another: What would you call a hospital (or a delivery firm, or an airline) that was concerned enough to require a breathalyzer of one of its surgeons (truckers, pilots) every morning, but then let him operate unchecked the rest of the day?

It seems to me that if Boone can’t be trusted to show up to work sober, he can’t be trusted to stay sober throughout the day. A breathalyzer after lunch might make more sense; was that really just fruit juice? How about testing him whenever he leaves chambers? How about testing him when he walks out the door at night, if only to keep him from disgracing the judiciary with another DUI?

Alcoholism is a disease. I believe that. But alcoholism per se is not the issue. If an employer has reason to doubt a worker’s on-the-job sobriety, it has no business putting other people’s lives into his or her hands.

Yes, lives are at risk in a courtroom. Also at risk: the integrity of the Third Branch itself.

If Boone can’t be trusted to show up sober, he can’t be trusted to judge.

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