The Government Man vs. the Judiciary

The Government Man has been quiet lately. I’m running out of things to say about the non-scandal involving my long time employer, GSA. I have plenty more to say about our dysfunctional Congress but I’ll give it a rest for a while. Feds have enough on their minds these days, given sequestration and furlough issues (created, by the way, by the aforementioned Congress because of their inability to pass a budget).

It’s time for some more fun stuff from my book, Confessions of a Government Man. It is getting difficult to do this because I’m running out of material suitable for family viewing.

I haven’t picked on judges for a while so I thought I would post an excerpt from the book which discusses some of the trials and tribulations of interacting with the judiciary. More precisely, dealing with eccentric or egotistical federal judges, of which there are many. One of the most frightening things about working with the judiciary (or in some judges’ minds, serving the judiciary) is that at any time a dissatisfied judge can utter words like, “Bailiff, take this man out of my courtroom and hold him in contempt.”

The excerpt which follows is a portion of a chapter about pleasantries with the men and women in robes. In a different chapter I cite events working with those I call “judges” because they are not real federal judges but think they have the same rights and privileges.

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Federal judges work hard and earn their salary. In private law practice they can earn many times their federal salaries, assuming they actually know the law. Most federal judges, upon reaching age seventy and mandated senior status, continue to maintain a full caseload even though they would in many cases receive their full salary by totally retiring. Nevertheless, something happens when one is appointed to the federal bench. I cannot count the number of times that I or an associate felt the wrath of a judge for an inconsequential transgression.

Case in point. There was chief judge who insisted that a U.S. marshal water his daisies each morning. These are the same daisies that the judge personally planted outside of the courthouse. The daisies were ultimately stolen (probably torn out by the marshals) causing said judge to demand that the Department of Justice “conduct a full investigation.”

Case in point. Another judge called a meeting (more like an inquisition) over GSA’s inability to maintain and secure the district court’s inventory of furniture. The judge sat at his bench, high above the lineup of GSA personnel which included the senior official in the region. After His Honor tore another orifice into a GSA building manager the clerk of the court sheepishly advised that it was court personnel who had removed the furniture to redeploy it to another court installation. We’re still waiting for an apology.

I will not soon forget the judge who was feeling a bit warm during a trial. He summoned the marshal to bring the GSA building manager to his courtroom where he proceeded to interrupt his trial, put the building manager on the witness stand and grill him in front of a packed and sweating house. There was indeed a problem with the air conditioning, which was being remedied, but for his troubles my colleague was publicly humiliated and actually put under house arrest until the problem was resolved.

In another case the chief judge insisted upon a window behind the bench of his courtroom in a building under design because he wanted natural light. This was against the advice of a world-class architect and anyone else with any common sense. Did I say that among their eccentricities, some judges consider themselves to be the great American architect? The result of this fiasco, as predicted, was that the natural light coming in from the aforesaid window prevented anyone from seeing the judge. The solution was to spend about $60,000 to have an artist create a custom designed and aesthetically pleasing fabric to install over the window. Ironically, the fabric looked so nice that architectural reviewers considered this an act of genius, with the judge of course, accepting all credit for this innovative design feature.

In a similar situation, there was a female judge who demanded that her newly created chambers in a renovated building face the side of the building with a great view but a church steeple across the street at about the same height as her windows.. We told her that the bells will disturb her. “Don’t worry,” she said. “My brother is a contractor and he can design another seal inside the window which will block out the sounds.”

The bells disturbed her. Her brother’s creation didn’t work. What was her newest solution? “Tell the pastor not to ring the bells during the day.” She ultimately came to terms with an hourly serenade.

I had a judge tell me to “go tell the city to get those people out of there,” referring to a popular green market on New York City owned property near a courthouse. Apparently the sight of people enjoying themselves in the sun was an offense to tranquility of a courthouse.

There were other suggestions by the learned men and women in robes for which we created the illusion of studying in order to make an informed decision before rejecting. Included were such innovations as constructing balconies or patios outside every chamber so the judge could have a rest area with a panoramic view; recesses in the walls for doorknobs; raising the street outside to create a subsurface private passage between adjacent buildings; create exclusive parking under a nearby city park (knocking out subway service to the entire east side of Manhattan); and, as if I could forget, a redesign of the tower of a building in mid-construction to replicate a nearby building with a totally different design.

There was also the judge who was so disturbed at GSA because of an elevator failure which detained a defendant and his attorney that he substituted the time stuck in the elevator for the sentence. Not a bad deal.

Who can forget the frantic call from a GSA building manager after a judge demanded that he replace the toothbrush holder in his private bathroom because it didn’t match the marble? I told our building manager that it would be cheaper for the government if he would just go up and brush the judge’s teeth for him.

Those eccentricities were laughable but I was not laughing when one judge told us that the CIA was bugging his telephones and ordered that we prohibit phone company technicians from going into the telephone equipment room.

Nor was I amused when a judge demanded that we spend $500,000 to add a custom-locking closet to every robing room in a new courthouse – all forty-two of them – because his wallet was stolen due to improper GSA security. When he later found his wallet back in his chambers the issue was dropped.

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These tales only scratch the surface of my compilation of judicial arrogance. For a tale about another encounter with the judiciary, see my prior blog, The Government Man and the X-Rated Art.

For more pithy commentary go to my website ( and click the links to my previous blogs, Facebook page and You Tube salvos.

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