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May 27, 2024

Cappuccino Is the Answer for Job Dissatisfaction 11

By Hillary E. Peak

Chapter 11

"Name one you've liked for more than the first two months."

"I liked working for the judge for at least six or seven months," I retorted defiantly. "The reasons that it turned bad had nothing to do with me."

"Well," he hedged, making a slight grimace, "admittedly, no one could have predicted how badly that was going to go, but I think you were getting tired of it anyway."

"I didn't quit," I insisted, holding my head up high. "I finished my entire two-year term."

OK, it had been a few weeks early, but seriously, the job going south had nothing to do with me. A clerkship had seemed like the perfect job to me -- no clients, lots of interesting issues, no advocating a ridiculous position, being a part of meting out justice -- it was perfect. Besides, it had to give me the chance to meet people that would see my star potential and give me a real chance to change the world!

* * *

Once I got the job with Judge Von, I had to wait to start in the fall with all the other new clerks. The sun was bright and the day warm as I walked from the metro station and stared at the beautiful building, an imposing red brick with white columns. A statue of Abraham Lincoln sat on the front lawn, and under it, his quote, "It is as much the duty of government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same between private individuals." Happiness and awe flowed through me as I rode the sage green elevator up to the sixth floor.

Judge Von took two new clerks, so neither of us had any idea what we were supposed to be doing. I knew that most other judges had only one clerk leave at a time. That way, they would overlap, and the old one could teach the new one the ropes. I wasn't worried -- I figured it would be fine that we were both new so we could learn together.

That morning, I walked into the Judge's chambers -- "What a beautiful room!" I thought. Paneled in dark oak, lined with beautiful old law books all around the room, the carpet indigo with tiny flecks of gold. There was a large Persian rug in the middle of the room. To the right of the door was the largest desk I'd ever seen. Carved in mahogany, it was reminiscent of that picture of Kennedy in the Oval office and John Jr. crawling out from the hidden door in the middle. There was an enormous black leather chair behind the desk.

Dominating the two windows were views of the White House. Between the windows was a small settee, blue and gold striped, matching the rug perfectly. A Venetian mirror hung above the settee, angled so that when I stepped into the office, I could see myself from head to toe. The room was regal and imposing.

The Judge invited me to sit down. I took one of the smaller blue leather chairs across from his desk. The desk was so high that I felt like a child at a kitchen counter.

"Now, I want you to understand about the demands of the job," he admonished gravely in his thick Southern accent. "I expect you to keep up with the work. I'm not much of an administrator myself; I rely on my clerks to know what is due and tell me about it. When you have something, you just come on in and tell me. I don't like written memoranda. I like to see you, talk to you. I get the most out of discussions, not reading about something. You just keep up with the work, and we'll have a grand time of it. As long as the work is getting done, I really don't have any particular requirements. Go out to lunch with the other clerks, and go out with them to happy hour. This is supposed to be a fun experience, a learning experience, but you want to have a good time. You will make a lot of contacts, if you get to know the other clerks. A couple of judges on the court now knew one another thirty years ago when they clerked on the court together."

"That sounds great! I will keep up with the work."

The first week I was there, we had an oral argument scheduled. Just before ten o'clock, when the oral arguments were scheduled to begin, I went into the Judge's office. The Judge was standing in front of the Venetian mirror, brushing lint off of his black robes. He was obviously admiring his reflection, and he was an imposing sight. He wasn't really attractive, but he wasn't bad looking, with wavy gray hair and dark eyes.

Down the hall we walked together toward the courtrooms. I went in first through the back door and walked up the couple of stairs to the bench. The courtroom was beautiful with cherry paneling, reminiscent of the Judge's chambers, gleaming in the light. Behind the bench, a bronze crest loomed down over the lawyer's tables in front of it, making a commanding impression.

"All rise. This court is now in session," I proclaimed, with what I hoped was dignity.

The argument was pretty interesting, I only looked at my watch, discreetly, a couple of times. At least I was listening to what they were saying rather than doodling like I did at the firm. I had a good time going into the courtroom before the judge an announcing his arrival, and I liked it when the judge told the lawyers to contact me. I felt really great in this new position.

After the oral arguments, the judge and I tried to decide which way to go, talking it out.

"I just don't know what the law is here," he told me. "What is the law?"

I gave him my understanding of the law to the best of my ability. He kept looking befuddled. I could see that I was talking faster, trying to make my understanding clear. I thought I knew the law.

"Well now, I don't know how to apply that here."

"I think that the defendant has the better case," I told him.

"All right, that sounds right to me," he responded. "Now, I'm going to go get a soda."

I guessed the discussion was over. After a few weeks, I gave him a draft. When I got it back, he had made some changes, but they didn't amount to much. I'd finally found my niche.

Each morning I came into work with my cappuccino, I'd drink it sitting in the Judge's chambers. We would laugh and chat about current events, books, and movies. The Judge loved to talk -- he would keep me in his office for hours telling me stories.

"When I first lived in Washington, I worked on the Hill. Everyone on the Hill knows the politics of every state," he'd say, and then launch into one of his tales. "My first day I wrote the Senator a speech from the floor. Then, I went down and watched him give it. It was amazing to listen to my words being recorded for posterity in the United States Senate."

The Judge had an opinion on everything, but he was more than willing to debate on a subject -- more than anything, he just wanted to talk. One of his favorite topics was how men and women are different.

"Women lie like children," he liked to quip.

"Eve brought all men down," he told me often as we chatted.

When one of the other judges hired a male secretary, the Judge was dismayed.

"That is not a job for a man. What is he thinking? I just don't understand it."

"Jobs are not based on gender stereotypes anymore. I am a woman and a lawyer. A man could be a nurse or an administrative assistant, there is no bias the way there was before."

His look said, "You have no idea what you are talking about," but he drawled, his accent more pronounced the more emphatic he became, "A man would never make a good secretary! I can't remember anything. I need a woman to remember dates and phone numbers, tell me when my appointments are. If I had a man to do that, I would be worse off than I am now. It is just not the right order of things for a man to be a secretary to another man."

I shrugged; what was there to say? "He's just old-fashioned," I thought. "No big deal." My relief at not having to look for a job and not hating my job was enormous. It was such fun to sit around those beautiful chambers chatting each day. Work was pleasant.

When Sam had a business trip to London, just a couple of months after I started, I went in to see if the Judge would be willing to let me go with him for a long weekend.

"Of course! I wouldn't deny you that kind of opportunity. I wish my wife were willing to travel. I've been all over with this job. She's only come with me once. She is a real homebody. No interest in seeing the world. We went to Europe once, twenty years ago. You go and have a great time."

I did go, and we had a great time. Upon my return, I came bearing gifts for the office -- one of which was a tea set.

"I'm going to initiate tea time." I told the Judge. "Every day at three o'clock, we'll have tea and a little treat, just like in England."

"Oh, I don't think I'll want any, but you go right ahead."

I did it anyway -- making tea every day, and bringing in raw sugar cubes, cream and lemon, so that each person could have what they wanted to their tea. I made some cookies, then scones, then cake, bringing in something new every week or so. It caught on right away. The whole office looked forward to tea -- even the Judge.

"Jessica," he'd call from his office every afternoon. "Can you bring me some of that good tea you make? I just can't believe how much better this is than tea I've had before. I never liked tea in the past, but there is something about this." He was hooked.

Teatime started something else. Since we were getting up to make tea, we all started visiting for about fifteen minutes around three o'clock. The Judge would come out of his office and stand around the reception area, visiting with my co-clerk, Jim, the administrative assistant, Celia, and me. "This is so much fun! I love that we chat everyday," I thought happily. I really like everyone in this office.

I noticed during some of our tea time that the Judge appeared to be in pain; he would limp around. I asked him about it, but he would just wave off my inquiries, saying he was fine.

The only cloud was my co-clerk. He didn't seem to be having as easy a time as I was. Initially, Jim would spend his mornings in with the Judge like I did regaling us with tales of the exploits of the other clerks. The judge seemed to love knowing the juicy gossip about who was dating whom, who was kissing whom, and who went home with whom.

But that slowly disintegrated. Jim, my co-clerk, did not seem to understand the nature of the work. The first sign was when Jim received deadlines from the judge.

"I've never given out a deadline before," the Judge whispered to me.

"Really?" I whispered back, my eyes wide. It was so much fun to be part of the inner circle. "What do you think will happen?" I asked.

"I don't know. I'm hoping this will get Jim moving."

It did get Jim moving, although not exactly on time. About a week after the first deadline, Jim produced his first opinion -- two pages long. I knew my opinions were terse, and mine usually came in at eight or ten. He showed it to me before he gave it to the judge.

"Don't you think you might want to add some of the facts?" I asked.

"That's unnecessary. The Judge doesn't like anything superfluous," Jim declared with confidence.

I eyed the opinion warily, knowing this wasn't going to do it. "Uh, are you sure you shouldn't add in a little more case law?"

"This is just a little opinion," Jim lectured. "We're not publishing it."

I gave up. If this was what he wanted to turn in, it was his problem, not mine. I shrugged and gave it back.

About an hour later, I went in to see the Judge.

"Have you seen this?" He wanted to know -- throwing Jim's opinion toward me.


"I don't know what I'm going to do. This is unlike anything I've ever experienced in twelve years of law clerks."

I didn't know what to say. But secretly, I was pleased that I was the good clerk, the clerk he could talk to.

In the end, he gave it back to Jim to revise. Jim added a couple of paragraphs and gave it back. I guess that was it for the Judge because he brought it to me.

"Jim obviously can't handle this. You need to add in what's necessary."

"No problem." I did fix that opinion, and the next one, and the one after that. Following those three, which were the deadlines the Judge had set, the Judge gave up on Jim, and I took over all the work. Nothing was ever said. The Judge didn't tell me I had to do it; it seemed to be understood. After that, Jim hid in his office. He always seemed busy, but none of us knew what he was doing.

"What does he do in there all day?" I whispered to Celia over our second cup of tea.

"I have no idea," she whispered back. "It is bizarre. I really wish the Judge would talk to him about it rather than ignoring the problem."

"Yeah," I agreed without much enthusiasm. "You know, Jim could talk to him, too. I can't imagine just sitting in there all day! It must be awful. I hate that there is tension between him and the Judge. It makes the entire office a little stressful."

"I know. Things were going so well! We were all getting along. I thought this was going to be a great year."

"Me too! It was so nice to be in a pleasant environment. I'll try to get the Judge to talk to him."

The next morning over coffee, I mentioned it, "Judge, have you thought about saying something to Jim? He's hiding out in his office. Everything seems a little strained."

"I think he should talk to me. He knows I'm not satisfied. He hasn't made any move to discuss it."

Case closed, I thought. I could see the Judge's point. Jim was a big boy. He could definitely come to the Judge and discuss the issue.

Jim must have been quite mad about the whole situation because a couple weeks after I took over all the work, he suggested a friend of his to the Judge as an intern. When Jim told me about it, he stated flatly, "I told her that next year she could have your job."

I was furious. The worst was that when Kelly arrived, she had to work for me. I kept her very busy, giving her work to research and cites to check. It was clear that she didn't like me, but she was after my job.

It took a while, but Kelly and I settled into a routine. She was actually nice. After about a month, Kelly suggested we have lunch together. First thing, she asked me about Jim.

"What is he doing in his office all day?"

"Working, I expect." I didn't want to talk to her about it. I had no idea what to say anyway.

"I don't think he's working. I've never seen him produce anything."

I knew she wanted more from me, but I just shrugged in response. This didn't seem to be the time, place or person to discuss the issue with.

I did talk to Sam about it.

"He sits in his office all day while I do all the work!" I fumed.

"Maybe he doesn't know what to do," Sam reasoned.

"How is that possible? I know what to do. You can see from the schedule what things are coming up."

"Yeah, but you've been an attorney for a few years. This is his first job. He may need more guidance."

That was something I'd never considered before. Suddenly, I felt a little guilty for being so hard on him. Unfortunately, the Judge gave no instruction. I hadn't given it a thought before Sam said it. Maybe that was Jim's problem. But how could I help him? He doesn't even like me, I thought.

For the next few weeks, I was too busy with my own work to worry about Jim. First I traveled "down south" as the Judge said for a trial in Mississippi. The Judge and I arrived in Jackson on a Sunday night, trial to begin at nine o'clock Monday morning. I had worked on a few oral arguments, but this was my first trial. I met him on Monday morning, and we walked over to the courthouse.

I spent the morning getting the Judge diet soda, water and a couple of newspapers so that he could take out the crossword puzzles to work on during the day. I sat through hours of arguments, witness testimony and exhibits.

Oral arguments weren't too bad, but they only lasted an hour or two, but a trial was much longer. At ten thirty we had our first break. I felt a little sleepy, so I bought a Dr. Pepper. That would give me a boost!

Fifteen minutes later we started again. I'd finished my DP by eleven. "Only an hour and a half until lunch," I thought as I checked my watch,. That's not so bad.

I started making a border of flowers and leaves on my notepad. All four sides were finished by eleven fifteen. Oh my goodness, I thought. This is supposed to last four days. Now I understood why the Judge had me get him two crossword puzzles for the day. I was going to have to have something more than caffeine to keep me awake -- never mind paying attention.

By noon I thought I was going to pee my pants. Will the Judge be really mad if I get up? I wasn't sure. I crossed my legs tighter. What am I going to do? I had to have something to drink, but then I was going to have to go to the bathroom. This is a dilemma.

The Judge broke for lunch at twelve fifteen. As soon as the Judge was out the back door, I shot past him and into the bathroom.

We had lunch at the diner next to the courthouse. The diner was dingy. I sat in the green vinyl booth and longed for either of the cute bistros across the way. Maybe we would eat at one of them tomorrow, I thought wistfully.

The afternoon was exhausting. I had never done anything this boring! I tried to turn my watch to an angle where it wouldn't be so obvious that I was checking it every fifteen then ten then seven minutes. Would they never shut up? Will this never end? "No one cares about whether the paint chipped on the roof," I wanted to scream! At the end of the day, the Judge walked briskly back to the hotel, with me dragging behind. My eyes were blurred from trying to focus and look like I was paying a modicum of attention.

As we set foot in the lobby, the Judge drawled, "Goodnight, I'll see you in the morning." And he headed right up the elevators.

I was standing there, feeling rather lost. Here I was, in a strange city, with no car and no restaurant in the hotel. I was starving, and the Judge had gone up to his hotel room. I went to the desk and asked about restaurants within walking distance.

"Nope, nothin'," the front desk clerk replied, without adding any suggestions of what I might do for a meal.

I went upstairs. Desperate, I flipped to the pizza places and asked if anyone delivered to the hotel. After three calls, I found one. It was nearly nine o'clock when I got something to eat. This traveling thing wasn't so fun after all.

The next morning while I sat with the Judge before the trial started, he asked, "Have you ever seen To Die For?"

"That movie with Nicole Kidman?"

"Yeah," he continued, "I was flipping through the channels last night, and I stopped on that thinking it was a skin flick. It wasn't a bad movie."

"I've never actually seen it," I replied, shocked that he was telling me he watched porn in his hotel room. "But I think it is based on a true story."

"Really," he was staring out the window, not listening to me. "That Nicole Kidman is a looker."

"She's very pretty." Was he seriously going to talk to me about checking women out? He needed some male friends pretty badly if that was the case. I thought this was all a bit bizarre, but you take the good with the bad, right? This was a great resume builder. I liked most of the work, and it was fun. Good enough.

The second day of trial was worse than the first. I couldn't concentrate after I heard the first words the lawyer spoke: "I call Eugene Platt, an expert in paint application."

There is a person who is an expert in paint application? No, they have to be kidding. But here he was, in the flesh. His resume was full of jobs pertaining to paint application.

I bought a Mountain Dew at the morning break. DP just didn't carry enough of a caffeine punch to make it through until lunch.

I pined for the Bistro at lunch as I stared at my wilted salad. It was the only thing on the menu that wasn't fried. Tomorrow I'm going to break down and get chicken fried chicken I decided. I wanted to be healthy, but wilted iceberg lettuce, a few pieces of carrot and a tomato wedge were not what I called lunch.

Nothing else delivered so I had to eat pizza again that night. I thought about getting a taxi, but I didn't know where to go, and I couldn't be sure I'd get a taxi back if I had one take me anywhere.

When I woke up on day three, I groaned. I didn't care about paint. I didn't want to eat at the diner, and I couldn't stomach more pizza. I started the day with Mountain Dew. I couldn't face going in there without a good caffeine jump-start. I'd purchased two newspapers so that I could have my own crossword puzzle to do because I'd finished decorating the notebook with hearts and flowers yesterday.

At the break, I got another Dew. I knew I couldn't stay awake until lunch without it -- I had never been so bored in my life. I had no idea what they were talking about. I drifted off every time they said "paint," which was only every third word.

I splurged on the chicken fried chicken at lunch. It was really tasty. However, as the afternoon started, my huge fattening lunch made me even sleepier than before. They turned out the lights to do a video presentation. That was it. I couldn't stay awake anymore. I spent the hour they showed photos of the paint peeling jolting awake each time my head flopped a different direction.

When they turned on the lights, I noticed a little drool on my crossword. Yuck!

Before we went back, I bought some peanut butter crackers, popcorn and a bottle of water out of the snack machines to have for dinner. I couldn't eat pizza again. That night I prayed that the trial would be over the next day. I was going to cry if I had to do this more than one more day.

"Check for flights home -- NOW." The note read. The Judge had dropped it onto my table the minute the lawyers said they were finished. I gladly got up and started making phone calls. We could make the last flight out at four.

Yeah! I thought happily. We get to go home. I might actually be there by tonight.

I told the Judge when he walked into his borrowed chambers.

"Great! We have time for one more lunch at the diner!" He seemed thrilled. I rolled my eyes behind his back. He had to be kidding. He WANTED to eat there again? I sighed. At least I can eat what I want for dinner.

Back at the office the next week, I realized the Judge wanted more than just help with opinions. He wanted me to be his personal assistant.

"Jessica, I have a few prescriptions I'd like you to get filled for me." He handed me a stack. "Have them ready today at that CVS by the office."

He has quite a lot of different drugs, I thought to myself. I took care of having them filled. The next week, he had me switch them to a pharmacy closer to his home. He was always asking me where he was supposed to pick them up, even what he was supposed to be picking up -- he seemed to have a lot of trouble keeping things straight.

He also wanted me to fix his tea each day and bring it into him just the way he liked it. If I asked him if he wanted any, he would say no, but if I brought it to him, he would give me a big smile and drink it. He made it very clear that he wanted to be taken care of.

A week later, the Judge asked me to find him a cell phone service he could use with his family. I checked with each service to see how many minutes they would get, how many phones, and on and on. I worked out the plan for the Judge. Called and got it all set up.

However, the first time he went out of town, there were dead spots. He called the office.

"What's wrong with my service?" He demanded.

"What happened?

"Well, there are spots where I can't use it."

"I'll call and check for you."

I did call, and the phone company sent the Judge a new phone. Yet, the next trip he went on, he called me again.

"There are still spots where I cannot use this phone," he complained.

"Well," I suggested hesitantly, "mobile phones do not work everywhere. There are simply places where you cannot use them."

"Call them again and see if they are having problems with their service," he instructed me.

I did as I was asked, but there's a reason that everyone can relate to the "Can you hear me now" ads. I tried in vain to explain this to the Judge when he returned to the office.

"I want a new service," he declared with what seemed to be serious annoyance.

"All right, but you signed a year contract."

"You are a lawyer, find me a way out of the contract."

So, I did as I was asked. I called and said that the Judge was still having problems with the service. The company offered to allow him to quit the contract. I took in all the other phone plans available.

The Judge chose a new service.

"My wife and daughter get service everywhere," he informed me. I doubted that, but what could I say? "I want service everywhere."

I signed him up for the new service, but the next time he was on a road trip, he was on the phone with Celia and the call dropped. He was raving with anger.

"This is supposed to have service everywhere! They told me it had service everywhere." I tried to show him the little map on the brochure, showing him that no one has service everywhere. There is simply no such thing. But he would have none of it.

He wanted a new phone. I pretended to call and said they wouldn't work with me because I wasn't a family member. He suggested I lie and tell them I was his wife, but I said that I didn't feel right doing that. Thus I extracted myself from dealing with what was clearly going to be an ongoing mobile phone issue.

The Judge must really like and trust me, I thought. Even though some of the things like the cell phone are a pain, I'm glad he feels like he can count on me. He had me doing things for him, like his cell phone and making appointments. I felt like we had a good rapport. When I saw something I thought the Judge would be interested in, whether it was a book or a play or a place to visit, I would bring the reference in for him.

The Judge seemed to relax -- taking his wife out of town for long weekends every three or four weeks and leaving the office by four every day. Soon he was looking better, not as tired as when I started. I was keeping the office going myself, without Jim's help. I was enjoying the job enough that I asked the Judge if I could stay for a second year. He smiled and told me that he didn't like to make decisions until closer to the time needed.

"So, just ask me when you need to know," he replied offhandedly.

I wasn't worried about it. After all, I knew I was doing my job. We were getting along great.

However, I was growing frustrated doing all the work in the office. Kelly complained about Jim's lack of work all the time. Being relied on had been fun in the beginning, now it was just extra work. It became one of my desires to get rid of Jim and get someone who could carry their share of the load. I began to subtly suggest this to the Judge during our chats.

He always responded with the same things: "It is only a year" -- "I don't want to ruin his career" -- "We can handle it."

I never pressed the issue, I would just bring it up occasionally. Knowing I could handle the office on my own, but thinking I wouldn't have minded having some help. But, I wasn't going to insist or make a fuss, so things continued. The Judge and I chatted about life most days, had tea, and worked. It was a good routine.

One day at the grocery store, I spotted the General Food International coffees next to the teas. Suddenly, I had a craving for one of those coffees. I bought a couple of flavors and took them into the office. It was a terrific change from tea. Celia and the Judge were both enjoying them.

We started switching back and forth between coffee and tea in the afternoons. Celia and I both brought in coffee, tea, cream and sugar. We made an a little agreement to switch off buying our necessary afternoon tea items. The Judge liked the coffee particularly. He started asking for it in the afternoons. So every afternoon, Celia or I would make him up a cup of coffee while we made ours or when we had tea.

A couple of months later, the Judge and I had another trial out of town. This time, we were staying at a Residence Inn. Looking at the website, it seemed we were close to some dinner establishments. At least I wouldn't have to order pizza.

We arrived late the night before. Trial was the same -- long -- interspersed with me going to get the Judge soda, water, newspapers, etc. I had thought ahead and bought myself a puzzle book. I kept it hidden under my notebook, so I could look like I was taking notes. It kept me from falling asleep.

When we arrived at the hotel, there was nothing to eat anywhere around. Great! Here we go again -- more pizza. I ate popcorn the first night. In the morning, I asked the Judge what he did for dinner.

"Oh, I eat whatever they have in the lobby. I love staying here because they have food available." Was he serious? I thought in astonishment.

He was.

Back on the home front, when I expanded to International coffees, which sounded just right for cold winter afternoons, the Judge fell in love. He drank one or two every day. Celia and I had been splitting the cost of tea, sugar and cream. Now, we were also buying the coffees and it was becoming quite expensive. Celia and I drank tea everyday except for Friday to try and keep the expense down. We tried to tell the Judge that we were drinking tea and suggest he pick up more international coffees for himself when he was picking up his regular coffee, but he never did. He just continued to ask us for his afternoon coffee fix.

"What are we going to do?" Celia lamented to me. "His coffee habit is costing us an arm and a leg." We both enjoyed that little break so much, it was worth the money to us to get tea and cream each week, but to buy him his two to three cans of international coffee a week was kind of over the top.

"Well, I guess you'll have to wait until my clerkship is over and I'm gone to stop having tea. There's no way for us to stop now. How would we explain it? It is kind of like waiting to get a new puppy until the old dog that pees on your carpet has died. You don't want the new puppy to pick up the bad habits of the old dog."

Celia gave me a funny look.

"If I'm gone, you can stop having tea because I started it. But if we try to stop now, he will be really upset. If you got a new puppy with an old dog, you couldn't expect that the new puppy wouldn't pick up the old dog's habits. You have to wait for the old dog to die. Basically, I have to die for you to stop buying him coffee."

She laughed until she almost cried.

But we went on buying all the stuff for tea and coffee. We made certain there were sugar and cream and even a treat on Fridays. It was a great break for us to visit for fifteen or twenty minutes at three o'clock, when we were starting to feel sluggish. Celia and I were fast friends.

Overall, the environment was good. The work was interesting. There was plenty of fun to go along with the work. I stopped worrying about not liking being a lawyer. I thought there must be a job out there because I really liked the court, and I was good at the work. I even had a few suggested job opportunities for when my clerkship was over. Life was coming together. My career was taking off.

Sam was so proud. "This is a really great opportunity for you. I am so glad that things are coming together for you."

"I am amazed! I didn't think I could find anything I liked."

"I know this is going to provide you with lots of options."

The first signs of discontent appeared when I was working on the Jones case. It had been around forever. It was one of the first ones the Judge had started with twelve years earlier. He had written four opinions over that twelve year time period. It had been up to the Circuit Court of Appeals twice and sent back to him twice. Suffice it to say that the case was old and needed to be completed.

The Supreme Court had just issued an opinion, which was on one of the pivotal issues in the Jones case. Both of the parties made a motion to brief the issue and have oral arguments. We agreed, so the issue was briefed, and we were set for oral arguments out of town.

The oral arguments would decide it, and the case would be over after twelve long years, except for an appeal to the Circuit. In the plane on the way to the oral arguments, the Judge and I talked about strategies for getting them to settle the case. That way, there would be no chance for an appeal, it would truly be complete.

When we walked into the courtroom to begin the arguments, the Judge asked the parties about any chance of a settlement. He knew they would say no, but I knew he had a strategy for getting an agreement to at least try to talk it out. First, he was going to let the oral arguments go for a while, make comments to both sides that would make them worry about what he was going to decide, then ask them to come back to chambers and suggest we help them reach a settlement.

Oral arguments began. The Judge didn't seem to be very interested, hardly asking any questions or making many comments. He let both sides have an opportunity to speak, but he wouldn't give either side a chance to rebut. Abruptly, he rose.

"Well," he began, clearing his throat, "I think that's all I need, I'm going back to Washington." He walked out of the courtroom. Everyone's mouth dropped open. I distinctly heard the theme from the Twilight Zone begin to play. "What just happened?" I wondered -- I hoped I hadn't said it out loud. No one could believe it -- we had tried and tried to finish this case, but here we were at the end, and he had bailed.

I got up and followed the Judge into his visiting chambers.

"Get me a flight home."

"I thought we were going to try and get them to settle." I was struggling with sounding polite. This case was twelve years old! We were a few hours from wrapping it up forever. "What is wrong with you?" I wanted to scream all these things.

And I knew the lawyers out in the courtroom were having no problems screaming them out loud right now. I'd be cursing the Judge if it were me. OK, I was cursing him silently. Hopes had been high. You could feel it in the room.

"I could tell they weren't interested in settling," he stated.

"But what about the plan? Show each side its faults, get them together in the same room?"

"No need. We'll just write an opinion based on the Supreme Court's opinion."

"We didn't let them finish arguing. No one had an opportunity for a response."

"We don't need it."

"They'll argue they were denied due process." I was trying to argue subtly without being harsh. But seriously, we'd come two thousand miles to finish this case. Why go home after three hours? I was stupefied.

"I want to get out of here before three." It was currently noon.

"I'll try." I picked up the phone and called the office and the travel agent. After an hour on the phone, I had him a flight at quarter to four. It was the best I could do. When I told him, he shrugged, "It'll have to do, I guess."

"What should I tell the parties?" I knew they would still be around the courthouse scratching their heads, trying to figure out what was going on and what we were planning.

"Tell them to expect an opinion in a month or so." He turned and walked out.

I did go and tell the parties. They were fit to be tied on one side and mad as hell on the other. I too left the courtroom, bewildered, confused and disconcerted. What just happened here? I wondered. What am I missing? There hadn't been a seat on the plane for me. I had to take the original flight in the morning.

I made my way back to the hotel and called Sam. When I told him the story, he let out a low whistle.

"What do you think made him do that?" He asked.

"I have absolutely no idea. It came out of nowhere. I was in total shock."

"That is really weird."

"I know. The parties were furious -- as they should have been. I wanted to crawl in a hole rather than go and face them."

"Ug, sorry! So, what are you going to do now?"

"Well, for a change, we're in a hotel that has room service, so I'm going to order something up, read, and watch TV, I guess. I don't have a car, so I can't go too far."

"He didn't leave you with the car? What a jerk!"

"Not a big surprise since he's left me high and dry every time we've been out of town."

"I guess that's true. Well, have a good dinner, relax and enjoy yourself, as much as you can! I can't wait to have you home tomorrow."

Jim's birthday came just before the summer. We'd been with the Judge eight or nine months. I worked with the administrative assistant to have a little party for Jim because we'd done it for everyone else in the office, and although no one really spoke to him, it seemed wrong to ignore his birthday.

I was buying cards, and found this one that said something about the group giving a birthday gift of doing your work. I laughed so hard because we were already doing all of his work. So, I bought it. Not to give to Jim, but as a laugh for the rest of the office. I thought the Judge would think it was too funny.

I took it in and gave it to each person to sign. When they read it, they would turn crimson and laugh because we all knew that we were already doing the work. When I gave it to the Judge, he snapped. He didn't laugh at all -- he just stared at it.

"I only bought it as a joke for us," I said nervously. "I didn't mean to give it to him."


I held out my hand for it. "I'll throw it away."

"No, I want to keep it."

The Judge left early that day.

The next morning, I came in with my cappuccino as usual. The Judge was just sitting at his desk staring at the card.

"Are you OK?" I asked hesitantly.

"I'm going to fire Jim today."

"You are?" I asked. I was shocked.

"I can't let this continue," he uttered, still looking at the card. Something about the card had prompted him to fire Jim, I realized, and I felt a little sick.

"Just stay in your office," he cautioned.

I got up and went into my office, feeling terrible. I'd no idea the card would elicit that kind of response. A few minutes later, Jim came in. I heard the Judge call to him to come to his office. Although I couldn't hear what was being said, I could guess, and I knew they had begun to argue.

Jim left that day and never came back. At that moment, I was struck with the realization that it was only partially Jim's fault. He had no idea what was expected of him. Without any direction from the Judge, Jim didn't know what was wrong with his opinions or how to make them better -- a clerkship is after all, supposed to be a learning experience. Clerks are generally brand spanking new out of law school without a modicum of experience. It must have been a miserable existence to sit there day after day confused. I felt so sorry for him that day, and I was sick that I had had anything to do with it. My guilt was compounded by the fact that I had suggested this more than once to the Judge. I should have stayed out of it. I wished I could take it all back.

Article © Hillary E. Peak. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-07-23
Image(s) © Mike O'Sullivan. All rights reserved.
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