Behind the Scenes of the Bench

iba-moberly-robyn-president-2016When I was first elected to the Marion Superior Court in 1996, the court had just gone through a reorganization. The municipal courts were legislatively changed to superior courts and the administration of the court was changed to a two-judge presiding judge committee (a structure which has been changed twice since then). One judge was a Republican and one was a Democrat. I’m sure they must have been selected at a meeting where they didn’t show up. It was a thankless job.

One of the less appealing aspects of that job must have been the assignment of new judges to courtrooms. The assignments appeared to be made with political considerations in mind, which is fair enough in a political system. I was assigned to the least desirable court, the domestic violence court. domestic violence court was the worst of all possible worlds: reluctant victim/witnesses and irrational emotions. The coarseness and rudeness of Donald Trump was emblematic of the discourse between people who had been in an intimate relationship, varying from one night to years. It was located in the basement of the City County Building in a windowless, low-ceiling room that couldn’t hold all of the hot angry bodies. The witness stand was a small rickety table. Consequently, whatever respect comes from appearing in a large and impressive courtroom was lost on the masses who appeared.

Fortunately, my career progressed and the courtroom assignments got better and better. Currently, I work in chambers that are beyond words in terms of their beauty, size, architectural detail, security and view of our city. However, shortly after I moved to the federal courthouse, my days in domestic violence court came back to me in the worst of ways. I got a call one day from the United States Marshal that I had an Internet stalker. I don’t Google myself (although I’m sure it’s a good idea to do that) so I had no idea a person from my past was threatening a very unpleasant and bloody exchange when we met again. Judge Heather Welch had been contacted by the lawyer who represented my e-stalker because my stalker was threatening him as well. As a lawyer you have no protection from stalkers of this sort but if there’s a federal judge in the same boat, well, you’re in good hands. Judge Welch, who has had her share of this sort of trouble, immediately reported it to the Marshal and then to me. I don’t know if I have ever thanked her properly for this but she may have saved my life.

The U.S. Marshal and the F.B.I. paid a visit to my e-stalker who eagerly shared with them that it was, in fact, he who was threatening me. He also delighted in showing them his arsenal of guns and scary weapons. When asked if he would stop threatening me, he wasn’t sure he could promise that. After all, I had “ruined his life.” So, he stepped into the world of federal custody. Funny thing is, he passed me in the hall on his way to one of his court appearances, and he didn’t even recognize me. He posted pictures of my house online but he couldn’t even remember what I looked like.

Possibly that wasn’t so strange because he had me mixed up with Judge Sheila Carlisle. Judge Carlisle followed me into domestic violence court and when my e-stalker violated the probation I had so kindly given him (no jail time at all), she appropriately sentenced him to prison. So, the fact of the matter is that he was ready to commit the bloodiest of murders on the wrong female judge!

About 18 months later, my e-stalker walked out of the federal prison a free man. His apartment and belongings were no doubt long gone as was the broken down blue car he used to drive by my house.

Honestly, I am glad this happened to me and not to Judge Carlisle. At the time, her children were still at home and mine were grown. This sort of thing happens to state court judges but the response from law enforcement is usually very inadequate. Believe me, if you ever wondered if the U.S. Marshal and the F.B.I. get their man, I can assure you they don’t fool around.

The last session at Bench Bar this year will be judicial panels with some of our Marion Superior Court judges, led by James Bell. I hope they will share some of their own “behind the scenes” stories of what it’s like to be a judge. I think it’ll be entertaining and give you some insight into the darker, and the funnier, side of being a judge.

Sometime I’ll have to tell all of you about being sued by Rocky Flash, the Vampire. Judge Gary Miller has a role in that saga. But that’s a story for another day.•

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