A row of black robes, a jury of nine, as best I could count, were the sitting and retired judges who attended the swearing in of Mendo’s newest judge, The Hon. Keith Faulder who was narrowly elected to Mendocino County’s bench in November. I got there just in time. Ubiquitous Sheriff Thomas Allman had perhaps synchronized watches with “Judicial Control” and he rose to the mic in his dress uniform at the tick of of the second hand, his lines memorized yet somehow extemporaneous and performed to the envy (in my own humble opinion) of the AVA’s Steven Sparks, the most wildly cheered celebrity in the County.
The Sheriff had prepared some remarks and memorized them which was more than could be said of the other speakers, all of whom carried cheat-sheets. His sentiments were memorable, if predictable, and had I not been standing at attention, front and center with my brother-at-arms (ironic) — Ukiah Daily Journal columnist Tommy Wayne Kramer and I were locked elbows, presenting a united front to the daunting black robes — I would have recorded it for posterity in my notebook.
After the Sheriff reiterated his faith in the new judge, his newly-minted Honor’s ancient nemesis, that mild mannered egalitarian, the humble servant of the People, District Attorney C. David Eyster, rose to speak.
DA Eyster’s speech was riveting; but, again, I didn’t have an opportunity to take notes, and his immortal words were lost, having gone in one ear and out the other, much diluted by the vapors of the complimentary wine being served at this splendidly catered affair. Later, as I was shoveling shrimp scampi onto a paper disc with a bifurcated dining instrument and trowelling brie onto a slab cold toast, the DA made a comment about a cleaning bill after a slip and fall in a puddle. Otherwise occupied, I missed the significance… Musing on it next day, it seemed to be a memory of mine from long ago, a happier time, back in the day when both Judge Faulder and DA Eyster were friendly defense lawyers and one had gone on an errand for the other and soiled his suit in a mud puddle.
Judge Ann Moorman spoke. She had taken the judge-elect out on her frigate Department A. Well, not quite. This would have been too emotional, one imagines, like letting someone hotrod around in her new BMW. She had the docket moved to her new courtroom, the flagship of the criminal courts in our glorious county, Department B. Moorman sat with Faulder on the bench, and watched how he handled the tiller, sometimes she suggested he luff-up; other times — especially when the jailbirds smelled fresh carrion — suggesting he take charge, tell the legal scholars from the jailhouse to “sit down and listen to your lawyer, sir.”
Judge Moorman helped him through the morning calendar, until coffee break at 10:30. After that, sink or swim — he was on his own. The misdemeanor docket is the most crowded and most rapidly growing calendar in the criminal division statewide due to Proposition 47 which reduced meth possession to a misdemeanor two years ago, and Proposition 64 which reduced most marijuana charges to misdemeanors as well. For the past year, Judge John Behnke has handled it, and it has kept him very busy.
Wednesday, Faulder was at the helm of his new courtroom, Department A, and Judge John Behnke was on the quarterdeck with the young judge. But all Behnke did was lend an air of confidence. At lunchtime, Faulder brought the courtroom up into the wind, let fly the mainsail sheet, and sat there riding on the swell as pretty as a gull.
On Thursday we were all on edge over the Steve Ryan prelim, way up in the top of the tower of justice. (Ryan is the guy who shot the black kid in Ukiah recently claiming self-defense but arrested for murder because the responding deputies saw no threat from Ryan’s victim.) As it happened, the hearing had to be postponed. Back down in Department A Faulder was at the helm again, flying solo. Judge Behnke explained this after he personally swore Faulder in, assuring the crowd — I hadn’t seen the place so packed since the wedding of my friends Michelle and Ben Varney — that Faulder had signed a written copy of the oath before working all week as a judge, so the jailhouse lawyers won’t have any legal standing if they read this in their Low Gap office suites and say “aha, a loophole!”
The wine was deliriously expensive, the food poisonously delightful and the young lawyers were swarming about me like ants at a picnic. My old courthouse friends (Faulder and Eyseter) were too exalted, now, it seemed, to slum with a “former acquaintance.” Ah, well, I guess that’s why they say it is so lonely at the top.
Sheriff Allman, however, went out of his way to look me up and wish me well — or maybe he was just doing a surreptitious sobriety test… Yikes! When this occurred to me I tossed off the dregs of my wine, wrapped a sandwich in my pocket handkerchief, and made a dash for the exit.