I am a state district judge for a medium-sized rural county in West Texas. Being a mud-on-the-boots country boy, I am more comfortable working livestock than strappin’ a thoughtful look on my face and meting out justice. Early on, I found that adjusting to some of the formalities associated with my position gave me a bit of trouble. One of the most difficult adjustments was the wearing of a judicial robe.
The robe presented a particular challenge at the beginning of one of my first jury trials. I had spent the preceding weekend armpit deep in weeds at the family farm. I expected to and did get a bait of chiggers. (A chigger is a microscopic, flea-like critter whose purpose in life is to attach itself to the most dark, damp recess of the human body and cause an itching sensation.) On the first day of the trial, in response to chigger-induced stimuli, I reacted as would any normal person. I scratched my mid-section. The problem (outside the chigger infestation) was the jury’s view and possible mis-perception of my actions. With a robe on and positioned behind a bench, I was concerned that some of the jurors might wrongly interpret what I was doing with my hands. It was probable that one or more of the twelve suspected I was engaging in the same kind of deviant public behavior that occasionally brings folks to my court.
I had to do something to respond to the accusatory looks. Should I: 1) Interrupt the trial, go through the weed/chigger story and hope the jury buys my explanation, 2) grin real big and wink at any juror that is staring at me to give credence to his or her suspicions, 3) duck behind the bench every few minutes and hope the jury thinks I am picking up things or 4) stand up, turn around, scratch and mutter “damn chiggers’ so both the record and the jurors would be clear? I found that employing option two resulted in a quick verdict and the jury’s quick exodus from the courthouse.
A couple of weeks ago, the robe once again played a part in causing those in the courtroom to question my judicial demeanor. A young man had plead guilty to a drug charge. His momma was sitting on the front row of seats crying silently. The lawyers were serious. I was looking down on the gathering, a black-robed Solomon about to hand down justice….when something stung me on my side.
The sting hurt. I started whopping myself on my left side with my right hand in an attempt to discourage the offending insect from inflicting further pain. The bug retaliated. The robe proved to be a barrier to effective whopping but instead of unzipping it (the normal manner of removal), I reached under and flipped the robe up to gain a more direct path to the now very perturbed attacker. I am thankful that there were relatively few there to witness the gyrating, robe-over-the-head representative of law and order beating the bejesus out of himself for no apparent reason. The now-stunned insect, still under my shirt, dropped down to my belt area and continued to move around. Fearing additional stings, I then employed both hands and began pummeling my mid-section. I did have the sense to excuse myself to my office before becoming further undressed and I found…nothing. No ant. No bee. Nothing to show my staff to counter their suspicions that I had finally gone over the edge. No dead or woozy offender in my pants. None on the floor. I needed evidence. I needed a body…but nothing.
I walked back into the courtroom (pants and robe appropriately situated) and told my story to the mildly confused gathering. I saw disbelief in the eyes of many. I briefly considered raising up my shirt to show the whelps left by my attacker but then realized my reputation probably couldn’t have withstood that additional offense. It was at that moment, I realized that the courtroom security cameras continued to roll.
I can fire my staff if they should bring up the incident. I can make the lives of the lawyers a living hell should the story be repeated. I am praying the video tape is never reviewed. I gave the young drug user a slightly better sentence than originally contemplated. I am hoping he and his mother will repay my kindness with their silence.