Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Judge With The Wisdom of Solomon?

I read where a judge in Virginia was tossed from his bench for, “Deciding Case With Coin Toss”. That caught my interest as I read further for details.

“Unless our citizens can trust that judges will fairly resolve the disputes brought before our courts, and treat all litigants with dignity, our courts will lose the public's respect and confidence upon which our legal system depends," Justice Barbara Milano Keenan wrote.”

“According to the court, Shull admitted tossing a coin to determine which parent would have visitation with a child on Christmas. Shull said he was trying to encourage the parents to decide the issue themselves but later acknowledged that he was wrong.”

The judge had other issues which have brought about his job loss; but that isn’t why I’ve jumped into the muck. I recall reading about a similar situation that happened long ago; instead of a coin toss the judge used something quite a bit more thought provoking to determine child custody, a sword.

From 1 Kings 3:16-28

16 ¶ Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

When I was a police officer assigned near downtown Houston I was sent to an area where several new traffic signs had been posted to assess how the public was responding. I watched as car after car ignored the brand new “No Left Turn” sign and decided that rather than issue tickets for the violation I’d stop the drivers and warn them that the following week enforcement would begin in earnest. Most of the drivers hadn’t noticed the new sign and had simply been going the same route they’d always gone, a short cut through that particular residential neighborhood, and acknowledged that another route would work just as well.

I observed two vehicles make the illegal turn at the same time and pulled them over. The first fellow was a priest in full garb who worked at the local university and the other looked like a full blown hippie. I obtained their driver’s licenses and explained about the new traffic sign while letting the priest go on about his business. I walked back toward the hippie’s car and the idea came to me to have some fun.

“I’ve only got one ticket left in my book and it’s obvious I couldn’t write the priest.” I paused long enough to let the words land on his ears, knowing that he’d watched as I warned the priest and let him go. “It wouldn’t be fair to just write you so…”, reaching into my pocket and drawing out a quarter which I flipped in the air for effect, “…call it!”

The hippie went just short of ballistic; the veins in his neck swelling and his face turning red, “You can’t do that, you can’t do that!”

“Look, I have to write somebody and I …”

“You can’t do that! It’s not fair!”

“Life’s not fair; call it. I have to get back on patrol.” I’m going on old memory circuits and some of the dialogue might be a tad off; all the same the conversation was about the fact that police officers can’t arbitrarily dispense justice. I had to show the young man my traffic citation book which had plenty of tickets as I explained how I’d never intended to write anyone, much less him a ticket that day; my purpose was to alert everyone to the fact that a new traffic sign had been installed.

The flip of a coin or the brandishing of a sword, who can say with certainty whether or not wisdom was used to bring about a proper decision? May we all have the Wisdom of Solomon as we go about finding the truth of the matters at hand.


I found an article by James Spencer, an attorney in Austin, which he posted back in January regarding how, as he put it, “The Wisdom of Solomon was in devising a plan that would reveal the truth.”

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