One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: So long to Judge Kardis

John J. Hopkins Aug. 21, 2005, 8:29am

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" won the oscar for best picure in 1975, along with acting awards for Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher respectively, and two other awards for direction and screenplay.

Set in a mental hospital in Oregon circa 1962, it tells the tale of one Randall P. McMurphy, a rebel at war with a system he thought he could manipulate, only to be crushed by the ultimate power of the establishment.

While perhaps not quite thematically appropriate, I have chosen this film to mark the announced retirement of Circuit Judge Phil Kardis.

Other films were suggested and considered to reflect the Kardis tenure on the Bench: Star Wars, Dr. Strangelove, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Unforgiven, and even Easy Rider. But, I like “Cuckoo’s Nest” the best.

Flying away from “Hellhole No. 1" to the relaxed life of Tucson, Phil Kardis is entitled to enjoy the good life, away from his work - aholic pace. I typed this with a straight face.

The papers in reporting his departure, in addition to the biographical info, spoke only about recent controversial class action decisions, as if that alone would be his legacy after 17 years. But such is only a small part of a much larger picture.

Kardis was a good judge to try a case. Knowledgeable, experienced, and street smart, more often than not he could sift through the BS and get to the real issues, and help provide real solutions.

He was also a colossal pain in the rear, not only when he would slide into his Pharaoh-like mold.

“So let it be written, so let it be done..." But more frequently when like the old fire horse still rising up to answer the fire bell, he would slip back into the role of trial lawyer, dispensing free, if unwanted advice.

“Why did you put that guy on first? Your client has too much make up on...Your expert speaks too fast, etc..."

Old habits die hard I suppose, but such was just the flip side of what made him a good trial judge, the fact that he indeed had once upon a time walked the walk as well.

No stranger to the press, it was often said that when Judge Kardis went to trial, he needed a bailiff, a clerk and a press agent.

In his announcement, Judge Kardis, that is Phillip with two “L’s,” as he once reminded Post Dispatch Columnist Bill McClellan, simply said that it “was time to go,” time to spend more time with the grandchildren and enjoy the good life a little more.

Knowing when to exit the stage is a sign of wisdom. And while Kardis was called many things, stupid was not one of them. Turnover in any organization is a good thing, a sign of life, growth and vitality.

Kardis’ replacement may be a Republication lawyer, a current associate judge, or even, dare we say it, a Democratic lawyer practicing in Madison County. Whomever it is, I am sure the choice by Justice Karmeier will be sound.

Like other people, I have had differences with Phil Kardis the judge, the latest currently awaiting a decision from the 5th District Appellate Court.

But any problems were always professional, and not personal. While it was at times an extremely daunting task, for the most part, I liked the guy. I enjoyed his company, sharing a bottle of wine, his oft times opinionated conversations - sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but never in doubt - and the contested rounds of golf.

To my friend, I wish nothing but the best of health, luck and happiness. May the Salmon steaks in Tucson be plentiful and grilled properly, the Pinot Noir, the Merlots and the Cabernets be fully textured and served at EXACTLY room temperature, and the golf courses receptive, giving up decent scores and the elusive hole-in-one, even if you have to pay the greens fees yourself.

Grudge match II remains. Call and we shall set up the time and place. I’ll meet you at Copley’s 9 West....

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