Everyone's got one

The Madison County Record Jan. 7, 2007, 4:11am

We hang around judges for a living here at The Record. So we figured it's about time to let you in on a little secret.

All "justice is blind" aside, when they take off those robes, judges have very, very strong opinions.

That's every single one of them. Without exception. And on every single issue one might imagine-- from Iraq to guns, gays to abortion to the best way to grill a steak. Indeed, contrary to popular myth, judges don't float through life locked in a vacancy, oozing "neutrality" like uninformed, nonchalant teenagers.

The point is pertinent in light of the running firestorm across the river over St. Louis County Judge Robert Dierker. He had the nerve to publish a living memoir last week, one rife with his own opinions on our judiciary and how its limited role has been perverted over the years. His critics are shocked and outraged. Some are even calling for his job.

How possibly, they shriek, can a man who does objectivity for a living have subjective opinions? And how dare he publicly proclaim them, especially so eloquently, over 288 pages?

The short answer is because he can. Judges don't waive their First Amendment rights when joining the bench. They don't lose their personal views any more than their intellect. And that's a good thing, as we should all hope those we select to make such serious societal decisions would be thoughtful, informed and aware human beings.

The true test of a judge's meddle comes on a case-by-case basis. All personal predilections aside, can they put the law first, even when they disagree with it?

By every measure, Judge Dierker has proven up to the task over his 20-year career in the circuit court. He's managed to be fair, despite holding strong personal opinions the entire time.

The same cannot be said for many of the judges indirectly within the crosshairs of Dierker's arguments. A man like Madison County's Nick Byron is similarly strong-willed and opinionated, albeit on the other side of the political spectrum. But time-and-again, he's proven unable to look past his biases and assess the law objectively in his courtroom.

Byron consciously "acts" on his opinions. To be sure, we'd all be better off if Byron would instead just write a book about them. Now, there's an idea...

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