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January 23, 2023 National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

Mentoring: The Judge and Reporter

By Hon. Richard Ginkowski, Pleasant Prairie, WI

50 years ago, I was the young news director at WSJM in St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Michigan, covering the trial of a man accused of shooting a police officer who was dining with other officers at a local restaurant.

I was about to bolt from the courtroom to call in the story after the presiding judge recited his verdict that the accused was not mentally responsible for the crime, but as I got up to do so I somehow noticed the judge’s “evil eye” directed at me indicating that it might be preferred that I stay for the rest of the verdict.

So began my friendship with Berrien County Circuit Judge Julian Hughes, a mild-mannered, sweater wearing and thoughtful jurist who pondered his cases in chambers while smoking a corn-cob pipe in the days when that was allowed, and courthouses and courtrooms were not fortresses secured by electronic locks.

Judge Hughes wanted to make sure that I understood the verdict which led me in the future to seek out his wise counsel when I wanted to understand other legal proceedings. And on the Saturday morning that I left for a new job in Toledo, Ohio Judge Hughes showed up to help load my car.

Fast forward to September 1978.  Two weeks into my first year at the University of Wisconsin Law School, I was tremendously discouraged and wrote to Judge Hughes detailing that I was about to throw in the towel. He responded with a lengthy hand-written letter about his experiences fresh out of the Navy as a new law student at the University of Michigan and that sometimes you just need to have a beer and let it go.

As I was about to graduate, I received a similarly frantic note from a former colleague attending law school in Chicago. I retrieved Judge Hughes’ letter from my desk and drove three hours to show it to my friend and take him out for beer and pizza.

After graduation and my appointment as an Assistant District Attorney and then as a District Attorney, Judge Hughes followed my career with interest. When I would go back to Michigan for a visit there was always an extra chair for me at the attorneys’ lunch table at the Holiday Inn where, I suspect, more than a few cases were settled.

I could end this with a closing paragraph about the value of mentoring – certainly appropriate – but I was recently at a conference where Chief Justice Robert Brutinel of the Arizona Supreme Court said, “We need to do a much better job of educating the news media as to what we do. Back in the day when I started there was a court beat reporter. They knew everybody involved. They knew how the court system worked. That’s all gone and they don’t understand what we do or the importance of what we do.”

Beyond expressing fondness for what Judge Hughes did, I also take to heart what Chief Justice Brutinel said. We lost Judge Hughes in 1983, but perhaps the spirit of what he did will persevere if we take the time to understand how a little effort on our part as judges can make a difference not just to an individual, but also to others on a much larger scale. People need to understand (and indeed, have the right to know) what we do and why we make the decisions that we make. We must help those who are entrusted and empowered to tell our story, if we don’t, then who will?

Hon. Richard Ginkowski

Executive Committee Member, National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

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