Wednesday, June 30, 2004

An Unnatural Act

Column- April 2004 by Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert
Last month I performed an unnatural act -- not an easy admission for anyone to make, let alone a judge, I mean a state judge. Federal judges are a different story. Today, persons often perform unnatural acts to receive a judicial appointment, a practice that presumably continues if they pass Senate confirmation. But after that rare occurrence, a federal judge’s principled sensitivity to the electorate is commendable but not crucial. With state judges, however, it is crucial, in fact, it's mandatory.
My transgression occurred almost a month ago to the day. I ran the Los Angeles Marathon. O.K. “ran” is a gross exaggeration. On the other hand “crawled” is too self-effacing though closer to the truth. Let’s go with the neutral “finished” as in “I finished the L.A. Marathon!”
That 24,000 foolish people decided to subject their bodies to relentless torture for 26.2 miles in 90 degree weather does not make the run any less abnormal, nor give legitimacy to this crime against nature. How far is 26.2 miles? Imagine running to Catalina without the ocean, and then add two tenths of a mile. The 10, 000 people who entered and did not finish the L.A. Marathon, either because they had passed out or dropped out, were perhaps fortunate. The rest of us soon got used to the ambulances racing by with sirens wailing.
The 17th century philosopher Descartes spoke of the mind-body dichotomy. Whatever your religious or philosophical orientation, I will let you in on a little secret about the body: it is not a temple. It is not a cathedral. It is not even a chapel. It’s a machine, a mechanism with moving and stationary parts. And as any idiot or consumer lawyer knows, machines break down; they fall apart. Savvy manufacturers put warning labels on their products. Our Maker put one on every human body. It says that under no circumstances should this body run more than 20 miles at any one time. I do not put a 100 watt bulb in a lamp that says do not use more than a 75 watt bulb in this lamp. It is obvious the body’s warning label was put there for a reason, yet I am not sure why I ignored it.
While the body is running it burns glycogen and fat for energy, but at around 20 miles most bodies run out of these fuels. That is when you hit what is euphemistically called “the wall.” It is an apt metaphor because you feel like Humpty Dumpty after the fall, runny and uncontained. Well what can you expect when the body needs fuel and it is out of gas? I have been told that such a body feeds off its own muscle in desperation. That I did this to my body was unassailable proof that the first part of Descartes' theorem, "I think therefore I am," did not apply to me.
When I hit 13 miles, every rational part of my body said, “there is no way you or any other semi-rational human being can do another 13 miles.” My body became obstinate and contentious. All its organs went on strike. The cells that made up these organs formed cells of resistance. Like the strikers at Ralphs, they tried to shut down the store. And like the strike itself, it was all about medical benefits. And like the strikers at Ralphs, they lost. Their cogent point was that medical benefits don’t do much good for a dead person. The organs and cells tried to reason with the brain. “What the hell is the matter with you?” they cried. The brain mumbled something stupid about a medal, or was it something about a stupid medal? No matter, but through the auditory canals they heard me talking with my running companion who figured out why we were doing this. "We are doing this for the medal," he said. Then he corrected himself and repeated the sentence with an adjective in front of “medal” that would have made Richard Nixon or even Sandra Tsing Loh proud. We high fived. The unthinking brain won.
So maybe I did it for the medal. You wear it around your neck like a noose or the Nobel prize. I thought wearing it over my robes would add to the solemnity and dignity of oral argument, but the Judicial Performance Commission disagreed. My training group "The LA Leggers" also gave finishers a pin in the shape of the numbers, ”26.” But I can’t say these trinkets were worth the last 6 miles to the finish line, particularly the pin which reminded me of my IQ. The unadulterated torture and suffering I endured for those miles had Mel Gibson bidding on the film rights.
There must have been some other reason I had imposed this agony on myself. Perhaps it had something to do with my age, a laudation commemorating the number of years I have spent on earth. They correspond to the number of an interstate highway that makes its way through the United States. A song written by Bobby Troup pays tribute to this great highway which became famous with the Nat King Cole recording in 1947.
"If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that's the best. Get your kicks on Route 66! It winds from Chicago to L.A. More than 2000 miles all the way. Get your kicks on Route 66! Now you go thru St. Looey, Joplin, Misssouri and Oklahoma City is might pretty. You'll see Amarillo . . . Gallup, New Mexico: Flagstaff, Arizona: don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino." Hey, hold on--wait a minute---back up to New Mexico-keep going-- just one more word, that's it--"Gallup," sounds like—is . . . maybe I am the horse who needs one last gallop before heading for the pasture, or the glue factory.
Or maybe I ran because of an article in the last winter issue of “Gavel to Gavel,” the Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine. Why do they call it “Gavel to Gavel?” I have been a judge for nearly 30 years and not once have I, or have any of my colleagues, ever used a gavel. But no matter. When I was on the Los Angeles Superior Court, our magazine was a mimeographed bulletin done by the typing class at Le Conte Jr. High School. Now they have a slick magazine with feature articles and pictures. An article about judicial athletes by Judge Rita Miller may have induced me to enter the race. It's not enough that the Los Angeles Superior Court makes more money than anyone else, or so they claim, but many of its judges run marathons in record times, over and over again. One judge performed a wedding ceremony at mile 6 of the L.A. Marathon and then ran with the wedding party to the finish line. If I had performed the wedding ceremony, by the time I crossed the finish line, I could have presided over the couple's custody battle in their divorce proceedings.
But there are uplifting aspects of the marathon. You see parts of the city you have never been to before and you come to realize there is no "bad" section of town. People from a variety of cultures and ethnic backgrounds become united in a grand celebration that honors the city and the thousands of people who challenge their minds and bodies to complete the race no matter what the time. Vast numbers of people along the way cheer you on, long after the winners have gone home, showered and caught the next flight back to Kenya. The feeling of goodwill buoys you along despite the anchor of painful charley horsed muscles trying to pull you down. Cheering crowds drawn together in goodwill and harmony defeat the adversity of the run, and promote mutual respect and tolerance. Even lawyers speak to one another with civility and affection. At mile 16 two lawyers even stipulated to a continuance, although that was after they discovered they worked in the same firm.
From this experience I have found a solution to the problem of crime which I pass on to Police Chief Bratton. Not to worry about the lack of funding for more officers. Simply have a marathon each day and crime will be eliminated from our city. Of course the people running might die, but that's another story.
I also recommend that running a marathon be a mandatory part of the bar exam, and a requirement for all sitting judges. It mellows you, makes you empathetic and more attune to human suffering. Depositions would be less contentious, trials less stressful and arrogant posturing unnecessary. It would give judges on all courts a healthy sense of humility. Yes, even the United States Supreme Court. But for Justice Scalia. I would recommend a triathlon.
I realize that some of us are getting older than others, and if you are like me with bad knees, this run is no picnic. But to quote the character Crouch in Larry Gelbart's play, "The Sly Fox," I can still run but the scenery goes by slowly." Whether slow or fast, finishing the marathon is like finishing a trial. True, not all trials are won, and not all judgments are affirmed, but once trial begins, whether you are a judge or lawyer, you see it to the end, and that is no mean accomplishment whatever the result,. The analogy would fit perfectly except for one significant difference. There is no way to settle in the middle of the marathon. But if it is 90 degrees on the day I run the 2005 L.A Marathon, I just might find a way.

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