Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pardon The Interruption

     A few months ago I was at a "bar event."  They are all the same.  Lawyers and judges schmooze over h 'oeuvres and drinks.  (Will not stoop to "schmooze over booze.")  So here I am talking to retired Superior Court Judge Burt Pines.  In mid-sentence, a well-known lawyer comes by and says, "Hello Justice Gilbert," and, before I can respond, he begins talking to Burt Pines.  Halfway into his sentence I interrupt him and say, "Nice ploy.  Here I am talking to Burt and you also want to talk to him.  You interrupt our conversation, acknowledge me with a salutation, and then quickly take over the conversation by speaking to Burt." 
         The lawyer is now embarrassed and apologizes all over the place.  I tell him not to worry, that I am glad he interrupted us.  It will make a good subject for my column.  He is now sick with worry.  I try to assuage his distress with the assurance that I will probably not use his name.
         In the middle of this discussion, two other lawyers come by and begin talking to the now-sweating attorney.  "It must be contagious," I remark.  "These two lawyers are doing to us what you did moments ago to me."  Burt Pines takes all this in with a bemused expression on his face. 
         The two new interrupting lawyers look puzzled.  I explain to them, as I had to the first interrupting lawyer, that they had interrupted us, much to the relief of the first interrupting lawyer.  They, like the first interrupting lawyer, begin falling over themselves with apologies.  I tell them not to worry.  In fact, I thank them.  "This will be good material for my column."  Now they too are sweating… profusely.  Just then a server with a tray of shrimp comes by and interrupts us.  "Would you like some shrimp?"  I love shrimp, probably because I am short.  I decide not to chastise the server.  As I reach for the shrimp, the three lawyers I have been talking to, all of whom tower over me, leave.  I turn to Burt Pines, who is also much taller than I.  He is nowhere to be found.
         Of course judges, including yours truly, have from time to time interrupted lawyers arguing a case in court.  So it's only fair that they get to do the same thing to a judge when out of the courtroom.  And I did interrupt them when they interrupted me.  So I was not in the least offended by their interruptions, even though the private detective I hired to follow them overheard them express the hope I would retire soon.  Perhaps in the next few years, it could happen.  The law in California has recently been clarified concerning post-employment options for retired judges.   See Gilbert v. Chiang 2014 LEXIS 6391. 
But retirees, like old soldiers, fade away.  I was speaking with some young lawyers and mentioned Malcolm Lucas.  "Who?"  They asked.  "Are you kidding?"  I replied.  "He was only the Chief Justice of California."  Their reply, "But when?  If it's over a decade, it's ancient history."  That they were entertainment lawyers is beside the point.  The point is "when you are gone, you are gone." 
Perhaps that is why some people are loath to retire.  But to forestall retirement from one's work or profession does not offer refuge from the ultimate retirement.  I learned this when I was a mere five years old. 
         To this day, I recall an elderly lady who was a family friend.  Her beloved Pomeranian had died and, in the parlance of a five year old, she had it "stuffed."  My mother used the euphemism "preserved."  On a visit to the elderly lady one afternoon (you think I remember her name?), she asked me if I would like to see her dog "Cookie."  I said that would be O.K.  At that time, I did not know all that much about death.    
         The elderly lady went to "fetch" Cookie.  She took him off a shelf in her closet and brought him out to "meet the guests."  She put Cookie on the floor in front of me.  I had a little rubber ball which I threw for Cooke to retrieve.  Cookie did not move.  Being the precocious five year old that I was, I determined that neither Cookie nor the elderly lady were all there.  At that moment it became apparent to me that death was my enemy and that in the end it would defeat me just as it did Cookie and in due time the elderly lady. 
         This takes me to Jeremy Bentham, the founder of the Utilitarian School of Philosophy.  He had a unique solution to the predicament of losing control after he died.
         Bentham was the inspiration for the creation of the University College London which opened in 1826.  University College London was open to all regardless of race, creed or political belief.  Bentham left his estate as an endowment to the university, along with his papers, on condition that his body be preserved "in a chair usually occupied by me when living, in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of time employed in writing."  The writing style of philosophers has not changed much in the last few hundred years.
         Bentham's wishes were carried out when his embalmed body was placed in a cabinet called the "Auto-Icon" in the hallway of the university.  The Auto-Icon has been wheeled in for important meetings of the college council.  Rumor has it that when the vote is tied, Bentham breaks the tie by a vote in "favour" of the pending motion.
         My wife Barbara and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bentham many years ago when a professor friend of ours at University College opened the Auto-Icon and introduced me to the good philosopher.  Mr. Bentham was most congenial and we got along famously.  In fact, I wrote a column about our meeting.  I considered following Mr. Bentham's suit and, after my demise, being wheeled into conferences in my Division 6 of the Court of Appeal.
         But that would be as silly as the Chinese empress who had her husband's embalmed corpse accompany her on her peregrinations throughout the kingdom.  The only advantage was that she got to do all the talking.  But technology may provide a better answer.
         In his new book "Virtually Human," Martine Rothblatt, the brilliant transgender scientist, philosopher, business tycoon, argues that the day of the mind clone is just around the corner.  Technology is close to producing digital copies of ourselves.  Yes, "cyberconscious" digital entities are separate conscious entities who paradoxically are us.  Rothblatt has created such an entity of his wife called Bina48.  She talks and has views about things.  I think she wants to vote in the next presidential election.
         Alive or dead I may be able to retire and leave my virtual self at the court.  I could go into private or public practice and yet still be on the bench.  I would have two jobs.  Not to worry.  I would not appear in front of myself.  Aside from the conflict of interest, I hate to be interrupted.