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“I am, so far as I know, the only federal judge who took over and operated a hippie reunion.” So writes David Sentelle, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in hisnew book, Judge Dave and the Rainbow People (Green Bag Press 2002). The reunion took place in July 1987, when thousands of Rainbow people descended on the Nantahala NationalForest in North Carolina. The Rainbows wanted to hold their annual gathering. The governmentwanted to enforce its health laws and stop the party. Judge Dave (as they came to call him) had hispending confirmation to his currentjob on his mind. And so he foundhimself at the commune, trying tonegotiate. The following excerptpicks up the story line. While we were waiting, a naked woman wandered over and stood sort of between me and the little discussion group. She was about thirty or so, slim and athletic-looking with a lovely light all-over tan. From its uniform tone I guessed her to be a tanning booth user. She cocked her head and listened to the conferees for a minute and then turned to me. She raised her hand in the old 1960s “V” peace symbol and said, “Hi, I’m Susan.” I returned the peace symbol as I had done several times during my visits to the camp. Let me say that back in the ’60s, I never returned peace signs. In those days we considered the peace sign a statement on the Viet Nam War. I never shared the prevailing hippie view on that conflict and as I said, I never returned peace signs. I will confess that at times I may have returned half a peace sign, but never the whole thing. . . . At any rate, I returned Susan’s peace sign and expected her to go about her business, whatever business a naked woman has in a muddy mountain meadow on a pleasant July day. Instead, she engaged me in casual conversation. This had not happened before. Let me clarify that. Many people have engaged me in casual conversation before, even many Rainbows have. What I mean is never before has a naked woman whom I had just met engaged me in a casual conversation at a public gathering. To tell the truth it had never happened to me outside a public gathering. Not even during two visits to the Rainbow camp. . . . The Rainbows project an image of being perfectly comfortable — or, more accurately, nonchalant — about total nudity. . . . [But] even hard-core old hippies, it seems, are not yet able to casually and naturally walk over to a clothed stranger in a public place and begin talking to him as easily as they would if they had clothes on. Most of them aren’t anyway. This woman was the exception. She stepped over beside me. Now when I say she stepped over beside me, I should emphasize again how thoroughly casual she was in her nudity. Not only did she show no hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness, neither her posture nor her movement indicated any intent to be seductive or erotic. Let me follow that thought for a moment much the way a beagle follows a rabbit trail — that is, meandering and wandering about without really knowing where the trail is going to end. There are two ways in which a woman can step closer to a man and speak to him. . . . She can kind of slide over next to him, lean a little closer to him and speak a little breathlessly. She does this when she is trying to get something going between them. On the other hand, she can just step over closer to him as she would toward another woman and speak to him conversationally. She does this when all she has in mind is getting a conversation going between them. This particular woman stepped over and spoke to me as casually and unerotically as if she had been a fully dressed teacher and I was a parent she was greeting at a PTA picnic. “Is there some kind of other legal problem about the gathering?” she asked, gesturing toward [state's attorney] Bob and [Rainbow representative] Garrick’s little discussion group. I had just been greeted and asked a question by an attractive naked woman in the middle of a rather public place. Being a mature controlled adult male, I calmly and without any embarrassment responded, “Hi, (gulp) I’m Dave.” “Is there some sort of other legal problem about the gathering?” she asked me again as calmly and unerotically as if she were a fully dressed teacher at a PTA picnic and I was a dimwit. . . . I was a 44-year-old, well-educated professional man. I may not be a man of the world by some people’s terms, but I’ve been around a bit. I was determined to respond as calmly and coolly as if she’d been wearing blue jeans and an opaque loose sweatshirt. Let’s see, she just asked me, “Is there some sort of other legal problem with the gathering?” I, of course, should give her a bright, informative, responsive answer. “Uh, yes,” I ad-libbed. Maybe not bright and informative, but at least it was responsive. Melanie [one of the judge's law clerks] had stepped around to the other side to where Susan couldn’t see her. Her eyes were dancing. She wasn’t exactly smiling, but the corners of her mouth were beginning to twitch. “What’s it all about?” Susan asked. “I thought that was all worked out.” “Well, uh, yes — it was, uh, yes –uh, they’re talking about — it’s mostly worked out, but — uh, some, uh, things — something came up . . .” Melanie’s teeth were beginning to appear from between her lips. I think she was trying not to laugh, but she was beginning to make little fizzing sounds. “They’re not talking about bringing a bunch of troops in and arresting us all, or something, are they?” Her eyes got bigger and a look of concern crossed her face. I was looking at her face. “No, no, no that’s not — no they’re not — they’re not talking about that.” I was not necessarily looking at her face. I did feel like I was doing a little better with the conversation though. Melanie pretended to have a coughing fit. About that time a Rainbow walked up to us carrying a video camera. Though dressed in ’60s vintage jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt, his hair was stylishly razor cut and the camera looked expensive. I don’t mean it looked expensive to someone on a government salary; this Rainbow had an expensive rig. He didn’t just start filming. Obedient to Garrick’s claim of Rainbow custom, he asked, “Judge Dave, can I get some footage of you?” This question was grist on which my mental mill could grind much more practically than, “What do you say to a naked lady?” Part of the dispute now raised between Garrick’s Rainbows and Bob’s officials was whether or not a person in a public place has a right to refuse to have their picture taken. If I told this cameraman “no,” I would be at least implicitly deciding that question in the Rainbows’ favor. If, on the other hand, I said “yes,” that implied no answer to the issue. If there was no right to refuse, I could say “yes.” If there was a right to refuse, I could still say “yes.” Therefore, rather than foreclose the issue, I said “yes.” It only took me a second to run that question through my mind. During that same second, Susan had been running through her mind what the fellow had said to me. As he began running the camera, she smiled and said, “Oh, you’re Judge Dave. I’m so grateful that you let us have the gathering.” She reached out toward me. “I want to shake your hand.” The Rainbow kept running his camera. I was still awaiting confirmation of my appointment to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. What if this guy worked for Senator Kennedy? What if Senator Leahy calls another hearing on my nomination and produces film of the nominee shaking hands with a naked woman in the middle of a national forest? I’m certainly glad she wasn’t any more grateful than a handshake. “Be talking to somebody about something,” the video nut shouted to me. “I’m going to cut the sound on.” I looked down at Susan’s face. Then I looked further down at Susan. Then I looked back at the camera. What do you say to a naked lady when the video camera is running? There was always Melanie. “Mel, do you think they’re about through with their discussion?” What the heck, it was better than, “Testing one, two, three.” Melanie had another coughing fit. It was much worse this time. She was bending over and holding her waist with one hand while she grabbed my arm with the other one. Then I realized I was still shaking hands with Susan. What if Senator Leahy turns up with videotape of the nominee holding hands with a naked woman while being assaulted by a consumptive?

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