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My life is so good it is undermining my belief in a just God. I’ve done what I can to reassure myself about the dissonance between what I have and what I deserve. I’ve tried to convince myself that the brain surgery, heart surgery, knee surgery, kidney stones, lifelong asthma, bad eyesight, Bell’s palsy (x3), subacute bacterial endocarditis (x2), third-rate gall bladder, two divorces and absolute inability to hit a curve ball have evened things out. I’ve tried to construct an argument that, on balance, I’ve paid at least the wholesaleprice for the wonderful life I’ve been given. But I always end up admitting it’s a pretty feeble argument considering all the blessings showered upon me. I was so concerned about the cosmic injustice of it all that I began dabbling in Eastern philosophy, looking for justification. I ran by my pastor my theory that perhaps I had been a very good spider in my last life, and that coming back in this life as an appellate court justice was the next step up, the reincarnation payback. He was not especially receptive to that idea. Apparently samsarais not a part of mainstream Presbyterian thought. Pity. Because today I’ve come across even more information that makes me wonder how I got this lucky. Today I find myself giving thanks that I wasn’t dropped from my home planet into the Michigan Supreme Court instead of the one I’m on. Today I read a column from the Detroit Free Press, headlined “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez; God Help this Dysfunctional Court.” In it, Brian Dickerson laments the fact that the seven high muckety-mucks who make up the Michigan Supreme Court “are locked in a blood feud that makes the sniping between Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump seem downright collegial.”[ 1] Wow. Excuse me while I spend a few minutes counting my blessings. I may have to call my pastor to inquire whether there are any “non-mainstream” Presbyterian denominations that might buy into my spider theory. Because from what I read about life in the Michigan Supreme Court these days, somebody there is making some heavy karmic paybacks. To begin with, the position of chief justice in Michigan is voted on. By the justices. Bad idea. Real bad. The inmates should not be allowed to choose the warden. Reason No. 68 on the interstate-highway-length list of reasons why is that they all think they should be the chief.[ 2] Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone would wantto be a chief or presiding justice of an appellate court. Who would want to deal with all the administrative details, personnel headaches and general cat-wrangling nightmares that entails? I asked our own PJ, Dave Sills, and he smiled sagely and pointed out that, “I wasn’t given a choice; PJ is the only job they offered me.” I think that’s the only sane answer.[ 3] Because being “first among equals” is the kind of euphonious claptrap that can only bring you grief. Sure enough, back in 2001, the Michigan Supreme Court inmates dis-elected their warden and voted in a new one. This appears not to have increased their collegiality quotient. The new chief and the old one have been firing shots across each other’s bows that make you glad they studied torts instead of target acquisition and trajectory. The ex-chief, a woman named Elizabeth Weaver, is, depending upon which ox you’re interested in goring, either a crusader for honesty and transparency or a “very angry, sad woman.” This latter description is offered up by the present chief justice, who went so far as to suggest IN AN OPINION[ 4] that she should continue her vendetta with a hunger strike because “that seems to have the potential for everyone to be a winner.” He described her as acting “like a petulant only child.” She responded by posting these canards on her Web site, www.justiceweaver.com, for the benefit of anyone who might have missed the chief’s nuclear lapse in judgment. That prompted a brouhaha over whether she had violated confidentiality rules, during which Justice Weaver described the court’s rule on keeping internal court proceedings confidential as a “gag order.” Jeeminy! Where’s Buford Pusser when you need him?! It’s too bad John Belushi’s dead because he would definitely have a role in the food fight scene that would have to be a part of this movie.[ 5] Folks, serving on an appellate bench is a lot like buying real estate, only instead of “Location, location, location,” you have to live by the mantra “Collegiality, collegiality, collegiality.” It’s nice if you’re smart. It helps if you can write. And if you actually know some law … well, that’s extremely constructive. But if you can’t play nicely with the other children … well … I’m sorry, we just can’t use you. I mean, think about what we do. This is the job description for an appellate court judge: 1) Sit down every month across a table from a person who actually thinks his/her intellect is at least equal to and probably superior to your own. 2) Tell that person he/she is wrong � not about who is the greatest left-hander of all time or which of two pinots is superior, but about his/her ability to understand the discipline to which he/she has devoted his/her entire adult life. 3) Somehow convince that person � or yourself � to change his/her mind about something you both regard as important. 4) Repeat as many times as there are panel members. 5) Sit down the next month and do it all over again � maybe more than once. You cannot do that on any kind of regular basis if you insist on being the only person on the All-Star team. You have to be able to get along with other � lesser � beings. That is the hard part of the job. Yeah, I know, you’ve read my opinions and you think it’s pretty obvious the “smart,” “ability to write” and “knowledge of the law” parts of the job are giving me some trouble, too. But those are a cakewalk compared to the “playing nicely with the other children” part. And that’s the part that’s absolutely essential. There are only eight members of my court. I have seven other people I work with every day and that’s it. That is my entire professional universe. If I tick them off, I lose my effectiveness. Without at least one other vote, “I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”[ 6] That’s pretty much the nature of appellate work everywhere. Heck, some courts are made up of only four justices, and they work in panels of three. Do the math on thatand tell me how important collegiality is. That means every time you start a dissenting opinion with, “Jane, you ignorant slut … ,” it has a significant statistical impact on your ability to cobble together a majority in the future. Two or three snarky exchanges at a conference and you can find yourself contemplating a future as The Great Dissenter. That’s one of the reasons I feel so lucky. I am blessed with colleagues whose patience exceeds my own. While I would be the obvious target were someone to make a “hunger strike” reference in our court, no one ever has. While the content of my dissents[ 7] may have sometimes concerned my colleagues, they have generally swallowed their bewilderment. They appear to have adopted the motto that, “Reasonable minds will differ. So will Beds.” And so, while most of our court’s dissents are probably a little bland by some measures, they seldom leave marks, much less lingering resentment. When I send around a dissent, the justices in the majority will tell me if there’s anything in it they think crosses the line. And I tell them if I think they’ve been unduly harsh. We pretty much hash it out beforeit gets into print. That’s how we do things here. In Michigan, on the other hand, they appear ready to go to war over the lunch entree. When they re-elected their present chief justice this month, Justice Weaver filed an 18-page dissent! A dissent! To an election![ 8] She included in it a history of backstage dirt that was titillating even to someone who didn’t know any of the principals. She also expressed her opinion that the court neither had nor deserved the respect of the public, and � best of all � her complaint that the court’s press release about the election did not mention that the vote was 4-3 and that she would be preparing a dissent.[ 9] Now I’m willing to admit that perhaps I am not the best judge of the Michigan Supreme Court’s travails. I am, after all, the guy who considers the job of Boss Hog in a judicial pigpen to be the equivalent of a mild case of Ebola. But I think I’m qualified to comment on this: You have to be a pretty … original … mind to come up with the idea of writing a dissenting opinion to your court’s election of a chief justice.[ 10] And you have to entertain a pretty … original … definition of the world “collegial” to urge a hunger strike upon a colleague in print. And we are all very fortunate to be 2,000 miles from this conflagration. Contributing writer William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can read more columns like this in “A Criminal Waste of Time,” a book fromThe Recorder featuring more than 30 of the best columns from Justice Bedsworth. Order by calling (800) 587-9288 or visiting www.lawcatalog.com/bedsworth.
Footnotes [ 1] As the Associated Press describes it, “Decorum takes a hit as disorder reigns in state supreme court.” [ 2] There are eight members of my court. While I’ve never discussed it with them, I am confident I am the only one who does not consider himself PJ material. And as near as I can determine, we’re all right. [ 3] No, this will not offend Ron George, because he will consider the source. [ 4] I use caps when italics seem inadequate. For me, this is the equivalent of shouting the words, and when you read what he said, you can understand why I thought the fact it was in an opinion was so significant. The New York Timesdescribes it as a “draft opinion,” so apparently cooler heads prevailed … temporarily. [ 5] This is the Michigan Supreme Court, for crying out loud. “How the mighty have fallen.” [ 6] Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best work has been on dissents; another division recently picked up one of my old dissents and spun the law around with it. But that’s once in a decade stuff. You can’t make a career out of that. [ 7] See, “smart,” “knowledge of law,” supra. [ 8] They re-elected the guy who ousted Justice Weaver six years ago and wrote all the lovely sobriquets that showed up on her Web site. Too bad Ralph Nader or Ross Perot didn’t get into this one. [ 9] She also grumbled that when the present chief was campaigning to keep his place on the court in 2000, he and his wife (who she points out was legal counsel to the governor who appointed him) repeatedly “pressured” her to campaign for him � which she did not do because she considered it “inappropriate.” I tell you, this is a very entertaining document in its own way. If you like “Real Housewives of Orange County,” you’ll love “Real Justices of Lansing, Mich.” [ 10] I, for example, do not have the imagination to conceive of a dissenting opinion where there is no majority opinion.

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