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Judge Hank Card is going through the motions, but these aren’t the usual judicial motions. His arms extending upward from a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt with guitars printed on it, Card is exhorting the people before him to slowly wave their arms back and forth in imitation of a Nebraska wheat field while he sings “Corn Husker Refugee.” That may not be what you’d expect from an administrative law judge for the Texas Department of Administrative Hearings — or any jurist, for that matter. But when Judge Hank Card makes decisions on his own motions, he is never wearing a robe, he is often out of his jurisdiction, the jurors have usually been drinking, and there’s little chance of anyone carrying on in a way that interferes with the administration of justice. That’s because Card is acting as a member of the Austin Lounge Lizards, an ace group of country and western satirists who have put out eight records and played professionally for well-nigh 20 years. It is a gig he has had since before he joined the bench in Texas. “In a way, you’re on stage with both jobs,” says Card, speaking on the telephone a few days before the Austin Lounge Lizards’ Nov. 3 visit to the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va. “But it’s a very different act. They are both performances in the sense that you have an audience and you need to control the flow of the proceedings.” The flow of proceedings in Austin is a series of workers’ compensation cases and claims involving the Texas Department of Natural Resources. Card has been an ALJ in Austin for 17 years — the past six at the Department of Administrative Hearings, and before that at the Public Utilities Commission. Serving as a judge has been Card’s only job in the law business since graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, with the exception of a year clerking for 5th Circuit Judge John Brown. Mild-mannered and even quiet when he’s off the bandstand, Card describes his clerkship as “very cool.” He says he enjoyed working for Brown, loved the variety of cases and appreciated the trips to the home of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans. But he also says it was a little “ivory towerish” being cloistered in Brown’s chambers in Houston. Card first met Lizards’ co-founder and lead guitarist Conrad Deisler while both were history majors as undergrads at Princeton University, and they formed their first band there before moving on to law school in Texas. Card reports, however, that Deisler “wised up” and never entered the practice of law. Card would receive about $70,000 a year if he worked full time as a judge. But he doesn’t. Often, he’ll cut his week short to go on mini-tours with the Lounge Lizards, and he says he ends up working on cases about half as much as his judicial colleagues. Earlier this month, the Lizards spent a long weekend playing gigs in Richmond and Alexandria, Va., and then Annapolis, Md. A week or two before that, it was Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and Sacramento, Calif. Sometime, gigs take the Lizards to places they lampoon, such as North Carolina, which takes a hit on “Asheville/ Crashville” (“Celebrate our salubrious area / We’ve stamped out the plague and malaria”). The song, which also features a fine fiddle solo by Lex Browning, is on the Lizards’ latest CD on Nashville, Tenn.-based Sugar Hill Records, “Never an Adult Moment.” At the Birchmere, Card was dead-center stage as the five members of the Lizards lined up side by side. The band has no drummer, though it could keep one busy with the rim shots that ought to follow the endless stream of puns and one-liners in the between-song banter and the tunes themselves. At one point, pedal steel guitarist and banjo player Tom Pittman, who is also the bass in the Lizards’ surprisingly deft five-part harmonies, leaned into the microphone with a few God jokes, including an imitation of the Lord’s message machine: “I may be omnipresent, but I’m not here now, and I may be omniscient, but please leave your name and number.” Then Pittman launched into “Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You).” Other bits poked fun at George W. Bush, but Card is not a political appointee, so he needn’t worry when the subject of the Texas governor comes up. Politics, while not at the heart of the Lizards’ work, is a recurring theme. The band made a splash in the mid-90s with “Gingrich the Newt,” which suggests the then-speaker of the House was giving salamanders a bad name. Card says the band doesn’t get much grief for its political commentary, though he recalls, “There was a guy at some festival we played in Kentucky, chomping on a sno-cone, who was not too pleased with us” for playing the Gingrich song. Fortunately for Card, bass player Boo Resnick took the brunt of the verbal abuse that day. There’s even less law than politics in the Lizards act, though at the Birchmere they performed “Rock-and-Roll Lawyer.” Card does not sing the lead on that send-up of L.A. entertainment attorneys. Instead, it is Resnick who intones, “You want to breach a little contract, well, it can be done. You want to beat a cocaine rap, you’ve got to give me some.” Card has a simple explanation for the dearth of legal material. “I just haven’t thought of it as very funny,” he says. “The kind of law I do, I enjoy it. But it’s very dry. There’s room for satire, but the larger public wouldn’t really get it.” He says he occasionally sees the same people in court that he does when performing, but he hasn’t had any fans cross ethical lines and try to influence his judicial actions. Either the attorneys before him are exceedingly well-behaved, he says, “or I don’t have that much power.” He’s got a powerful voice, though, supple and nuanced and with considerable range. In fact, the Lizards’ close harmonies are smooth and sweet, and they are all excellent instrumentalists. If one took them seriously — and that would be a mistake — they’d make a fine, straightforward bluegrass band. In the interview, Card expresses genuine enthusiasm for his judicial post and says he would not forsake it for a musical career unless the band really took off. Until that happens, he’ll stick with the health benefits and steady pay that comes from being an ALJ. Or, as one of his bandmates told the Birchmere crowd, ” ‘Fabulously successful bluegrass band’ is an oxymoron.” The Birchmere performance ended with “On the Other Shore,” a gorgeous a capella gospel number that dwells on what we’ll find when we leave this world behind. As Card sings the lead about uniting a lifetime’s worth of single socks and seeing “every tiny plastic high heel Barbie ever wore,” his wrists sweep back and forth in front of him as though he is leading the choir. In fact, true religious singing is in the Cards, as is the law. Card’s father was an attorney, and his brother, Lee Card, is an associate district judge in Ardmore, Carter County, Okla. Ardmore’s Judge Card reports that his grandfather was conductor of the First Methodist Church in Medford, Okla., where they grew up. Lee Card is not a musician, but he appreciates the way Hank handles the rigors of music. “I love it,” says Lee Card of the Lizards’ music. “It’s interesting and enjoyable and funny. I’m very proud of him.” Bill Kisliuk is senior editor at Legal Times and writes “Aural Arguments,” an occasional column about popular music.

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