Monday, August 3, 2015

Just another brick in the wall

The standard tour of duty for an appellate court law clerk is two years. So, after two years working for the Indiana Supreme Court, I moved down the street to the Federal Courthouse and went to work as law clerk for Cale "Jail" Holder, Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Indiana.

Federal judges are a different breed of cat. There's an old joke about the Federal Judge who died and went to the Pearly Gates, seeking admission into Heaven. St. Peter blocked his entrance, saying, "We do not allow stinking Federal Judges into Heaven. We never have and we never will. You are all bastards, without exception."

Not to the thwarted so easily, the Judge looked around and pointed.

"What about that guy over there, sitting behind a judge's bench with a gavel and wearing a black robe? He looks like a Federal Judge to me. What about him?

"Nope," St. Peter said. "That's God. He only thinks He's a Federal Judge."

Working for a federal trial judge was a lot more fun than was working for an appellate court. We had road trips. The judges for the Southern District of Indiana lived and worked in Indianapolis, but the court had branch offices in New Albany, Evansville and Terre Haute. In the 1970s there were four District Court Judges in Indianapolis. The senior judge stayed home, but the other three rotated holding court in the remote divisions. In springtime Judge Holder and his entire staff hit the road and spent about three weeks living out of a motel during the week in Evansville. We drove back to Indianapolis for the weekends. In autumn, it was two weeks in New Albany, and four weeks in Terre Haute in winter. The different length of time in each division resulted from the different size of the caseloads. Evansville is a bigger city than is New Albany and Terre Haute has two federal prisons that generated a lot of inmate lawsuits, and criminal prosecution for being bad while in jail.

Terre Haute was my least favorite place, as a city, but it was the most entertaining. I think I'm allergic to something in the air there. Evey trip I'd break out in tiny blisters on my hands. I got a tour of the federal maximum security prison, where Timothy McVeigh was executed years later,  that most others couldn't buy their way into. One of the perks of working for a federal judge is the opportunity to be terrified by bad men behind bars just for the fun of it.

Judge Holder was different from most of the other judges, who tended to remain distant from their staff. With Judge Holder, we were family. We all stayed in the cheapest motel he could find so that we always made money on our federal per diam expense reimbursement, and we ate all our meals together.

Another perk was free whiskey. Working for Judge Holder is when I developed my fondness for Bourbon. Specifically, Early Times. Judge Holder always brought the biggest bottle of Early Times you could buy. The size of bottle with a handle molded into the glass. We never ran out of whiskey.

After work, we would all gather in the Judge's motel room, eat chips, listen to his stories and drink Early Times until we we primed for supper. Judge Holder always drove and he knew the best out-of-the-way restaurants in town.

Getting to see Larry Bird  play a home game his senior year at Indiana State was special, but it's hard to beat being chauffeured around town by a drunk federal judge telling dirty jokes.

R.I.P Cale Holder. I love you.

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