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It takes a Great Person to Make a Great Judge


I readily admit that I am an outspoken critic of the criminal justice system.  I think it our duty as participants to do our best to make the system better. To me, that means I should do my best on my cases and I should speak honestly about problems I see in the system.

To be sure, not everything about the system is bad or wrong. In fact, I would say that many parts of our criminal justice system are outstanding.  I would also say that many participants in our system do an outstanding job. My ongoing criticism of the system  should never be interpreted as a complete rejection of the American Criminal Justice System.  I dont reject our system, I just want it to be as fair and impartial as I know it can be.

It has been suggested that I just dont like judges.  That makes me laugh, because I like people, and I like  most judges that I know.  I am critical of our State and County Court judges for some of the policies they impliment and perpetuate.  That does not  mean that I personally dislike these folks. I  like most people, and I dont discriminate against folks just because they wear a robe to work.

I think being a good judge must be very hard. President Abraham Lincoln said if you want to test a man’s charachter, ” Give him power”.  I certainly agree with President Lincoln. Over the years we have all seen  judges who have failed the charachter test. We have all  seen judges who let the power go to their head.  We call it “Robitis” or the ” Dreaded black robe disease”.  We have all seen it and we have all suffered it.

One is imbued  with  enormous power on the bench. To be a great judge,  one truly must be a great person.  I have known  good and great judges in my life.  They have served as an inspiration to me in my practice. They have also served as a measuring stick, when I am in front of a not so great judge.

I will give you an example of a great Judge.  It is easy for me to talk about him as, I tried my longest case ever in front of him.  The trial was in 1994 and I was 37 years old.  It was a Federal drug conspiracy case involving 10 co-defendants. The trial lasted nine weeks. My client was charged with 5 federal drug counts. At the end of the trial my client was acquited on all  counts.  I recall in celebration, as he heard the ” Not Guilties”  announced, he poured a cup of water his head. 5 other defendants were acquitted as well.  I learned a lot during that trial.  As much as anything, I learned what it took to be a great judge. I learned this  by watching the Honorable John Rainey.

Judge Rainey is a Federal District Court Judge sitting in Victoria. I rarely get to appear in front of him anymore. But in years past, I  had several trials in front of him.  Judge Rainey was always pleasant.  He was patient with all  of us. He listened to our arguments and  stayed open-minded. He was confident in himself, but never arrogant or demeaning to any of  us.  He kept a good-sense of humor.  He knew the law and if he didnt know it, he took the time to learn it before ruling.  Finally,  he was  fair. He did not involve himself in the case. That is to say, if he had a side, it certainly was never apparent. He let both sides try their case and he never tried to sway the jury.  In my opinion- for all the reasons I just stated, Judge John Rainey is a great judge.  I believe he is a great judge because, he is a great man.  He has humility. I think humilty is key to  greatness.

We have great and good judges in Houston. We also have  “the other kind”.  I hope more judges, especially new judges in state and county court will try more to emulate Judge Rainey.  I also hope that the great and good judges that we have within the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, will join me in my efforts to reform  the system.

Robb Fickman, Houston.

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