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Re-election brings reflection on joys of serving as District Judge

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“I am thankful to God for this approval of the people. But while deeply grateful for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over anyone.” (Abraham Lincoln’s response to a serenade on Nov. 8, 1864.) 

I write this letter to thank the people of the 20th Judicial District for giving me yet another opportunity to serve under the law and Constitutions we as a people have imposed upon ourselves. I never dreamed I would become a judge, but through this job, I have discovered the incredible strength of the people I serve. I sit on criminal cases, dissolutions, property disputes, personal injury cases and abuse and neglected children cases. I have at my disposal only a bench, a gavel and a robe to ask those who come before me to respect the judgment the law requires. I have watched as people lost their liberty, their children and their property and walked out to live their life under the order imposed by the law but delivered by me. 

This system only works because we as a people have agreed to accept our courts and law as the final arbitrator of our disputes. As an attorney when I stood before the court, the bench looked incredibly tall and the robe looked seriously black. I did not realize until I took the bench 12 years ago how fragile our system of ultimate dispute resolution is.   

The high point for me this past year was the chance to have personal contact again with the people I serve. The isolation required by this job is a hardship. when that regular contact was, for me, the best part of being an attorney. The campaign allowed me the opportunity to be out in the public without compromising the impartiality required of a judge. During the course of this campaign, I spoke with the mother of a man I sentenced to life in prison. Her comments I will forever cherish as she shared, even in view of what had happened to her son, she believed I understood him and the circumstances of the crime. What an incredible gift. More than once, people approached me to tell me even though I had ruled against them, decided their divorce or child’s custody or sentenced them, they believed they had been heard and I was fair. These statements are all the more precious to me. 

Although many people believe a judge likely has at least the thanks of one of the parties before the court, it is much more typical both parties walk out of the courtroom frustrated with the judge. Additionally, both me and the juries I instruct in the law of the case must follow the law as it is, even if we don’t like the law, don’t want to impose that law or think the law ought to be otherwise. Those decisions by the juries or by me in the course of a case are the hardest part of the job. However, the creation of the law is the province of the people through our Constitutions and through our legislative branch.

Finally, I am thankful to work in a place I want to live, doing a job that is challenging for me, for people about whom I care. While I am clear my role is to apply the law as given me by the people I serve, I never walk through the door into the courtroom without asking 

God’s will be done and may he give me the words to serve. 

If I am good at my job, it is much more a function of God’s blessings and quality and principles my parents taught me than it is anything I personally can do. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others”   (Ethics 1949). 

My life has been incredibly rich. Thank you. 

(Editor’s note: Judge Deborah Kim Christopher was reelected to her District 20 seat in the Nov. 6 election.)

 

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