I was the magistrate on call one morning when a young man I recognized was brought before me in an initial appearance. He had been a classmate with my oldest son. He was charged with DUI.
As I began to go over the paperwork with him, he said, “Mrs. Marple, just pretend that I am Smoothy” (my son’s nickname at the time).
I looked at him very seriously and told him, “I really don’t think you want me to do that.”
He didn’t know me well enough to know that I am what’s often called a “mean mom” and that I have carried my parenting style over into my judicial career. To positive effect, I must say.
Before I became a magistrate, I was a stay-at-home mom with three sons in middle and high school. I had always been an involved parent. I read everything I could about children and what was best for them. Consistency and love were consistently cited as essential.
I had been raised to “say what you mean and mean what you say,” and that’s what I did as a parent. If I grounded someone for a week, that week was seven days and not a day shorter. At times it broke my heart to keep one of my sons home from an activity because it was happening a day or two before their grounding was due to be over, but I knew that my credibility would be gone if I gave in.
Once my boys were all in middle and high school, I began to spend my days volunteering as a court monitor for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. At the time, many DUI cases in my community were dismissed at or before trial. The work, which involved attending all DUI court hearings, rekindled my love for the legal system. I had taken legal studies classes in high school and began a political science course in college, but I put that on hold to raise my children.
Not long after acquainting myself with the courts, our state legislature created additional magistrate positions for our county. I decided to run for one of the five positions. My campaign was door to door and word of mouth. I equate it to a job interview that lasted a year. I won my first election, in the primary, by only two votes!
During the first week of training before taking office, I met a seasoned magistrate who told me her best training was her experience as a mom. I found that hard to believe. This is the justice system, not a school or home event. How wrong I was!
I read the code, rules, case law and applied it all, of course, but I soon found that the necessary element was the consistency and understanding I had practiced for years.
I began to see the same people repeatedly in my court and hear the same excuses time after time.
I didn’t mean to do it.
It wasn’t my fault.
I’ve never been in trouble before.
I won’t do it again.
As a mom of more than one child, you learn to be a mediator. Brothers fighting over the same Matchbox car is not any different from neighbors fighting over a parking spot. If my sons could come to an agreement on their own, they would both get some play time. If not, neither would.
Although I love my job, there are times when I leave the courtroom and cry in my office. Life is sometimes very hard, and judges see that part of life every day.
We see the children who have been abused but still want to be with mom and/or dad.
We see the juvenile who is acting out, committing crimes, but is actually only looking for someone to love him.
We see the homeless, mentally ill addicts and the very cold, calculating criminal who has just beaten his 80-year-old grandmother to death.
I once had to see a young woman who had beaten an 18-month-old to death and then placed her in a bathtub to make it look like an accidental drowning. As I read the complaint, I realized that I knew the victim’s family. My middle son worked with the victim’s father. The victim was the same age as one of my granddaughters.
That day was very difficult for me. I left work and went to the mall to walk. I walked for five or six hours before going home.
Over the past 21 years, I have seen a variety of things that I never would have dreamed of seeing. Every time I think I’ve seen or heard everything, something new comes through the door. I am very blessed to have had life experiences — my upbringing, my parenting of my children — that I can use to help someone else.
I must never forget that the people I see every day have mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Although I am seeing them because of a troubled time in their life, they are human and make mistakes. They deserve to be treated with respect, unconditionally, just as a child is loved unconditionally.
I often think back to my days as a new magistrate and my training. All of it was good and necessary, but the best advice came from my mentor who said my experience as a mom would be my best training.
She was right.