Judge Steven Platt: New Year’s Resolutions for Judges, Politicians and Policymakers
By Steven I. Platt
The author is a Senior Circuit Court Judge.
With the new year here, I welcome the opportunity, in this space provided by Maryland Matters, to reflect on the past 15 years since I “retired” as a full-time judge and am entered a very different world of private alternative dispute resolution, consulting, as well as public speaking, lecturing and teaching for various national and even international organizations. I was also fortunate and honored during this period to have been approved by the Court of Appeal to be recalled as a judge and I did so with enthusiasm and learned even more with the added perspective of my other work and experiences incorporated into my decision-making.
That said, and with, I hope, the right degree of humility, as well as a recognition that our hopes and dreams should not be born out of naivety or unrealistic expectations of ourselves, three branches of government or, for that matter, mankind race, I propose the following, and hopefully improved from previous years, based on new experiences and additional insights, suggested resolutions New Year’s Eve 2022 for judges, politicians and decision makers.
1. Do not refuse to refer to reality when making personal, political, legal and even medical decisions. You can help this process by listening and paying attention to people and ideas you disagree with, instead of reinforcing or restricting your sights and sounds to sights and words that reinforce your previous opinions.
2. Don’t even try to defend the indefensible. It won’t work.
3. Recognize that isolating yourself, your community, and even your country, whether you are president, governor, legislator, political or community leader, policy maker, or even judge, will not make the complexity of an increasingly complicated world go away. Rather, it will make your decision-making progressively more flawed and exponentially more dangerous to you and those affected by your self-inflicted faulty judgment.
4. Recognize that the choices you desire are usually not the options that reality dictates you should choose from. Wishing otherwise will not change this reality.
5. Do not insist that the “other side” accept and subscribe to your perception of reality as a precondition for further communication, whether this “other side” competes with you or attempts to collaborate with you. Better to analyze and address the interests of your counterparts in the context of their reality if you want to move your idea or process forward.
6. If you attempt to persuade a third party of the correctness or wisdom of your position on an issue, whether that third party be a jury, a judge, the voters of a federal, state, or municipal district, or the representatives elected or appointed put there by the voters to decide your fate or that of your client, do not forget or ignore who these people are and the intellectual world in which they live. It would be fatal to your cause.
7. Be intellectually curious if it’s part of your DNA. If not, consult with the best and brightest in the medical profession to arrange a DNA transfusion from a known intellectually curious person. Your life will be much more interesting and fulfilling.
8. Recognize that there are many “monuments to perseverance” whose success in their chosen professional, business or personal field was, in large part, the result of their perseverance. Perseverance in pursuit of a good idea is worth emulating.
My favorite illustration of this came from my now deceased friend and mentor, the first Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland, Robert F. Sweeney, who in a retirement interview reflected on what it took to accomplish what Governor Marvin Mandel had described as a “gargantuan task” – the creation and establishment of a new court, the Maryland District Court.
On May 5, 1971, while being sworn in as the first Chief Justice and at the time the only District Court Judge, Chief Justice Sweeney said, “To the best of my ability I will endeavor to to make this court what the people of Maryland are entitled to have it: A court of integrity and a forum in which the personal and property rights of all citizens can be adjudicated freely and fairly by judges who know the law – judges who are dedicated to the principle of equal justice under the law for all.
On his retirement a quarter of a century later, illustrating the wisdom and concomitant success of persistently confronting the reality of a corrupt culture to achieve this goal, Chief Justice Sweeney recounted that experience as follows: “He there were judges who were racist, who had drinking problems, who beat their wives and who thought they had found the best 10-2 job in the world. I survived the bastards. Their entire collection.
The moral of this story is obvious. The landmark is the District Court of Maryland!
9. Share the optimism of Bernard Baruch, adviser to four presidents, for the future based on his belief “in the power of the human spirit to deal with life’s problems”. Share his conclusion after a lifetime of advising presidents that “Humanity owes its sorrows only to the abandonment of reason.” We must therefore heed the warning based on history and experience that our failures as individuals and communities have been and will be the consequences of “thoughtless action”, which usually follows unaccompanied thoughts. and therefore devoid of analysis.
10. Believe, as Bernard Baruch did, that our society can actually solve our problems by placing our trust in the intellect, reason, wisdom and unfettered compassion of intelligent individuals and not in crowds.
I would like to note these suggested New Year’s resolutions with the following reflection based on my continued observations of the three branches of government and the politics, economics and psychology that drive them – the collective blogosphere, talk radio, television cable, internet, and advocacy groups, politicians, and other public figures, whether they claim omniscience, heavenly blessings, or other supernatural powers or origins, address no reality other than their own. That said, let’s try the analysis in 2022 – we might like it.
Anyway, happy new year!