To the Editor:
I will give John Branston credit for the things he does well, such as recognizing that he is using an imperfect indicator of judicial performance - the number of hours a judge spends on the bench (City Beat, August 4th issue) - or pointing out that the media have no real training or expertise in the law or legal system, which might validate the reports or opinions expressed. By the same token, I will not pass over his erroneous assumption that judges only carry out their responsibilities when they are sitting in open court. A bit more background research should have been done before printing what appears to be condemnation of our judicial officers.
Besides sitting in courtrooms hearing testimony and arguments, judges have to know the laws applicable to their cases. It would not be efficient for judges to sit on the bench in open court to read regulations, amendments to statutes, or recent cases, requiring bailiffs and clerks to be on duty. Likewise, reviewing exhibits, reports, documents, or transcripts can probably be better accomplished in chambers or elsewhere. Preparing opinions or orders is another function for which the judge need not be in open court. And these are not all the functions our judges fill. Some attend to the smooth operation of the system in administrative positions; others assist in the preparation or fine-tuning of legislation; and others participate in efforts to improve responsiveness of the judicial system locally, nationally, or even internationally. So, the number of hours a judge spends in the courtroom is no accurate measure of performance. Criticism on that scale is unfair.
Erich M. Shultz
To the Editor:
To judge a judge based on how many hours a courtroom bailiff appears in his court is like judging a surgeon based on how many hours it takes him to complete an operation or judging a columnist based on how many hours it takes him to write a column. The true measure of a judge is not how many hours he spends on the bench each day but whether litigants can resolve their disputes within a reasonable time and with a fair result.
Editor's note: See John Branston's follow-up article on page 9.
To the Editor:
I see from your editorial ("Don't Hide Our Past," July 28th issue) and an August 5th article in The New York Times that Memphis is again after its favorite whipping boy, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Let me try to understand the "thinking": General Forrest is a prominent figure in our Confederate heritage, so his statue should be torn down, he and his wife should be dug up and buried somewhere else, and the park should be renamed. Using this same "logic," we should tear down the Buffalo Soldier statue in Washington, D.C. These brave cavalrymen clearly didn't get their reputation for their hunting skills.
Is that what we should do? Of course not! If we are to have inclusiveness in our nation, we have to recognize what we are a rich fabric of race, culture, and heritage. To have inclusiveness, we have to appreciate and respect our differences.
Joseph L. Bass
Criminals Cause Crime
To the Editor:
I am a conservative Memphian of color who reads your "liberal rag" with pleasure every week. I enjoy the intelligent writing, and the cost can't be beat. However, a recent article written by Janel Davis ("Ganging Up," July 28th issue) was disturbing to me because it didn't focus on the real root cause of crime in Memphis.
I know bleeding hearts hate to hear it, but it must be said: Criminals cause crime. A criminal is someone who has a total disregard for another person's well-being and the rule of law. Many of these individuals will stop breaking the law only when they know the punishment for their criminal behavior will be sure, swift, and substantial.
I am glad local police are unwilling to schedule "talks" with neighborhood thugs, because this would appear to elevate their status from common criminals to community leaders. Yet, the subtitle of the article falsely states that members of the newly formed Felony Assault Unit "don't plan to confront gang members." I can guarantee that most law-enforcement officials in this area plan to confront gang members during criminal interrogations and arrests - not during community meetings. When these gang leaders are willing to openly denounce their lifestyle, maybe then we will talk.
Harold M. Baker