Thursday, July 10, 2014

On the late Judge Turk

I enjoyed my dealings with Judge Turk of the W.D. Va., including a couple of jury trials and a bunch of hearings, and seeing him at the courthouse many times and a few times at the judicial conference.

Years ago I represented an older woman in a case before Judge Turk. She was a super lady, somehow referred to me by the NAACP. The lawyer on the other side was from D.C. The security officer asked if I wanted the hearing in the courtroom. I tried not to laugh and said no, so we all went back into the library, gathered around a single table - my client, her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild, the judge, and opposing counsel. Baby Girl his little dog was there. It was more like a prayer meeting than a summary judgment hearing, with a few amens from the congregation. The judge talked to everybody - including the little girl - about everything, then declared the case needed to be settled and got the magistrate judge on the phone and set the date for a settlement conference on the spot, and told the D.C. lawyer to offer something. The D.C. lawyer was a bit non-plussed. The gist was that Judge Turk thought we had no case but wanted us not to go away empty-handed - even if all we got was some kind words from him.

Roy Wolfe, the former magistrate, told me that there were no rules in the Western District other than Judge Turk's hearsay rule, which was "I'll let it in for what it's worth." A few years later, at the first trial I had before Judge Turk, I impeached the plaintiff's expert pretty well I thought, to the point I asked Judge Turk to rule that his opinions were not even admissible. The judge said no, he would let it in for what it's worth, with an inflection that suggested it was worth nothing. It was all I could do not to laugh.

Judge Turk loved juries. He figured that they would get it right, and if they didn't he could fix it. Judge Williams used to tell the story that Judge Turk was the only judge in America to ever try an ERISA case to the jury. At the memorial service for Judge Williams, I told the story of the juror who called me after a trial, which scared me to death. When we went in for post-trial motions, the first thing the judge said was "fellas, it's good to see ya, now tell me, what have you heard about what the jury was thinking when they decided this case?" Again I tried not to laugh.

One of the security guys in Abingdon told me a story once about the case where Judge Turk did not shake the criminal defendant's hand. The defendant was in court for violating his house arrest. The judge was unconvinced by his excuses. He was a restaurant owner. One of his character witnesses testified how his goal in life was to own a restaurant, and how much the defendant had helped him toward that goal. "Stick around," Judge Turk said. "There's going to be a restaurant up for sale here in just a few minutes." I don't know if that story is true but if not it ought to be.