Tom Fitzpatrick most definitely isn’t Irish. Trouble is, many times people don’t believe who he says he is…or isn’t. Like a few months back he wore a big round campaign button, on one of his fashionable suit lapels. It declared: ‘Tom Fitzpatrick for Judge’.
In case you’ve been sick or drinking in Buffalo you may have forgotten that in Pennsylvania — from which Philadelphia refuses to relocate — we elect most of our common pleas and municipal court judges.
Their names are dispersed on the ballot by a ludicrous lottery system that demonstrates that electoral success ain’t nothing but dumb, dumber, dumbest — and whatever comes exponentially after that — luck.
As a result, we get a lot of bad legal referees elected by good people who didn’t vote because they have no bloody idea who the hell they should be voting for.
Hmm… And it’s all USDA approved. Because we keep swallowing the bullshit – biodegradable or not.
Anyway, Tom was attending this campaign function when this Irish fellow walked up to him, scanned his big black and white button and said: “You know, I’d like to meet him.”
And Tom, in his deep, timbered, cigar voice, smiled all politely and replied: “Well, you are meeting him. That’s me. I am Tom Fitzpatrick.”
The Irishman in an expensive suit, smiled back. Chortled. Patted Tom on his massive shoulders as he walked away bemused: “Yeah, sure.” And then said again: “Really, I’d like to meet him some time.”
So let me say it again: Tom Fitzpatrick definitely ain’t no Irishman. Unless you mistakenly confuse him with being one of those Black Irishman. You know, kind-of-like those Northern Irelanders who arrive in America about the same manner and means many Hispanics do these days, and get busy at tradesmen’s jobs. Like helping me rebuild my house back a ways. Sending the money home to the IRA and drinking vast sums of my whiskey in a manner that struck me with both terror and awe.
To be Irish – like being Jewish – is not to have a nationality, but a psychosis. So Tom ain’t got no Irish in his blood. He doesn’t even wake up each morning with a hangover.
Tom is black. Very black. And he’s big. Very big. Not fat, by any means, mind you. But big arms and thick shoulders. And a head the size of a beach ball, with an inviting smile more seducing than a woman in half a bikini.
In mass alone he’s big enough to be your whole backfield in motion. Which he was when he came east to the Philadelphia region from Detroit to study and play football for Villanova University. And then he put his brains to sacking a-law-today-is-law-gone-tomorrow books at Villanova Law School.
And, by the way, even though, he is my least favorite animal, mineral or vegetable – that is, a lawyer – he’s one of those people who should have gotten elected. He should be a judge.
Of course, that recommendation may sound a little hollow coming from me — a guy whose ex-wife used my head for a piñata, even on days it wasn’t George Washington’s birthday.
Now, I don’t say good things about many folks, even all the judges who regularly dismissed all the charges my mentally incarcerated former-spouse used to recurrently file against me.
I’m not even pushing for Tom Fitzpatrick, mind you. Anymore than I was not pushing for Troy Davis down in Georgia not to be executed. I hardly know him, except for two lengthy conversations over the past 6 months while we inhaled and exhaled our cigar smoke.
But what I do know after all those years as a journalist and gadfly about the globe: Some folks got the right stuff. And other elected folks should get the stuffing knocked out of their long black robes.
Let’s face facts: Just because I’m convinced that many Judges ought to be required to drink heavily from breakfast through lunch that doesn’t mean they still won’t be lousy judges — only more palatable.
Sadly, and truth being what it is, someone’s got to be the judge. And I try not to speak poorly about dead people and live judges. (Okay… perhaps I should be in the 12-step program.)
But let’s call a dirty rotten scoundrel what he is: A judge ain’t nothing but a lawyer in a robe that all too often won’t stay closed. And we all know that lawyers, for the most part, are just like our hearts: they only want our blood.
But the question is: what beast of compassionate burden would you rather have perched on the courtroom highchair: A husband who’s been stabbed 37 times in the back, or the wife who obviously showed great restraint.
Hmm…. And you thought this was a trick question?
Anyway, as President Obama once stipulated: “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old – and that’s the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges.”
Okay, if you’ve got that, you’ve got Tom Fitzpatrick . But, as we know, a witch’s brew of good people and the political process is why bug-eyed corpses stack up at the morgue. That is, after they’ve already voted at least twice.
Look, human nature and stoopidity being what it is, the system doesn’t seem so terrible if you’re guilty and got off. But I know personally, there are too many damn things amok in our courtrooms. And I won’t go into them all here.
But let me give you the tip of a long life time: A good organization is good simply because it has good people from top to bottom. And not the slime and smarmy meshugehnahs we’ve got now.
Yet, as Tom duly related: “Just because a judge makes what we qualify as a bad decision now and then, that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad judge. Bad judges are bad because they lack perspective.”
Hmmm…. See, why I sort of like the big lug. He’s got all this magnanimity. Me, I don’t want to absolve ANY lawyer until his tail quits twitching for five minutes after I hang him.
But it is perspective that gives a man his common sense. And perspective don’t come from no books; it’s reaped exactly where the seeds of common sense are sown — and that is from experience.
Think of this for a moment: Tom’s mother and father were drop-outs and started planting a family at an age even younger than when most of us are still trying to figure out how to get planted.
Eventually they would both later gain their GEDs. His mother became a nurse. His father, who lost quite a few rounds with the drug demons, is a truck driver. In fact, at one point his very religious mother had had it with his father’s demonic forays and divorced him. But, not long after, remarried the stubborn mule because she felt it was the right thing to do.
“Must be Baptist,” I said.
“Of course,” he laughed.
Another time Tom had a case involving rape and drugs and dubious testimony. His father told Tom that that’s not the way those sex-for-drug deals usually go down. And so it turned out.
“It all provides me with great insight,” related Tom, who spent 7 years with the DA’s office in the felony and sex divisions before going off on his own firm. By now he long figures he’s got the perspective to listen and the wisdom to hear.
Hmm…the man goes deep even when he’s not playing football.
Look, all I want is a judge who is wise – not otherwise. One that doesn’t put up with all the baloney and malarkey that those pernicious, overdressed pettifoggers keep throwing against the venal, sticky walls of our criminal, criminal injustice system.
Last election – his first dip into the political cesspool — Tom drew the highest numbered marble to become the last man seated on a ballot of some 40 or 50 wannabe judiciary beacons for the Court of Common Pleas.
He had to go out and meet and greet Philadelphia’s ‘finest’ ward leaders and committeemen – the same folks that caused former mayor Bill Green to ponder immolating himself rather than even consider shaking their hands for a second term.
Didn’t matter though. Tom was dead last on the ballot, and therefore, dead last in the polls.
There’s got to be a better system combining appointment with selection with placement on the ballet. In other parts of the country a candidate is in different ballot positions in different wards. Which seems to be a genuine idea.
Let me say it plain and unfancy: Judges are the weakest link in our judicial system, and they are also the most protected.
We need judges who have perspective, who know more than the moronic lawyers and are quite forthright in readily kicking them and their cases the hell out of court. We need judges who are trained – trained better, trained well, trained to be judges at better institutions than they are now.
So how do we inoculate others with something like the knowledge and wisdom and perspective I think Tom Fitzpatrick harbors in some form and fashion?
I have no idea…except…I know it takes recognizing the difference between the ‘text and substance’ of the law versus comprehending its ‘results and consequences’. A year clerking in a Nebraska slaughterhouse ought to provide that.
Meanwhile life continues on the courthouse steps where the joke is: What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 55?…….. Your Honor.
Unfortunately, in too many courtrooms, that’s no joke.
And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony.