Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Carl Horn: A Judge Now Sees Shades of Gray

Nice article in yesterday's Charlotte Observer about Carl Horn, outgoing federal magistrate judge:

It notes:

In a 2003 article for a legal journal, for example, he bemoaned the “heavy-handed exercise of prosecutorial power” and described some prosecutors as “arrogant bullies.”

(The full article can be found here and is well worth reading.)

I quoted him from this article in an earlier post (Telling Secrets) and will repeat it here:

While judges and an increasing number of lawyers realize we have a serious imbalance in our federal criminal system, most of the public still does not. In
fact, the most often recurring comment I hear from friends or those who learn what I do for a living is some version of "Lock 'em up and throw away the key." Without putting the speaker down, my usual response begins something like, "You know, after over 15 years as a prosecutor and judge, I don't feel that way at all." Many constructive conversations have followed.

Take every opportunity to "spread the word." In addition to one-on-one communications, consider writing an opinion piece for your local paper or for your state and/or local bar publications. Write succinct letters to the editor that tell, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" when related news is reported or opinion expressed. Accept, or even seek, opportunities to speak to civic, church, and other local clubs and groups. Appear on local television programs when invited. Little by little we must spread the word to the thinking and voting public - who, incidentally, also serve on our juries - if meaningful reform is to be achieved.

I appreciate his personal growth because to some degree it mirrors mine. In the Charlotte Observer article I linked to above, it says:

he was a Reagan Republican backed by the late Sen. Jesse Helms' machine. Today he's a registered independent with a pragmatic philosophy he describes as “more eclectic.”
Horn stated:
I remember my father saying the older he got, the grayer things are,” says Horn,
57. “I've had a similar experience. … There's an awful lot of the public policy
world that's gray.

I wish there were more federal judges like him.


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