Yield Excerpt

What is it like to be a judge? At nearly every event I attend, people ask me that.

My short answer is: Great! or It's fine! What it is like to be a judge is much too complex to be answered in any brief manner.

Shortly after I was elected as judge in Harris County, (Houston, Texas) Criminal Court No. 5, I attended New Judges' School in Dallas with other newly elected judicial colleagues from all over Texas. One December evening, our instructors discussed selecting one or more of us to keep a diary about our first-year experiences on the bench in upcoming 1999.

Civil court Judge Caroline Baker of Houston spoke, telling us that although she failed to maintain the discipline of a daily judicial diary, she would share some memories from her first year. But her remarks were humorous, Gee Whiz! I-can't-believe-that-happened, zany anecdotes. No real insights to gritty behind-the-scenes experiences.

Although I wasn't selected to keep a diary to read to new Texas judges in a future year, the suggestion gave me the idea for this book. I kept such a daily diary: detailed, meticulous, contemporaneous, unfailing.

There is something voyeuristic about reading someone else's diary, verbal eavesdropping-- forbidden fruit. Reaching in the closed drawer for the book when the author is absent, surreptitiously reading the very personal entries.

My other inspiration for Yield was best-selling author Scott Turow's first book, One L, based on a journal Turow secretly kept during his first year as a student at Harvard Law School. In 1970, The Making of a Surgeon, a diary-like book by Dr. William A. Nolen, made a popular literary splash as the memoir of an apprentice physician.

In my writing effort, I had at least two advantages most judges don't have: I worked as a print journalist for about 14 years before becoming an attorney and judge. And I had served for about three years as a part-time associate judge in Houston's busy municipal court--not the same as full-time county criminal court, but helpful as background.

Although it is nonfiction, my narrative is subjective. My description of events may differ from the memory of others. Perspectives vary with the perceiver. Yield is my first judicial year in county criminal court No. 5 in Houston, Texas from my point of view. I don't know if my Texas experiences were typical or atypical. I can only describe them. I can not say whether civil court is the same. Nor can I extrapolate to what degree my experience might mirror that of any other judge from any other jurisdiction.

Before reading Yield, erase from your mind all images of television's popular courtroom wag Judge Judy. Judge Judy it's not. Judy Sheindlin's TV show is entertainment, theater--not reality. Her tart-tongued presentation has nothing to do with being a real judge.

Erase, too, scenes from another popular television show, "Law & Order," with its florid judges, well-groomed articulate prosecutors and packaged legal issues resolved within an hour. Entertaining, but only a passing resemblance to reality.

Yield isn't warn 'n' fuzzy, either. Regrettably, there are no heroes, and only a few heroines.

Readers who imagine judges fly above backstabbing, down-and-dirty political frays are in for a shock. Yield details cold, hard-ball political realities usually acknowledged only among insiders of our judicial club--never to the public--until now. You aren't going to read sentimental, touching, poignancies about "justice."

There is a tremendous public curiosity about judges. The recent spotlight on U.S. Supreme Court nominees evidences that abiding public/media interest.

Judges are "hot." Who the heck are judges, anyway?

I hope some of this curiosity will be assuaged by Yield.

As far as my research can reveal, a similar book by a judge has never been published.

You noticed the $ sign in the title. Money plays a bigger role in judicial life than most "civilians" imagine, at least in Harris County, Texas. The title Yield is a play on words, referring to both dictionary meanings: to give in under pressure, surrender; and monetary profit or interest.

In 1999, I experienced both definitions, separately and inter-linked. It was a brutal year. But I kept writing, recording it all in my journals as it happened.

--Judge Janice Law, Houston, Texas

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