Of late, I’d see him during lunch at Lumpy’s Downtown. Retired now and beaten back by disease and loneliness (Winder lost his beloved wife a couple of years ago), Judge—many of his friends simply called him Judge—never hesitated to say hello and offer good wishes. When he died last week, the resounding whoosh heard throughout Utah was the exhaled breaths of those who knew him—as in, if you think there will ever be a finer and more balanced judge serving on the Utah bench in your lifetime, don’t hold your breath.
Judge was a President Jimmy Carter appointment to the federal bench, so that might tell you he was a different breed than much of Utah’s judiciary. That he didn’t mind wearing a bit of a modish hairstyle or being seen in private clubs (where I suspect he found comfort mingling with the common folks) tells you something as well. We talked about many things but never a word about a case he was hearing and seldom about a case of his lost to history. We talked mostly politics and personalities. I know how he felt about presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, about Vice President Cheney, about torture, about both Iraq wars, about discrimination, about certain lawyers, about the separation of church and state, about a free press, about City Weekly.
He faithfully read City Weekly. He knew plenty about me. He’d tell me how he agreed or not with something I or another author had written. In either case, he delivered his message evenly, without hint of anything other than nurturing, and always with an eye to a particular sentence or phrase that struck him. At such times, it was easy to agree with those who knew him from the courtroom that Judge was a deep thinker who was always thoroughly prepared. A City Weekly favorite of his was the Dan Perkins comic strip Tom Tomorrow. When I delivered him a Tom Tomorrow book and a Dan Perkins autograph, he reacted as if I were a rock star. The feeling was mutual.
When I last saw him, he was looking pretty good. Looks, as it turned out, were deceiving. Just a few weeks later, he will be getting his final respects paid at the Matheson Court House. I cannot attend for reasons I’m sure Judge would understand. In any case, I couldn’t ask him what I’d like to know from him right now. I’d ask him what he thinks of President Obama choosing a Latina woman to become seated as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. I can safely predict he’d like that, but I can also predict that he’d comment one way or the other about Sonia Sotomayor’s qualifications—not only to be a judge, but to be a Supreme one.
I’d also ask him to clarify a portion of Tuesday’s ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding the results of November 2008’s Prop 8 vote. He would note that courts seldom overturn a referendum vote of the people. So I wouldn’t ask him about that. I’d ask instead about the 18,000 same-sex marriages that occurred before the referendum. They’re still legal, according to the ruling, although California bans same-sex marriage. How can that be?
Perhaps he’d know if any Mormons have infiltrated the California Supreme Court. If that isn’t the case, then who, I’d wonder, will gay talking heads blame for today’s ruling? Themselves? Californians? Judge would remind me of the obvious: California has a strong conservative base that gave us both Nixon and Reagan. Which would be his way of saying sometimes bad things happen to good causes, and there’s no such thing as a sure thing in a ballot box. Or a courtroom. He would know.