The Blog

Saying Goodbye to a Great One

Of big bands, a big man and Janice Rogers Brown.

12:00 AM, Jun 1, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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WHEN LYNDON JOHNSON made the historic appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967, all was not sweetness and light. The honorable gentleman who had formerly served as Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan--West Virginia's Robert Byrd--believed that Marshall was too liberal and asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to look into Marshall's possible Communist connections. Senator Edward Kennedy chided Byrd and other Southern senators who opposed Marshall's nomination, instructing them on the appropriate criteria to use in evaluating the nomination. According to Kennedy, only the nominee's "background, experience, qualifications, temperament, and integrity" were to be considered.

Today, of course, Senator Byrd opposes President Bush's nomination of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on the ground that she is too conservative, as he had earlier opposed Clarence Thomas's confirmation to the Supreme Court. Byrd holds the distinction of being the only senator to have voted against both black nominees to the United States Supreme Court. And Senator Kennedy opposes Brown's nomination for reasons having mostly to do with her political views. It's difficult to take either Byrd or Kennedy seriously. We look to them rather as a significant part of the Senate's ongoing contribution to the human comedy. Those seeking insight into the qualifications of Justice Brown for high office must look elsewhere.

WHEN I NOTED the anniversary of the birth of big band leader Artie Shaw last week on Power Line, I received an email from Justice George Nicholson of California's Third District Court of Appeal. Justice Nicholson wrote to pay tribute to his late colleague Justice Robert Puglia, and to his former colleague Justice Brown, who served on the court before her elevation to the California Supreme Court:

I just read your post on Artie Shaw. We lost a remarkable jurist, Presiding Justice Robert K. Puglia, a few weeks ago to cancer. Too soon! Justice Puglia was a Big Band expert. He maintained a collection of thousands of discs. He had a photographic memory, of the law, of the Civil War, and many other things, including the Big Bands. Shaw was one of his favorites.

When Bob was diagnosed in January of this year, he was in robust health. He rode his bike 20 miles a day, on a river trail near his home, several days a week. He was gone but two months later. In that short period his health [and] strength declined precipitously and quickly. He was unable to accept visitors. We decided to visit him, through the radio, with his Big Band music. We had discreetly inquired of him what were some of his favorites. His children then "borrowed" the discs that contained the 13 songs we used.

Bob was a Boalt Hall alum, but the joy of his undergraduate years at Ohio State and his devotion to the Buckeyes continued to his death. So we asked Jerry Healey, the "voice" of the Buckeyes for many years, to host the radio show. Thirteen of Bob's friends, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and California Supreme Justice Janice Rogers Brown, spoke to him briefly and each introduced one of the 13 songs. Bob heard and tearfully enjoyed the program about a week before he died.

You may listen and, perhaps, post a link to the Big Band Tribute to Presiding Justice Robert K. Puglia for your readers, by going here.

Ours is a unique legal community. We take care of one another and aid those among us who need help. Justice Puglia was the best among us at that. He was a mentor to lawyers and judges, especially his colleagues on the Third Appellate District, for more than the quarter century he served that court as presiding justice. He was my mentor for decades. More importantly, he was Justice Janice Rogers Brown's mentor. She wrote and delivered the most compelling eulogy to him I have ever heard. She was in tears as she delivered it. So, too, were the 1,500 of us who attended the memorial service . . . The tears became torrents as Justice Brown closed.

Justice Brown's eulogy deserves consideration amid the current controversies for the light it sheds on her as well as on Justice Puglia. Every great judge must hold in his mind's eye some model of wisdom, restraint, impartiality, humility, humor, decency, and respect for legal authority. For Justice Brown, it appears that Justice Puglia was both her mentor and role model. Her eulogy of Justice Puglia itself demonstrates the qualities that make a great judge. Here it is: