Myron Gordon, R.I.P.

I only really knew Myron Gordon as a judge on senior status and tried only one case before him. It was a challenge by the NAACP to the method of electing judges in Milwaukee County. The plaintiffs alleged that county-wide elections of judges denied black voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their own choice and sought election of judges on the basis of sub-county districts. We represented the Wisconsin Judges Association, which had intervened as a defendant. The judges did not want to be elected from smaller districts in which voters might not appreciate the array of considerations facing a judge. I remember, in particular, the testimony of one of our client’s members who said that he did not wish to depend only on his neighbors in a North Shore suburb for reelection. He felt that it would make it very difficult for him to give a defendant from the inner city the benefit of the doubt.

At the time we tried the case (1996), black candidates for judicial office had not done well in Milwaukee County. That has changed, but not because the plaintiffs prevailed. Judge Gordon ruled in our favor and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. I’d like to think that events — subsequent successes by black candidates on a county wide basis — have validated his judgment, but I may not be the best one to make that judgment.

Judge Gordon wasn’t — on the bench — a warm person.

He was demanding. He expected good lawyering and strove to deliver good judging. He was one of the first judges in the district to impose time limits on trial lawyers. Although he occasionally sliced that loaf a bit too thin, he was right in recognizing that a command to brevity concentrates the mind.

Yet he wasn’t unreasonable. It was not about his calendar and how delay made him look. It was not about how much more he knew than the lawyers before him. It was about doing justice in a way that people had a right to expect and about which we involved in the process could be proud.

I think he made the lawyers before him better. I think he made himself better. I know that, in the few instances when I appeared before him, he made me better.


Cross posted at Shark and Shepherd.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Alan Borsuk

    I think this offers a very good perspective on Judge Gordon. I covered him as a Milwaukee Journal reporter assigned to federal courts in the early 1970’s and knew him personally a little bit from his time living in Madison when he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He was as demanding on the bench as he was affable off the bench. But I think everyone who came before him knew you could have taken one of those signs hanging on Milwaukee Public Schools buildings in recent years — “High standards start here” — and put it up in Judge Gordon’s courtroom.

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