To the editors:
As a prosecutor who practiced before Judge William Cousins, Jr. for approximately nine months, I must say that I had mixed reactions to your August 12th feature article on this esteemed jurist.
Admittedly, the article discussed some of his traits which are outstanding--his impeccable honesty, diligence, and scrupulousness--and he clearly possesses these traits in abundance.
However, there were other portions of the article with which I totally disagreed, or at the very least, left me with mixed feelings.
I had ambivalent feelings about your use of the term "Prince of Darkness." Even though this "name" or characterization did not originate with your reporter, I question the sensitivity of a writer who would include such a term, with its possible racial connotations.
I would also indicate that the article contains one factual inaccuracy that this reader noted. The author referred to a photograph in chambers, which showed several celebrants at the birthday party that is held yearly for Judge Cousins. The article noted that the photo showed "a dozen prosecutors--all but one of them white." Although Judge Cousins has had black prosecutors assigned to his courtroom from time to time (and I am one of them), the person referred to, and appearing in the picture, was Deputy Al Love, one of the backbones of the courtroom.
There are also aspects of the article which lead me to conclude that the writer, Steve Bogira, is not an attorney. He observes at various points that Judge Cousins "seems especially skittish about the possibility" of being reversed, "frets so much about being wrong," and has an "obsession with proving" his integrity.
All trial judges are concerned, as all attorneys know, with making a record for any court of review. To enable an appellate court to determine and decide any issues raised, an articulation of what evidence the judge considered and how he (or she) came to a ruling is essential. Any employed person, whether that person is a judge or a newspaper boy, is understandably and correctly interested in performing to the best of his abilities.
To characterize Judge Cousins' concerns as "skittish" and fretful is to display a lack of understanding of the judicial system in general, and of the well-reasoned and thorough opinions of Judge Cousins in particular.
Judge Cousins is a person who can well serve as a role model for other judges (as the practice of Judge Locallo attests to) and for our future at leaders.
To characterize his talk to the group of high school students as "sermonizing" and a "tedious Horatio Alger chronicle" is to fail to grasp the importance that such a talk to youths can have, and more importantly, it is to denigrate the accomplishments of a remarkable man.
What the writer characterized as an "extremely guarded nature" is totally consistent with what a good judge should be. He is not on the bench to provide entertainment or to let any personal opinions he might have become the overwhelming force on his decision--he is there to dispense justice, which he does forthrightly and evenhandedly, every day.
One measure of the esteem in which Judge Cousins is held was alluded to in the article--that being the birthday party which is held every year.
That party is attended by a cross-section of the legal community--judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court reporters and other support personnel. This diverse group comes together with one purpose--to show the high esteem and regard that judge Cousins is held in.
Those comments in the article which may be read to be a criticism of the judge may well serve as a criticism of other judges, and reflect favorably on his work habits. The author indicated that "most court reporters cringe" when assigned to his courtroom. This may partially be a function of the work habits of other judges; according to a recent study your writer mentioned in the article, "most judges usually have given 26th Street the slip by 1 PM." (I would note that I disagree with that conclusion.)
When the article mentions unnamed defense attorneys as indicating that his practice of holding pretrial conferences in open court makes "getting to the heart of the matter a more arduous process" and "restricts candor," I can add nothing to Judge Cousins' response "If it shouldn't be said in open court, it shouldn't be said." It seems to me that with the attitude of public distrust and cynicism regarding the judiciary, fostered in large part by Operation Greylord, any steps taken toward making the judicial system more open should be applauded.
In short, altho the article was favorable for the most part, there were segments which could be construed, by those who have not had the distinct pleasure of practicing before Judge Cousins, as implied criticisms, and it is my opinion that those criticisms are not meritorious.
Gayle B. Shines
W. 12th Place
Steve Bogira replies:
The "Prince of Darkness" nickname doesn't trouble Judge Cousins, he told me in the course of one of our interviews. He believes most people who use it have in mind the hours he works, and I believe he's right.
It was Cousins who told me that the photo in his chambers consisted of assistant state's attorneys. My apologies to deputy Al Love for linking him with prosecutors.
I confess to not being an attorney. To describe Cousins as a judge I relied not only on my own observations, based on long hours observing him and other judges, but also on the observations of many veteran attorneys who have appeared before him.
The birthday party thrown for Cousins each year is a measure of the esteem in which the judge is held by prosecutors. Though a token defense attorney or court reporter also attends, the event is primarily a get-together for assistant state's attorneys who have worked in Cousins's courtroom over the years; so says Judge Daniel Locallo, who initiated the annual event when he was a prosecutor in the courtroom.
I, too, applaud Judge Cousins's policy of handling all matters in open court.
I'm sorry if I disappointed you with a story that was less than 100 percent positive. Attorneys are accustomed to unequivocal, guilty-or-innocent judgments; as a writer, I rarely find things that absolute.