Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

POST # 6

This is the sixth in a series of posts recalling what it was like to serve as a law clerk to Judge Julius J. Hoffman during 1967 to 1969.

Sitting on the Seventh Circuit

            Judge Hoffman was always worried about the fate of his rulings in the appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which reviewed the rulings of the district courts in the circuit, including ours.

            The Seventh Circuit was made up of appellate judges who sat in three-member panels in a courtroom in the same courthouse as the district court courtrooms.  But, as I recall, the Seventh Circuit courtroom was larger, was on a higher floor than the district court courtrooms, and was grander in every way.  The court, as an appellate court, also conducted its proceedings in a far more rarefied atmosphere than the one that permeated the more rough-and-tumble atmosphere at the trial court level.

            Hoffman was frequently reversed by the Seventh Circuit.  In the process, he was often severely criticized by one or more appellate judges for the way he had conducted a trial or reached a legal conclusion.  The South Holland school-district case was a prime example.  Another example was the Amabile case, in which the Seventh Circuit opinion pointed out how easily Hoffman could have avoided reversal if he hadn’t so adamantly refused to ask the jury about the influence of the media on the jury’s thinking.

            Of course, the “Chicago 7” trial was the leading case in which Hoffman was eventually slapped down by the Seventh Circuit.  (I’ll say much more about that trial soon.)

            In early 1969, despite his spotty record with the Seventh Circuit and several months before the “Chicago 7” trial, Hoffman was asked to sit “by designation” on a panel of the Seventh Circuit.  The U.S. Courts of Appeals were at that time frequently overwhelmed by their caseloads, and they would ask retired judges or district court judges to sit by designation on a panel made up of two regular appellate court judges and one non-regular judge. 

            There was great excitement in Hoffman’s chambers when he was asked to do his bit for the Seventh Circuit.  He was thrilled to play the role of appellate judge for a change.  I’m quite sure that he longed to be appointed to the appellate court (he called it being “kicked upstairs”), but that plum had never been offered him.  At least he could now be Appellate Judge for a Day.

            As senior clerk, I was assigned to assist the judge in this new and challenging role.  So when the briefs in the case he was to hear arrived in our chambers, he asked me to read them and prepare questions he could ask during the oral argument.  This sounded reasonable enough.  He was busy with his routine courtroom work and didn’t want to devote much time to the appellate briefs. 

            Still, I did expect him to scan the briefs and have some knowledge of the issues before the oral arguments would be heard.

            I was myself excited about assisting the judge with his new role as appellate judge.  I hadn’t applied for a clerkship with an appellate court, a clerkship that was (like the role of appellate judge vs. that of trial-level judge) more prestigious than the clerkships I applied for with the Northern District of Illinois.  Looking back, I probably didn’t explore the possibility of an appellate clerkship because I was pretty sure that I had a better chance of getting a clerkship with the district court, when securing even one of those was a challenge for a woman applicant in 1967. 

            I’d therefore resolved that if I was offered a clerkship with the Northern District, which was based in my hometown of Chicago, I would grab it and forgo my inclination to work as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. 

            I’d always been fascinated with being at the center of power in D.C.  But at the time of my last year in law school, Lyndon Johnson had squandered the remarkable record he’d acquired on domestic issues (for example, propelling the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and creating the Office of Economic Opportunity) by plunging further and further into the disastrous Vietnam War.  I decided to await the results of the presidential election of 1968 before committing to D.C.  So I was quite happy to accept a district court clerkship in Chicago.

            My own affinity for appellate-level work had been sparked when I participated in my law school’s moot court program, the Ames Competition.  In my first attempt at appellate brief-writing in the fall of my first year, I’d triumphed over a male classmate who was openly miffed that he was assigned to compete against a woman student.  He was overheard complaining that “If you win against a girl, you’ve only beat a girl.  And if you lose to a girl, you’ve been beaten by a girl!” 

            Some of my closest and longest-lasting friendships began in law school, and a great many of them are with male classmates.  But it’s entirely possible that, at that time, there were some others among my male classmates who shared the same misguided notion as my Ames opponent. 

            All of which made my victory especially delicious when I walloped him in moot court.  I earned a higher score from our three male judges, both on our oral arguments and on our briefs.  I almost felt sorry for my opponent.  His lawyer-father had traveled a thousand miles from the Midwest to witness his son’s humiliating defeat.

            Competing in moot court, I discovered my love of brief-writing, and I continued to compete in the Ames Competition as long as I could, hoping to do brief-writing during my career as a lawyer.  As things turned out, I did write appellate briefs during my career, and I went on to teach appellate brief-writing to students at law schools like Northwestern and the University of Michigan.

            The day Hoffman sat on the Seventh Circuit, I was present in the imposing courtroom, perched on a chair just behind the judges.  Once the oral arguments began, the judges were free to interrupt the lawyers with questions, and I had provided Hoffman with a list of challenging questions for both sides. 

            I was shocked when Hoffman finally spoke and revealed his vast ignorance of the legal arguments presented in the briefs. 

            He asked the right questions, of course (I had written them out clearly for him), but he asked them at the wrong time.  Once or twice, he asked a question that a lawyer had already answered, and the lawyer was forced to repeat what he had said a few minutes earlier.

            Hoffman also asked some questions completely out of context, revealing his total lack of understanding of the issues.  As the appellate lawyers struggled to complete their well-prepared presentations, I cringed.  The man was smart enough.  He simply hadn’t bothered to learn anything about the case being argued in front of him, and it showed.

            After the argument, the three judges and their law clerks adjourned to the chambers of one of the appellate judges, and the judges took an informal poll of where they stood.  Once the two appellate judges announced how they were leaning (the two were tentatively in agreement), Hoffman of course jumped in and agreed.  He was then assigned the task of writing the court’s opinion.

            Back in our chambers, Hoffman asked me to write the opinion.  I was excited and eager to bite into the apple of appellate opinion-writing, something I’d never expected to do while working for a trial court judge.  I immediately immersed myself in the law that applied to the case. 

            The law turned out to raise serious constitutional questions.

            The legal issues were complex, and I discovered that I was not completely sold on the outcome the three judges had tentatively agreed upon.  I began going back and forth, one day deciding in favor of the appellant, the next day agreeing with the appellee. 

            Looking for help, I sought out one of the appellate judges’ law clerks.  He was a friend I’d known in law school, and I was sure that he could give me some guidance.  But, like me, he seemed uncertain which way to go, so our brief discussion didn’t help me resolve my internal debate.

            Once or twice, Hoffman asked me how my opinion was coming.  I assured him that I was researching the applicable case law and giving the issues a great deal of thought.  I stated quite clearly that I was deeply involved in pondering these important issues and that I wanted to write an opinion he would take pride in.

            I didn’t see any reason to rush to judgment.  I preferred to think through the issues and come up with a well-reasoned ruling.  Appellate court opinions are often not issued for many months after oral argument.

            But Hoffman’s obsession with speeding through his caseload triumphed over my desire to do a thoughtful and thorough job. 

            One morning I arrived in chambers and was abruptly informed by Hoffman’s secretary that the opinion was written and I no longer needed to do any work on it.  After catching my breath, I asked, “What happened? Did the judge write the ruling himself?”

            Of course not, I was assured.  He had hired someone to write his opinion for him.  Although the secretary didn’t reveal the name of the author, it was a professor at a local law school. 

            So, without telling me, Hoffman had turned the case over to a law school professor, whom he paid out of his own pocket.

            I was astounded.  If Hoffman had given me a deadline (say, “If you don’t write this by June 1st, I’ll have to take it out of your hands”), I would have finished writing an opinion by the deadline.  And it would have been as good as, or better than, whatever the law professor came up with.

            But I wasn’t given any deadline.  After I spent weeks doing difficult legal research and evaluating the merits of the competing issues, the case was yanked out of my grasp and turned over to someone else.

            I never checked to learn how the opinion fared.  Did the two other judges go along with it?  Did the parties appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court?  The truth is that, after the shock wore off, I really didn’t care what happened, so I never bothered to find out.

            Looking back, I probably should have realized that Hoffman desperately wanted to get the appellate case out of the way so he could get back to his everyday routine.  I had assumed that he could separate his appellate court role from his obsession with being in first place in the district court’s statistics.  While he waited for a well-reasoned opinion, he could have speeded through his trial-level caseload the same as always. But I was mistaken on that score.  He couldn’t separate the two roles. 

            In retrospect, maybe I could have proceeded differently.  Maybe I spent too much time going back and forth on the complex legal issues.  Maybe I should have set aside my trial-court responsibilities and focused exclusively on the appellate case.

            I could have simply sat myself down and written an opinion that favored one side or the other.  And been done with it. 

            But I still think that Hoffman was unforgivably wrong to do exactly what he did.

            As disillusioning as so much of my experience with him was, I view this entire episode as one of the worst examples of Hoffman’s high-handed behavior.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

Post #5       

This is the fifth in a series of posts recalling what it was like to serve as a law clerk to Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969.

•     My brush with patent law

      During my clerkship, I had a memorable encounter with patent law.  I’ll explain.

      First, a brief introduction to patent law–and how patent litigation has been handled by the federal courts. I know this sounds boring, but it’s actually pretty interesting.

      Patent law is a very old doctrine.  In the U.S., patents were first acknowledged in the 1787 Constitution. The framers of the U.S. Constitution knew that preserving the rights of authors and inventors was vital if our country was going to succeed.  Article I declares that Congress has the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  This clause, attributed to James Madison, was adopted unanimously without debate.

      To promote innovation and ensure consistent results throughout the country, Congress went on to give the federal courts the authority to decide any disputes over patents–for example, who was the rightful owner of a patent awarded to a particular invention.  Over the years, Congress has enacted a number of laws enforcing copyrights and trademarks as well as patents. 

      When it comes to patent disputes, federal district judges decide these cases at the trial level.  If one or both sides are unhappy with the district judge’s ruling, they can appeal.  At the time of my clerkship, appeals were heard by the circuit court of appeals that heard appeals from that district.  In our case, that was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

      It was widely known that the judges at both the trial level and the appellate level were woefully lacking in the science background needed to decide these often complicated cases.  They would therefore rely to some extent on the lawyers who presented the arguments on behalf of their clients.  But their rulings were often pretty awful.

      In 1968, I remember hearing that about half of all district court rulings on patent cases were overturned by the courts of appeals, but the truth is that very few of the judges at either level were competent at making these decisions.

      In 1982, Congress changed things.  District judges would continue to decide cases at the trial level, but appeals would be heard by a newly created court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, an appellate court whose judges had a greater knowledge of science and applicable patent law.  But during the years of my clerkship, appeals from Judge Hoffman’s patent rulings were still decided by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On to my story:          

            At the beginning of my first year as Judge Hoffman’s clerk, the judge distributed his two pending patent cases to my co-clerk, Susan Getzendanner, and me.  Susan was the senior clerk.  She had already served as Hoffman’s clerk for a year.  I was the new and junior clerk.  She and I became good friends, and I learned a great deal about clerking for Hoffman, and clerking in general, from her.  (Thanks, Susan.)

            As the senior clerk (and later the district’s first woman judge), Susan was handed the more difficult case, one that involved a patent for a TV antenna.  I got what I viewed as a still-challenging case, one that involved power tools.

            Susan, who was already the mother of one child, announced at some point during the winter that she was expecting her second child in the spring.  At first, Hoffman was visibly upset.  Would her pregnancy somehow affect his standing in the court statistics?  (You remember the judge’s focus on being first in the district court’s statistics, right?)

            When it turned out that the baby was due in March and that Susan didn’t intend to take time off before the birth (and almost no time afterward), Hoffman relaxed.  After all, in March he would be taking his annual month-long vacation, going off to a luxurious resort, The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.

            The only problem was the TV-antenna patent case.  Hoffman had heard evidence in a bench trial (a trial held without a jury), and he’d expected Susan to write his decision while he was gone in March.  So even though, as things turned out, Susan continued to work in chambers during most of March, shortly before Hoffman left on vacation he turned the TV-antenna case over to me.

Although I had already immersed myself in the ins and outs of power tools, that case was extracted from my pile of pending cases, and the TV-antenna case replaced it.

            I was dumbstruck when the implications of Hoffman’s decision began to sink in.  I had never even taken high school physics (a decision I still regret), but I was now expected to rule on the status of a patent on a TV antenna!  The absurdity of having judges who have no scientific training decide patent cases suddenly hit me.  I was even more shaken up when I sat down in March, after Hoffman had left for Florida, and began to leaf through the transcript of the bench trial.

            I tried to make sense of what had taken place in the courtroom.  I struggled with the scientific terminology, reading and re-reading passages of the transcript and the briefs presented by both sides.  But I became absolutely livid when I discovered what the judge had done during the course of the trial.  At least twice, the patent lawyers had given him the opportunity to hear a clear and simple explanation of the science that was critical to deciding the case–and Hoffman had both times refused to hear it.  In his haste to move the trial along (always keeping his statistics in mind), he essentially told the lawyers, “No, no, that’s not necessary.  Don’t waste my time.  I understand everything you’re saying.”

            When I read those passages in the transcript, I felt like screaming.  How could he say that, knowing that he was going to dump this case on one of his unsuspecting clerks?

            I struggled on, trying to gain some understanding of the science behind TV antennas.  I reviewed the briefs filed by both sides and looked at the competing antennas that were stored in the evidence room.  I finally threw up my hands and started writing an opinion. 

            I knew that an earlier opinion by a federal judge in Iowa had ruled against the plaintiff who had claimed infringement in a similar case. The Iowa court ruled that the patent was invalid and therefore was not infringed.

            I reviewed the Iowa ruling and decided that I would not be influenced by it.  Instead, I would make my own decision.  A 1936 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court (which all lower courts were required to follow) dictated that a patent holder could not assert the validity of a patent that had already been declared invalid in a similar case.  But I decided that, although this case was similar to the Iowa case, it was different enough to rule differently.

            So even though I was uncertain about the science underlying the parties’ claims, I decided to rule in favor of the plaintiff, the holder of the patent, who claimed that its patent had been infringed.  My opinion held that the patent in our case was valid and had been infringed.

            When Hoffman returned from Florida, he wasn’t pleased with the decision I wrote, but he filed it anyway.   As always, he didn’t publish the opinion, but it can be found as a public record:  Civil No. 66-C-567 (N.D. Ill., filed 6/27/1968).

            The decision was appealed by both sides, and the 7th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.  422 F.2d 769 (1970).  It affirmed my decision that the patent was both valid and infringed.

            Guess what happened next.  The case ended up going to the U.S. Supreme Court and, believe it or not, became a landmark case in patent law. 

            Both my opinion and the Seventh Circuit’s opinion had relied on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1936.   But the Supreme Court decided to use this case to reverse its own ruling.  This meant that we were able to uphold a patent that another court had not.

            The Supreme Court decision became a landmark ruling. .University of Illinois Foundation v. Blonder-Tongue Laboratories., Inc., 401 U.S. 313 (1971).  Patent attorneys all know this case as “Blonder-Tongue.”

            In my wildest dreams, I never suspected that my painfully wrought opinion in the TV-antenna case would wind up in the Supreme Court and be considered, in any way, by the highest court of the land.

            Go figure!

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

Post #4

During the past week, we’ve all witnessed an alarming and unspeakable violation of the Capitol building.  Although I’ve been shaken by this violation, I’ve decided to proceed with this blog as earlier planned.

This is the fourth in a series of posts recalling what it was like to clerk for Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969.

Some of Hoffman’s Cases

•     “Joe Shine”

            Hoffman’s first trial after I arrived was a criminal case brought by the feds against a group of defendants that included Joseph Amabile.  (I initially assumed that Amabile’s name was pronounced “Ah-mah-bil-lay,” but I can still hear Judge Hoffman’s bailiff calling out the name as though it rhymed with “Oldsmobile.”)

            Amabile (known as “Joe Shine”) and a couple of his pals were accused of serious wrongdoing arising out of land-development deals in the western suburbs of Chicago.  More precisely, they were accused of conspiracy to violate a federal law because they had interfered with commerce by extortion.  “Extortion” is the relevant word here.  According to testimony at the trial, one defendant had hit some poor guy in the face and threatened to use a baseball bat if he didn’t cooperate.

            At first, I was terrified to sit in the same courtroom with some of these defendants, but they looked pretty subdued, dressed in their expensive suits, seated next to their high-priced lawyers.  Judge Hoffman didn’t seem too worried, but then he had an armed bodyguard accompany him to and from the courthouse every day.

            When the daily newspapers started running stories about the trial, a major issue arose.  The defense lawyers had been opposed to sequestering the jury, but now they began arguing that the published articles were prejudicial to the defendants.  They demanded that the judge ask the jurors every day whether they had read or heard any of the prejudicial publicity.  Hoffman repeatedly admonished the jurors, each time they left the courtroom, not to read any newspapers or listen to any news about the trial on radio or TV.  But he refused to directly question the jurors about the prejudicial publicity.  His rationale was that because the defendants had opposed sequestration of the jury, they couldn’t complain that the jurors might be somehow exposed to news about the trial.

            Back in chambers, he confessed his real concern.  He was worried that, after he had invested several weeks in this trial, even one juror’s admission that she or he had watched a TV news report would force the judge to declare a mistrial.  His persistent refusal to question the jurors later became one of the biggest issues on appeal.

            After a five-week trial, the jury convicted the defendants.  But the appellate court later reversed the convictions.  (U.S. v. Palermo, 410 F.2d 468.)  Why?  Basically because Hoffman had refused to question the jurors about the prejudicial publicity.

            Hoffman had gambled and lost.  If he had directly questioned the jurors every day, they probably would have denied disobeying his order to avoid seeing any prejudicial publicity.  If they had explicitly denied disobeying his order, the convictions would have been upheld. 

            But because the judge didn’t want to risk any other outcome, his five-week trial was a total loss.

•     South Holland

            The judge took great pride in a ruling that he believed demonstrated his fairness to minorities. 

            In 1968, the federal government filed a suit against School District 151 (South Holland and Phoenix, Illinois), alleging discrimination against minority students.  Special prosecutors were brought in from the Justice Department in D.C. to try the case, and Hoffman presided over the trial that summer.  At the end of the trial, he asked the parties to submit Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.  He then took these documents under advisement.

            He never followed his usual pattern of asking one of his clerks to assist him in reviewing the evidence or deciding how to rule.

            A short time after the end of the trial, the judge announced his decision in favor of the government.  In his written memorandum opinion, he followed the government’s submission virtually word for word.

            The school district’s attorneys complained.  They argued that the judge hadn’t done anything other than rubber-stamp the government’s position.

            On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed Hoffman’s decision.  But the dissenting judge agreed with the defendant’s argument, noting that “the District Court…without changing a word,” adopted every one of the government’s Findings and Conclusions, as well as its proposed Orders. 

           The case against the school district was unquestionably meritorious.  Although I wasn’t asked to review anything submitted by either side, I have no doubt that the U.S. Justice Department produced sufficient evidence to prove its case of discrimination against the school district.  And Hoffman was therefore unquestionably right to decide in favor of the Justice Department. 

            But the case didn’t resemble any other major case I encountered during my clerkship.  The judge did not appear to review the evidence or attempt to reach any conclusions other than those offered by the government lawyers.  And he didn’t ask his clerks to do so.  I think he may have decided, as soon as the case was assigned to him, to rule in favor of the government.

             The judge was very pleased with the result.  After announcing his decision, he basked in the glow of the favorable publicity that usually escaped him. 

            One of Chicago’s daily newspapers even wrote an editorial praising him.  He had this editorial enlarged and framed, and after he hung it in his chambers, he proudly pointed it out to visitors. 

            It was clear that, despite the negative publicity he often garnered from other happenings in his courtroom, in his eyes he would now be seen as fair-minded, even “liberal,” thanks to his ruling in favor of minority students in this case. 

•     Inmates of Cook County Jail

            Sometime in 1968, a Chicago lawyer named Stanley A. Bass, who at the time was somehow connected with the ACLU (I don’t recall his exact connection), filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the inmates of Cook County Jail, complaining about conditions at the jail.  The suit described the horrific–indeed shocking–state of living conditions at the jail, alleging that they were in violation of various provisions of the US Constitution.

            This suit was, to my knowledge, the first class-action lawsuit presenting the issues of prison conditions to a federal court. 

             It also became the first prisoner lawsuit in which a federal court ruled that a class action of this nature stated a claim and therefore would not be dismissed.  Inmates of Cook County Jail v. Tierney, No. 68 C 504 (N.D. Ill., Aug. 22, 1968).

            I suspect that when the case was assigned to Judge Hoffman, Stan Bass’s heart sank.  Aware of Hoffman’s conservative bent, he could hardly hope to get any favorable rulings at the district-court level and probably relied on filing an appeal to get anywhere with his case.

            But Stan didn’t count on my being Hoffman’s law clerk.  Fortunately for him, that made a difference.

            The defendant prison officials filed motions to dismiss the case for “failure to state a claim,” making a number of procedural arguments designed to get the case thrown out of court.  A ruling in favor of these officials would have meant the end of the lawsuit.

            But instead of quickly ruling in their favor, I gave a lot of thought to what would be the right thing to do.  It seemed to me that the inmates had stated a perfectly good claim under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  Although I knew that Hoffman wanted to extricate himself from this case, I simply could not bring myself to throw it out.

            So after thoroughly researching the court decisions that interpreted the applicable federal rules, I reached my conclusion:  The court would be wrong to dismiss the inmates’ case.  It was August 1968, and my summer vacation was approaching.  After I prepared a lengthy written opinion, I left it on the judge’s desk on a Friday afternoon just before departing for my two-week vacation.

            I knew by this time that the judge was loathe to reject any opinion written by his law clerks because that meant he would have to substitute another opinion.  To come up with his own opinion would require that he do some research and writing on his part.  But I nevertheless felt sure that he would somehow avoid going forward with the inmates’ claims. 

            I pictured myself returning from vacation and confronting an angry judge who would insist that I throw out my opinion and write a new one stating the exact opposite.

            Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation to find that, while I was out of town, the judge had read my opinion, word for word, from the bench.  I felt dizzy with power, knowing that my efforts had kept alive a case he was eager to throw out, but a case that truly belonged in the courts.

            In the ruling, I wrote, in part:  “Although it might, indeed, be the easier course to dismiss this …complaint…, we cannot flinch from our clear responsibility to protect rights secured by the federal Constitution.”

            I hoped that the ruling would lead to improved conditions for inmates at Cook County Jail, and I believe that it may have. The case was later settled when the defendants assured the court that they were making fundamental changes at the jail.

            Although the judge read the opinion from the bench, he was adamant about denying permission to publish it.  But his remarks from the bench were a public record.  The ACLU wanted to let other lawyers know about the ruling, so it purchased the court reporter’s transcript and distributed copies of it.  These copies made their way around the country and were frequently cited, as an unpublished opinion, in the many prisoners’ cases that followed.

            One of the highlights of my legal career is that I wrote the first ruling upholding prisoners’ rights in a case of this kind.  And that my ruling went on to inspire many cases that followed in its wake. 

            When I later worked as a staff attorney at the National Health and Environmental Law Program, located at UCLA School of Law, I did further research into the issues surrounding prison health care, and I published an article that explored these issues, “The Captive Patient: The Treatment of Health Problems in American Prisons,”  6 Clearinghouse Review 16 (May 1972).

            Postscript:  Stan Bass later became a staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.   When he filed an amicus brief on behalf of that organization in a class-action prisoner case (presenting other issues) in the U.S. Supreme Court (Goosby v. Osser, No. 71-6316, 409 U.S. 512 (1973)), Stan cited the ruling in Inmates of Cook County Jail as support.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman: Post #3

 

This post is the third in a series of posts recalling what it was like to work as a law clerk for Judge Julius J. Hoffman.

 •      His treatment of lawyers

                Hoffman tended to treat most lawyers disrespectfully.  During court sessions, he would berate lawyers for their failings, no matter how minor, and he would generally speak to them in a condescending tone.  Seated in the courtroom, where I sometimes had to listen to lawyers’ arguments or witnesses’ testimony, I often found myself cringing when Hoffman demeaned a lawyer who appeared before him.

                There were a few exceptions.  He was generally impressed with lawyers from the biggest, most prominent firms in the city, and he tended to treat them better than less well-connected lawyers. 

                 He also treated government lawyers with some deference, and he was almost courtly to the few women lawyers who appeared before him.  If a lawyer was both a woman and a representative of the U.S. government, Hoffman would treat her like a queen.  A woman friend of mine who worked for a federal agency could never understand why lawyers complained about Hoffman.  She thoroughly enjoyed her appearances in his courtroom.

•     Hell, no, I won’t…publish

                Hoffman almost never published his opinions.  He justified his refusal to publish by saying he didn’t want lawyers to throw his own words back at him in a later case.  Early in his judicial career he had apparently published some opinions, and lawyers did just that.  At that point, he swore off publication. 

                The only decision of mine that Hoffman chose to publish involved an arcane tax issue involving Rosehill Cemetery.  Later, when Hoffman went along with a controversial ruling I wrote in a case involving the inmates of Cook County Jail, he read the ruling from the bench but refused to publish it, despite numerous requests from lawyers that he do so. 

            I guess he thought he had done enough just reading the damned thing from the bench.  He was not about to put it in black and white.  The ACLU ended up buying a copy of the transcript from the court stenographer and making copies of it, so the opinion eventually was widely circulated, but in less-than-official form.  (I’ll have more to say more about this case in Post #4.)

•      His view of habeas corpus petitions

                In the late ’60s, both state and federal prisoners tried (as they still do) to get out of prison by filing habeas corpus petitions.  Some prisoners were fairly skillful jailhouse lawyers who submitted petitions citing legal authority for their claims.  Others sent crudely drafted handwritten pleas with very little to go on.

                Hoffman gave clear instructions to his law clerks that we were never to grant a habeas corpus petition, no matter what sort of claim the prisoner alleged.  He directed us to find something, anything, on which to base a dismissal of the petition.

                I quickly learned a few shortcuts and repeatedly cited the same language, followed by the same precedents, over and over again.  But in a few cases I couldn’t see any way to get around a prisoner’s claim.  The prisoner had made a genuine constitutional argument, and I believed it was necessary to hold a hearing where he could make his case.  But whenever I tried to explain this to the judge, he blew me off.

                “I will never allow a prisoner to be brought to my courtroom for a hearing,” he declared.  “If the Seventh Circuit wants to order me to hold a hearing, I will hold it, but I will never order one myself.  Find some reason to deny the petition!”  So even in those few cases, I had to comply with the judge’s position and come up with some pretext to deny the petitions–hoping, of course, that the prisoners were not too discouraged to file an appeal with the court of appeals.

In the case of one prisoner, I was happy to go along with the judge’s dictates. Jack K. was a perennial petitioner who must have filed one or two handwritten petitions every month. He filed so many that we never took any of them seriously. Prisoners like him eventually led the federal court system to clamp down on all prisoners and impose rules that would prevent abuse of the system by people like Jack.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman: Post #2

This is the second in a series of posts recalling what it was like to serve as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman.

We currently live in a time in which we’re increasingly aware of the enormously important role that judges play in our lives and how critical it is to have judges who are fair and unbiased.  For this reason, I think it’s useful to talk about how judges perform their jobs.

Thanks to the recent film focused on the trial of the “Chicago 7,” Judge Hoffman has garnered new attention in the public eye.  I’ve attempted, in this series of posts, to tell exactly what it was like to work for him for two highly significant years.

What were Hoffman’s quirks?  How did he conduct business, on and off the bench?  As Hoffman’s law clerk from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1969, I observed him on and off the bench, in his role as a “hanging judge” as well as his role as a charming personality who enjoyed engaging in clever repartee.  “Warts and all,” here is what Julius J. Hoffman was really like.

Hoffman’s Proclivities

•      His calendar

                Judge Hoffman was obsessed with his “calendar.”  The court administrators published statistics on every judge in the district (the Northern District of Illinois), and Hoffman was fanatic about being first in the judges’ rankings every month.

                Why was he so obsessed with this single evaluation of his judgeship?  My guess is that he saw these statistics as an objective measure of his worth as a judge.  Although the statistics did nothing more than state how many cases a judge had dismissed or tried or otherwise removed from his calendar, Hoffman wanted to be at the top of the list.  Then the whole world would know that he was a judge who disposed of cases efficiently, had the smallest number of cases left on his calendar at the end of every month, and therefore was–had to be–a great and admirable judge.

                To achieve this ranking, Hoffman sometimes trampled on the rights of the criminal defendants who appeared before him and often rushed to judgment in his civil cases, forcing undesired settlements and otherwise compromising the pursuit of justice in his courtroom.  The appellate court that reviewed his conduct often took him to task for it.  Yet he continued his relentless pursuit of first place.  In my view, his obsession with being first in this ranking was in large part responsible for much of his erratic behavior.

•      His bias in favor of the government

                Hoffman’s bias in criminal cases reflected a general bias in favor of the government and an even more fundamental conservative streak.  He was, after all, appointed to the federal bench by a Republican, President Eisenhower, and his background and relative affluence (in part due to his wealthy wife) probably accounted for some of his conservatism.  But because he was so willing to favor the government in criminal cases, he frequently wound up in big trouble. One criminal case, the “Chicago 7” trial, ultimately led to his downfall.

•      His delegation of decision-making to his law clerks

                Hoffman’s desire to have the “best” calendar in town worked to the benefit of those of his law clerks who relished assuming a large measure of responsibility for Hoffman’s rulings.  (I happily fit into this category.)  While he spent almost his entire day on the bench, presiding over trials and disposing of motions, his two clerks were working in chambers on the rulings that he would later adopt as his own. 

                 Of course, he made some rulings spontaneously from the bench without his clerks’ assistance.  But virtually all of the pre-trial and post-trial motions filed in Hoffman’s cases were decided by his clerks.  So while he sat on the bench, dispensing his own brand of justice, his two law clerks were working hard back in chambers, researching the law that applied to these motions and other matters (like jury instructions) filed by the lawyers in his cases, and writing the rulings that Hoffman later read from the bench.

                In the two years I worked for Hoffman, we law clerks probably decided at least 95 percent of the motions filed in his cases.  And he rarely overruled our decisions.  Once in a great while, he would walk into our part of chambers, hand back a written decision, and ask us to rewrite it.  But he never took the opportunity to do his own research or do any rewriting, even when he was displeased with the decision we had left on his desk.

                The tremendous degree of responsibility we had, as a result, was astounding.  At first, I was amazed at how much power I had been given.  Later, I realized that I was, to some extent, dispensing justice where Hoffman himself never would have.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

This month I’m beginning something new.

I’m beginning a series of posts that will focus on my personal recollections of working as a law clerk for a federal judge–a judge who became notorious shortly after I left my clerkship.

Judge Julius J. Hoffman was a U.S. district court judge in Chicago who became notorious when he presided over the “Chicago 7” trial that began in the fall of 1969.

As Hoffman’s law clerk from 1967 to 1969, I observed him closely throughout my two-year tenure with him. This two-year period included, in its final months, the road that led to the “Chicago 7” trial.

This trial is now the subject of a new film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Because the film has inspired new interest in Judge Hoffman, this seemed to be an appropriate time to publish my recollections.

As Judge Hoffman’s law clerk during the two years before the trial began, I could foresee much of what would happen in his courtroom.  I later sat in on the trial, as a spectator, on two very cringe-worthy occasions.

This is the first post in a series that will examine what it was like to clerk for a judge like Hoffman. I’ll begin at the beginning: my first encounter with Judge Hoffman and how I came to work for him.

I’ll go on to describe a wide range of issues that arose during my tenure. These will include my observations during the frenetic time just before and during the “Chicago 7” trial. I’ll conclude with my final communications with the judge, just before I left Chicago in 1970.

Post #1

          In the fall of 1969, Judge Julius J. Hoffman moved from relative obscurity into the spotlight of national attention.  Although he had earned a reputation within the Chicago legal community as an irascible judge with a strong conservative bent, he was otherwise a little-known figure.  The public knew him only as one of Chicago’s U.S. district judges, and as such, he was generally respected.  Even lawyers who had appeared before him were compelled to admit that, despite his personal shortcomings, he could sometimes be an excellent judge.

          All that changed in the fall of 1969.  Assigned to be the presiding judge in what became known as the “Chicago 7” trial, Hoffman was suddenly the focus of journalists and lawyers from every corner of the United States, even the world.  Suddenly his courtroom demeanor was under a microscope, probed for rationality and fairness.  And just as suddenly, he became a national villain, even a national joke.

My first encounter with the judge

          In his custom-made elevator shoes and his black robe (double-stitched for longer wear), Judge Julius J. Hoffman would stride imperiously into his courtroom.  He would seat himself behind his imposing judicial bench, his tiny figure almost lost in the high-ceilinged courtroom he occupied on the 23rd floor of the federal courthouse in Chicago’s Loop.

“The motion will be dee-nied!”

                I can still hear the judge spouting those five words, the five words he must have said a thousand times during the two years I worked for him.  He always seemed to be denying motions rather than granting them.  But that was just one feature of this eccentric and soon-to-be-notorious judge.

          Julius Hoffman was a diminutive, bald-headed man with a prickly ego that was easily punctured.  But when I met with him over the Christmas holidays in 1966, he struck me as a charming and altogether reasonable person to clerk for.  I was in my last year of law school, and Hoffman was one of only three U.S. district judges in Chicago who had agreed, in that benighted era, to interview me, a woman, for the job of law clerk.

          For a number of reasons, Hoffman became my first choice of the three, and when he offered me the job, I decided to take it.  Although I had done almost no research into what kind of judge Hoffman was, I was thrilled with the simple prospect of being any federal judge’s law clerk.

          My failure to research Hoffman’s reputation later came back to haunt me.  I soon discovered that I was working for an irascible, difficult man who had unusual proclivities and a bizarre personality that often played itself out on the bench.  So although I loved my job as a federal judge’s law clerk, and I learned a great deal from my experience working in the federal courts, I was sometimes sorry I had so quickly settled on Hoffman as the federal judge to clerk for.

RBG in ’72

Countless words have been, and will continue to be, written about the incomparable U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served on the high court for 27 years.

I will leave discussions of her tenure on the Court to others.

What I will do here is recount the one and only time I encountered her in person, at a law school conference, at a pivotal point in her career.  If you’re interested in learning about that encounter, please read on.

In September of 1972, I was a full-time faculty member at the University of Michigan (UM) Law School.  Notably, I was the only full-time faculty member who was a woman.

The law school had a desirable setting on the UM campus, whose multitude of elm trees were unfortunately denuded of leaves, thanks to Dutch elm disease. The law school buildings made up the stunning Law Quadrangle, featuring beautiful old buildings constructed in the English Gothic style.

My role on the faculty was to help first-year law students learn the basics of legal education:  how to analyze court rulings (the kind they would read in the books assigned to them in courses like Torts and Contracts); how to do their own research into case law; and how to write a readable legal document, like an appellate brief aimed at persuading an appellate court to decide in their favor.

I was one of four young lawyers hired to fill this role.  The three men and I each taught one-fourth of the first-year class.  As I recall, we got to choose our offices in the law school library, and I immediately chose a plum.  It was an enormous wood-paneled room with charming hand-blown stained glass windows.  One entered it via a stairway leading upstairs from the library’s impressive reading room.  I treasured my office and happily welcomed meeting with students there.  And I wonder, in light of renovations at the law school, whether that glorious office still exists.

At some point early that fall, I learned that a conference on “women and the law” would be held at the New York University School of Law in October.  This was a bold new area of law that most law schools didn’t consider worth their attention.  NYU was clearly an exception. 

The idea of the conference immediately grabbed my attention because I had a longstanding interest in its stated focus.  One reason why I had myself attended law school a few years before was that, beginning very early in my life, I was and remain concerned with achieving equity and justice, including equal rights for women.

This focus had led me to attend law school during the mid-’60s.  My first job was that of law clerk to a U.S. district judge in Chicago.  After finishing my clerkship, I became a practicing lawyer as a Reggie assigned to my first choice, the Appellate and Test Case Division of the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau.  [I discussed the Reggie program in a blog post, “The Summer of ’69,” published on August 7, 2015.]

And so, three years earlier, in October of 1969, I had begun working on a lawsuit that had a significant bearing on women’s rights because it would challenge the constitutionality of Illinois’s restrictive abortion law. This law had an enormous impact on the lives of women, especially poor and non-white women.

I worked with Sybille Fritzsche, a lawyer with the ACLU in Chicago, who became my close friend.  Sybille and I spent months preparing our case.  We filed our lawsuit in February 1970, argued it before a three-judge federal court in September, and won a 2-to-1 ruling in our favor in January 1971.  (The ruling in that case, Doe v. Scott, and the events leading up to it, are the focus of a book I’m currently writing.  In the meantime, you can read about our case in historian Leslie Reagan’s prize-winning book, When Abortion Was a Crime.)

Now, in the fall of 1972, I learned about the conference at NYU.  Because I was extremely interested in attending it, I decided to ask the UM law school’s dean, Theodore St. Antoine, whether the school might send me to New York to attend it.  I thought I had a pretty persuasive argument:  I was the only full-time woman on the law school faculty.  Didn’t the dean think it would be a good idea to send me to represent UM at the conference? 

How could he say “no”?  Ted thought about for a moment, then gave his approval.  So off I went, my expenses paid by the kind patrons of UM. 

My hotel, the Fifth Avenue Hotel, located near NYU’s law school, had sounded appealing on paper, but it turned out to be something of a dump.  It suited me just fine, however, because I barely spent any time there.  I was too busy attending the conference sessions and, when I could, taking a short break to reconnect with a couple of law-school classmates and briefly sample life in New York City, a city light-years removed from less-than-exhilarating Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The conference, held on October 20-21, turned out to be a symposium sponsored by AALS (the American Association of Law Schools), “The AALS Symposium on the Law School Curriculum and the Legal Rights of Women.”  It featured a number of prominent speakers, mostly law professors and practicing lawyers who had turned their attention to “the legal rights of women” in areas like tax law, property law, and criminal law.  I attended most of these sessions, and each of them was excellent.

But the only session I was really excited about was a talk by someone named Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I was quite certain that I would relish hearing her talk, “Toward Elimination of Sex-Based Discrimination: Constitutional Aspects,” because the topic was right down my alley.

Looking back, I don’t think I knew anything about RBG at the time.  But when she was introduced (by NYU dean Robert McKay) and began to speak, I was riveted by every word she uttered.  She spelled out everything she had already done and planned to do to achieve gender-equity.

So although I was not already familiar with her, I knew immediately that she clearly was and would continue to be a brilliant leader in the field of women’s rights.  I filed her name away in my memory so I could follow whatever she would do in the coming years.  And I did just that, enthusiastically following the many astounding accomplishments she achieved after 1972.

Your image of RBG may be that of the frail, petite woman who took center stage in our culture in her 80s.  But the RBG I saw in 1972 was very different.  She was an amazingly attractive young woman of 39.  You can see photos of her at that time in The New York Times of September 18 (in Linda Greenhouse’s long review of her life and career) and in a recent issue of TIME magazine (Oct. 5-12, 2020). Although much has been made of her short stature (one I share), she was so very energetic and focused that one quickly forgot how small she was.

It turned out that she had attended Harvard Law School about a decade before I did.  Like her, I’ve been called a “trailblazer” and a “pioneer,” and I also confronted gender-bias at every turn throughout my life.  My path was only a bit less rocky than hers:  My class at HLS included the whopping number of 25 women in a class of 520, while hers had only 9.

I’ve since learned that October 1972 marked a pivotal time in RBG’s career.  She had just switched her teaching position from Rutgers Law School to Columbia Law School (a considerable upgrade).  And she had just assumed another new position:  Director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, a project she had helped to found a short time before. 

So I’m left wondering…did she know about the case Sybille (an ACLU attorney in Chicago) and I brought in February 1970, a case that put a woman’s right to reproductive choice front and center?

RBG was an ardent supporter of reproductive rights during her tenure on the Supreme Court.  She discussed her views on abortion and gender equality in a 2009 New York Times interview, where she said “[t]he basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.”

But I know that she had also stated that she wasn’t entirely happy with the way in which Roe v. Wade gave every woman in the U.S. that choice by bringing cases like Doe v. Scott in the federal courts.  She stated that she would have preferred that the argument had been made, over time, in each state’s legislature, with the right to choose being gradually adopted in that way rather than in one overriding court ruling that included every state.

Notably, on the 40th anniversary of the court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, she criticized the decision because it terminated “a nascent democratic movement to liberalize abortion laws” that might have built “a more durable consensus” in support of abortion rights.

She had a point.  A democratic movement to liberalize abortion laws would have been the ideal route, and might have been a less contentious route, to achieving abortion rights throughout the country. 

But I think her position was influenced by her own life story. 

It stemmed, at least in part, from the fact that in April 1970, she was living and working in New York, where the state legislature had passed a new law allowing abortion, and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller had signed it on April 11, 1970.  New York became only the second state in the U.S. (after Hawaii) to permit abortion, and only a few other states had carved out any sort of exception to what was otherwise a nationwide ban on abortion.

RBG may have optimistically believed that other states would follow New York’s lead.  But history has proved otherwise.

If women had waited for each of the 50 states to accomplish the goal of women’s reproductive choice, I think we’d still have many states refusing to enact laws allowing choice.  In support of my view, I ask readers to consider the situation today, when some states are trying to restrict abortion so frenetically, with or without achieving a complete ban, that they’re now simply waiting for a far-right conservative Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Whether or not RBG was aware of what was happening in the courtrooms of Chicago in 1970, I think I could have persuaded her that Sybille and I were doing the right thing.  

By advocating that the federal district court hold that the restrictive Illinois abortion law was unconstitutional, and persuading the court to decide in our favor, we achieved our goal of saving the lives and health of countless women who would have otherwise suffered from their inability to obtain a legal and medically safe abortion.

What greater achievement on behalf of women’s rights could there have been? 

I like to think that, after hearing my argument, RBG would have approved.

It’s time to write those checks

Do you remember that old phrase…”Put your money where your mouth is”?

It strikes me as more timely than ever.

The upcoming election is critical.  Its outcome will determine the future of our country in countless ways.

If you’re concerned about which way the results may go, you should consider donating to the candidates and the causes you support.  And you should do it right now.

I’m “old school.”  Although I sometimes make donations online, I still like to pull out my checkbook and write actual checks.  They’re not very big.  I’m heartened by big-money donors like Mike Bloomberg, who just gave $100 million to the Biden campaign in Florida.  By contrast, my checks are much, much smaller.  More like a grain of sand in a miles-long beach of donations.

But every little bit helps.

Here’s some history:  I‘m old enough to recall the presidential campaign of 1972.  My husband (aka Marv) and I ardently supported the candidacy of George McGovern, who valiantly campaigned for president that year, fighting the unrelenting dirty tricks devised by Richard Nixon and his allies. The Watergate burglary was just one crime in that long ugly record of wrongdoing.

Marv and I sent McGovern’s campaign the astounding sum of $100.  Astounding because we were young and living on two minuscule salaries as pathetically-paid faculty members at the University of Michigan. That check for $100 made a huge dent in our budget.  I’ve checked the figures, and the 2020 equivalent is $626.47.  You can imagine how committed we were to WWII hero/Vietnam War opponent George McGovern, and how much we despised Tricky Dick Nixon, for us to come up with a donation like that.

Sadly, the dirty tricks of the Nixon era have been surpassed by the dirty tricks engaged in by the current occupant of the White House. Even Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, did his dirty work behind the scenes, unlike our current attorney general, whose astonishing power-grab is out there for all of us to see.

Back to donations: Instead of boring you with details of other donations I’ve made, both before and after ‘72, I’d rather move on to the situation today.

Because we’re only seven weeks away from this fall’s election, there’s no time to waste. 

All of the candidates in this hard-fought campaign are in need of funds to help them win. 

I strongly urge you to get out your checkbooks or your credit cards, or both, and donate to the candidates you earnestly want to win. And to any organized group whose efforts you’ve decided are also worth your support.

I’ll be honest:  I want to see a new president elected. And I want to see a U.S. Senate that will reflect the views of the majority of voters in this country, not those of a single senator from Kentucky.

I want to keep the U.S. House in the hands of those who are in the majority right now, under the continued leadership of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  And I want to see judges who are fair and not overly influenced by politics fill all of the openings for new judges in the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

I’m writing checks to support the candidates and causes I want to win.  For probably the first time in my life, I’m also sending money to bolster the efforts of a group of politically energized veterans.  A group, Vote Vets, has stated its strong opposition to our current president.  And in a compelling letter seeking my support, it has told me exactly why.

Of course, you may have chosen to take other steps to support candidates and causes, like knocking on doors and making phone calls. Those efforts can do a lot to help, and I commend you for doing them. But at the same time, please don’t forget the enormous need for funds to pay for TV advertising, among other things. Especially if your candidate refuses to hold rallies that endanger the lives of those who attend them.

You may disagree with me on any or all of these candidates and causes.  If you do, go ahead and support the candidates and causes that you prefer.  We still live in a democratic republic…if, as Benjamin Franklin said, we can keep it.

So…will you put your money where your mouth is? 

If you don’t, and your candidate fails to win, you may everlastingly regret your decision not to lend your much-needed support.

I Shouda Ran

I just came across some great news for joggers.  Researchers have found that strenuous exercise like jogging does NOT boost the risk of arthritis in one’s knees.  A recent study enlisted nearly 1,200 middle-aged and older people at high risk for knee arthritis.  Result?  After 10 years, those who did strenuous activities like jogging and cycling were no more likely to be diagnosed with arthritis than those who did none. (See the July/August 2020 issue of Nutrition Action, noting a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.)

And according to a writer in The Washington Post, most data show that running actually helps keep knee joints lubricated.  (See the report by John Briley on August 6, 2020.)

Hmmm…

So…maybe I shoulda ran?

What?

I’ll explain.

When my daughters were small, my husband and I often relied on PBS kids’ programming to keep us from going bananas whenever we were home with them for more than a few hours.

I’m still indebted to “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” for offering wonderfully positive content that expanded our daughters’ minds.

I can still remember many of Fred Rogers’s episodes and his delightful music.  The recent films (e.g., “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) that highlight his music and the many layers of his unfailing kindness are moving tributes to everything he did.  (I obliquely noted Rogers’s important role in our family when I briefly mentioned him in my 2011 novel, Jealous Mistress.)

Similarly, I can’t forget countless “Sesame Street” sketches and songs we watched over and over again. In addition to stalwarts like Kermit the Frog and Big Bird, I loved less-prominent Muppet characters like Don Music, who’d take out his creative frustrations by crashing his head on his piano keyboard.

One “Sesame Street” sketch I vividly recall focused on words than rhymed with “an.”

The setting is a rundown alley in a big city.  Tall buildings loom in the distance.  As the sketch begins, two Muppets garbed as gangsters breathlessly arrive at this spot.  The savvier gangster tells his partner Lefty that “We got the ‘Golden AN’.”

The word “AN” is clearly written in bold upper-case letters on a metal object he’s holding.  Explaining their “plan,” he points to a “tan van” and says, “This is the plan. You see that van? You take the Golden An to the tan van.  You give it to Dan, who will give it to Fran.”  He adds:  “Everything I’m telling you about the plan rhymes with AN.”  He takes off, leaving Lefty alone.

Lefty, who’s pretty much of a dolt, repeats the plan out loud a couple of times while a Muppet cop is watching and listening.  The cop approaches, identifies himself as “Stan…the man,” and tells Lefty he’s going to get “10 days in the can for stealing the Golden An.”

Lefty then chides himself:  “I shoulda ran.”

This carefully crafted sketch was clearly intended to teach little kids about words that rhyme with “an,” although much of it seemed aimed at parents and other adults watching along with the kids.  How many little ones knew the meaning of “the can”?  The bad grammar in the sketch (“I shoulda ran”) was forgivable because kids watching “Sesame Street” didn’t really notice it, and the whole thing was so darned funny.

But what has stayed with me over the decades is the final line:  I shoulda ran.

When I was growing up, I always liked running fast, and I rode my fat-tire Schwinn bike all over my neighborhood.  So I wasn’t indolent.  But as I grew older and entered public high school in Chicago, I encountered the blatantly sexist approach to sports.  Aside from synchronized swimming, my school offered no team sports for girls.  So although I would have loved to be on a track team, that simply wasn’t possible.  Girls couldn’t participate in gymnastics, track, basketball, baseball, tennis, or any of the other teams open to boys our age.

We were also actively discouraged from undertaking any sort of strenuous physical activity.  It was somewhat ironic that I applied to be, and became, the sports editor of my high school yearbook because I was completely shut out of the team sports that I covered in that yearbook .  And I foolishly gave up my coveted spot in the drama group to do it—what a mistake!

I had a somewhat different experience during my single semester in school in Los Angeles, where I spent the first half of 8th grade.  Although sexism was equally pervasive there, girls at least had a greater opportunity to benefit from physical activity.  Because of the beautiful weather, we played volleyball outdoors every day, and I actually learned not to be afraid of the ball!  I was prepared, when we returned to Chicago (reluctantly on my part), to enjoy a similar level of activity during my four years of high school.  But that would not happen.   The girls’ P.E. classes were a joke, a pathetic attempt at encouraging us to move our bodies.  And things didn’t begin to change until 1972, when Title IX was enacted into law.

Over the years, I continued to ride a bike wherever I lived and whenever weather permitted. I took up brisk walking and yoga as well.  And I sometimes thought about running.

Jogging– less intensive running–took off in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Why didn’t I begin to jog?

There was a bunch of reasons.  First, I was afraid of damaging my knees.  I’ve always loved aerobic dancing, the kind popularized by Jacki Sorensen.  I’d jump along with the music in my favorite Jacki tape, and I began to notice that jumping was possibly beginning to wear away the cartilage in my knee joints because occasional pain resulted. So I kept dancing, but I stopped jumping.  I figured that running would place even further stress on my knees.

And then there was Jim Fixx.

I didn’t know a lot about Jim Fixx.  He became a media celebrity when he published his best-selling book, The Complete Book of Running, in 1977, and his claims about the health benefits of jogging suddenly showed up on the news.  But in 1977, I had a brand-new baby and a toddler, along with a challenging part-time job, and I couldn’t focus on starting something new like jogging.  By the time I was getting ready to launch into it, I heard the news that Fixx had died of a heart attack while jogging.  He was 52.

Fixx’s death shook me up.  I didn’t know at the time that he may have had a genetic predisposition to heart trouble and he had lived a stressful and unhealthy life as an overweight heavy smoker before he began running at age 36.   All that I knew was that this exemplar of health through running had died, while jogging, at age 52.

Chicago weather also stood in my way.  Happily ensconced in an area that allowed our family to ride our bikes along Lake Michigan and quiet residential streets, and where I could take long and pleasant walks with my husband, I was reasonably active outdoors during the six months of the year when good weather prevailed.  But during the harsh winters, confined indoors, I had less success.  I played my Jacki tapes, I tried using a stationary bike (it never fit me comfortably), and I sampled a local gym.  But I didn’t pursue strenuous exercise.

Now, learning about the recent evidence I’ve noted–that, if I’d jogged, my knees might have been OK after all–I regret that choice.  My current climate allows me to be outside almost every day, and I take advantage of it by briskly walking about 30 minutes daily, much of it uphill.  So that’s my workout now, and it’s a pretty good one.

But I probably would have loved running all those years.

It’s a bit late to start now, but I can’t help thinking:  I shoulda ran.

“Thank you for not killing me”

No, I’m not addressing the currently raging coronavirus or the global pandemic it’s caused.  Although I could be addressing Covid-19.  I guess I’m grateful to the virus for having spared me so far.

I’m addressing a group of people to whom I’ve said this line for years:  Careless, self-obsessed drivers.  Drivers who endanger my life every time I walk on the streets of my city.

I usually utter this line when I manage to avoid being killed by the tons of steel propelled by drivers who are far more concerned with speedily reaching their destinations than with preserving the lives of their fellow human beings.

Pedestrian safety is a huge concern, but I won’t dwell on the harrowing statistics.  These sobering statistics reveal the enormous number of pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by automobiles.  But I’ll save those details for another day.

Today I’m focusing on my valiant attempts to preserve my own life.

Every day, I walk about six or eight long city blocks to and from my home, for a total of at least twelve blocks.  As I walk, I traverse three busy streets that border my neighborhood.  My current route is somewhat new, the result of recent lifestyle changes.  But I’ve always walked a great deal along a number of streets in my mostly quiet neighborhood.

And I’ve always tried to protect myself by making some sort of contact with drivers.  I’ve waved scarves and colorful tote bags to alert drivers to my presence.  And I’ve tried to make eye contact.  Especially when I’ve been crossing at a busy intersection.

Thanks to the pandemic, traffic has been less than usual, especially on quiet residential streets.

But three nearby streets, although less filled with traffic than they previously were, still attract fast and careless drivers.  Every time I approach an intersection along these streets, I hesitate.

I’m a fast walker.  I never saunter,  and I dislike the walkers who do.  I always prefer to walk briskly.

Nevertheless, my survival is at stake.  As I enter the crosswalk, I justifiably worry that a reckless driver won’t hesitate to make a barreling turn that will hit me.

Even though the traffic signals are on my side:  the walk sign is flashing and the traffic-signal light is glowing a bright green.

I’ve taken to carrying even more garish tote bags, boldly swinging them in the hope that their gaudy colors will increase my visibility and thereby save my life.

That’s why I mutter my satiric thank-you line to many drivers–but especially to those who inch forward, aiming to make a fast turn in front of me.  Most of them leave me only one or two inches of space as his or her car whizzes through the crosswalk.

Brother, can you spare another inch?

I know that I’m a stumble away from perishing in that crosswalk because if I stumble, I’ll be the victim of a massive assault on my body by the turning vehicle.

So, each time I cross successfully, I thank my lucky stars that I’ve survived one more time.  Once I reach the safety of the sidewalk, I can finally breathe a massive sigh of relief.

And I’ll say my satiric thank-you line one more time.

Of course, now wearing a mask, as I have for the past few months, I know the driver will never hear me.

But I’ll say it anyway.

Hey, careless driver:  “Thank you for not killing me.”