Judge Sentences: Tales from the Bench, by Dermot Meagher, is a book that respects a mug of coffee, and I do indeed love a book that I'll pick up and put down repeatedly over a several month stretch, reading one chapter in the time it takes me to finish that coffee.
While it is too late to recommend a book for beach reading unless you're south bound, it is not too early to recommend this book for holiday giving.
Dermot Meagher is a retired judge who divides his year between Fort Lauderdale and Provincetown, painting, sketching and writing. He is a keen observer of the human species, appreciative of all its foibles and crazed inclinations. His book, Judge Sentences - Tales From The Bench, is a collection of remarkable cases that came before him during his 17 years as a judge of the Trial Court of Massachusetts in the Boston Municipal Court.
Television's Law And Order, CSI, etc, have deadened our response to the gaudy parade of loopy criminals that include thieves, murderers, scorned lovers, streetwalkers, addicts and kinky sexuals; and television's hateful Judge Judy has deadened our response to surly idiots and liars, but Dermot Meagher's stories are spun at the other end of the tapestry of legal drama. He is a compassionate and deferential judge who never seems to have taken his responsibility lightly and who never seems to have grown weary of the presence of the aggrieved before him.
Dermot Meagher writes like he draws, giving us just enough color to see and feel the truth about the people he contemplates. His delivery is spare, balancing the operatic coloratura of folks defending themselves as their secrets are revealed in a public forum. He peppers his recollections with droll descriptions of the lawyers involved as well as their clients. (Before he was a judge, Dermot Meagher investigated and prosecuted lawyers.)
Here's my money shot. In his highly entertaining Judge Sentences, wry but never cynical Dermot Meagher lets us glimpse the Boston courtroom through Weegee's lens with Kafka's passion and wisdom for our world and with Flannery O'Connor's passion and wisdom for that unseen world of truth and justice. Ultimately, this book is not about the characters presented, but rather what its author learned about the anatomy of the human mind and heart when arrested and prodded.
Should I ever (again) find myself petitioning a judge for assistance, I hope he or she will be as perceptive and kind as Dermot Meagher. And I hope I'll remember the conclusion I reached at the end of each chapter of Judge Sentences. Don't try it.
Judge Sentences: Tales From The Bench
Published September 14, 2010
Northeastern University Press
You'll find it on Amazon.