I had a reputation for getting everything done on my docket each day.
After my time as a Juvenile Court Judge I ran to become a District Court Judge. I was elected at 30 years of age. This was in 1973. I was sworn in at 11am. I had Gladys with me, an outspoken court reporter who had agreed to work with me. Her husband was in the air force, and they had come to Topeka because of his job. While I was being sworn in, I was assigned cases to Division 5 and the county attorney was filing a lawsuit to my court’s name, with no defendant name, meaning they were filing a criminal action against a certain property. The property in question was the Princess Theatre, the first adult film theatre in Shawnee County. I remember being sworn in on a Tuesday and the next day the county attorney wanted me to seize all the property from that theatre. The day after that on the front page of the paper was Gladys and I entering the Princess Theatre. By looks alone, it didn’t appear to be a promising first week of the job. When we were preparing for the trial, Gladys opened up the box of all the seized items and saw something that resembled parts of the human anatomy and asked me where to put the sticker to identify it. I told her to use her best judgement and put the stickers wherever she deemed most appropriate. There were many things as a judge I had to do but didn’t want to, and many cases I had to hear that were less than desirable. In those days I rotated through different courtrooms, including the courtroom of Judge Carpenter. He had graduated from Harvard and only had Harvard reading materials in his courtroom. It surprised him when I heard the case against the Princess Theatre in the courtroom next to his. All of the reporters were banded together in my courtroom, as many felt the subject matter was too good to pass over. One day we were all made to watch a film entitled “Spread for Action.” This film was property seized from the theatre. In the movie the girls were wearing school-girl outfits and making lewd noises. The majority of these noises managed to filter through to Carpenter’s waiting room, where the people there were wondering what the heck was going on. Because I found the film to have no redeeming quality or value, I asked that it be turned off and taken out of my courtroom. Another court case I found to be disturbing involved a Mexican family. A father was accused of having sex with each of his daughters when they turned twelve. One of the young girls didn’t want this to happen to her other sister and went to the police. The mother was put on the stand. The prosecutor said this is an old family tradition of having sex with the daughters when they come of age, then when the prosecutor asked one of the older sisters if this had happened to her when she turned twelve and she answered, “Well I don’t remember.” I knew this had to be a yes, so we took the kids out of the home. The mother was adamant that nothing like this had happened before, which I knew was a lie. We later learned the husband got home from work around 4p while the mother got home from work around 6p. When I asked the wife how she knew this wasn’t occurring, she said because I asked my husband and he said it wasn’t true. Another memorable story involved a nice man who unfortunately was subject to frequent and unpleasant outbursts. One day Kathryn Jackson came in and said, there is a case this afternoon and the father is a decent nice man, but he suffers from an undiagnosed disease where he will shout at people for no reason and the state wants to take the kids away. The mother mentioned when the father gets pale and shaky is when you need to become concerned. I decided to talk to Newt Vickers, the Administrative Judge about the situation. He said I should go to the sheriff’s office and ask for a deputy to sit in my courtroom, so I did, and when I got there all these guys were standing around admiring their guns. Larry McLane was the county attorney at the time. The trial started and sure enough, this guy became pale and shaky. I called for a recess to determine the next best course of action. In chambers, Larry said I think we are in agreement to involuntary commit the guy in case something happens. We called for the deputy and told him the plan. This particular deputy didn’t think he could handle the father on his own, so the sheriff’s office sent down another deputy. Together the two still didn’t believe they could handle the guy, so they went and got a straight-jacket to keep him from hurting others. They called the father over and jumped on him and put the jacket on him in the hallway. There was a wedding scheduled to occur later that day and I was to officiate. Everyone heard the scuffle in the hall between the father and the deputies, and all I could think to say to the couple waiting to get married is in this county when you decide to form a marital partnership with one another we don’t allow the grooms to back out! When they added division five to the circuit, they took the very worst cases in the four Divisions and gave them to division five. I worked division five and frequently received a list of truly awful cases. I worked extremely hard though at getting through them and ended up with the lowest number of cases unheard. At that time, it was decided to divide up all the cases, so the good judges ended up with a bunch of cases from one particular lazy judge. I didn’t really care about the other judges who were lazy and not getting their cases heard. This happened at the same time the Court of Appeals asked me to be on it. I didn’t want to because it meant running all over the state. District courts were in the process of changing because each district was now going to be responsible for moving their own cases forward and the judges were all a group within the district, so if someone was slacking off, the entire court would be held accountable. One judge in particular became extremely paranoid. If he was in a jury trial and had scheduled a no-fault divorce he wanted you to hear, they’d go back and get the sheet for the trial and you’d hear it and then he’d come back and say that someone was stealing his cases. This is before the time that judges had their own individual courtrooms. I remember one time Newt Vickers, who couldn’t stand to hurt anyone’s feelings, got so tense and nervous during the day that he walked to Potwin to try and relax. Many of us felt he became too involved in the cases he heard. Another time Vickers stopped by his office to get something to take home and someone asked why he was still hearing cases late into the evening and he said, “don’t you realize that if you drop dead they will just get another judge to hear your cases?” In those days there was a statue that said your pay would be stopped if cases did not get resolved. The principle is a good one, that judges shouldn’t get involved in other judge’s cases, but I thought it was wrong if I was going to get all the bad cases because someone else wasn’t doing their work. I recall one time when my office resembled that of a mad librarian. I went to another judge’s office and his desk was very neat and tidy and I said it must be wonderful to be all caught up and he opened his sliding door in the closet, and it had a huge stack of files in it! We all did our best to speed cases up and increase efficiency, but it’s not as easy as you would think.
Even if I had several things scheduled, I would always get through them all. One day Chuck Macatee represented a woman in a divorce case from Maple Hill. Around 5 o’clock he came to me to ask if we should proceed, and I said I’d stay around for the trail in the divorce case as the main argument was child support on the grounds of incapacity. The husband testified first and said the wife wasn’t a very good housekeeper, she didn’t do the dishes, and stated when his mother came to the house and it was always very dirty. Then the wife got on the stand and said he doesn’t do the yard work, so I said this is getting out of hand and let’s just settle the child support issue. The lawyer representing the husband, Mr. Macatee, said to the wife “who is the father of your first child?” I stopped the discussion there and said don’t answer that question. During that period of time divorce cases were always a fight.