The Northampton County Bar Association has an admirable long standing tradition which fosters the administration of justice in our county. Each year the Bar Association hosts the judges for a dinner known as the Reception for the Court to honor the bench. But during this evening, as part of the ceremony, the gears switch and the bench joins with the lawyers to recognize the members of the Bar that have been practicing for fifty years (that’s right, half a century). That is an accomplishment not easily reached, requiring both longevity and devotion, as well as the ability to deal with a professional stress level that reaches epic proportions. Often, the honored members of the bar are introduced by their peers.
| My Dad claims our family was kicked |
out of Ireland for making bad whiskey.
This dinner is also important for the lawyers to meet and get together. In a non-confrontational setting, the event promotes civility among the lawyers. We all recognize that an attorney is obligated ethically to have absolute loyalty to his or her client, and to provide competent representation. Being cordial and accommodating to opposing counsel is not in conflict with a lawyer’s allegiance to a client; rather, it is in harmony with the lawyer’s oath to the Court and usually results in representing a client’s best interests.
I was reminded of the importance of this event when I came across a letter I recently discovered. When I first went on the bench in 1991, I inherited a set of files from former President Judge Alfred T. Williams, Jr., a beloved mentor of mine. In going through some of these files just last month, I uncovered a delightful letter sent to Judge Williams from the late attorney Bernard O’Hare, Jr.
Bernie was an absolute legal genius and a master of the art of cross-examination, and was one of the most respected members of our Bar Association. Judge James Hogan once said that a thousand points of light emanated from Bernie.
It is legendary now that Bernie and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., were prisoners of war together at Dresden during World War II. Vonnegut’s experiences were the basis for his book, "Slaughterhouse-Five" which includes numerous references to Bernie and which was dedicated to Bernie’s wife.
Bernie also had a homespun wit that was unmatched. Although Bernie was extremely intelligent, he had an unassuming, insightful humor that connected with everyone he met. He could put a smile on the most serious, reserved juror, attorney or judge.
And, I found this letter.
In 1982, Bernie wrote to Judge Williams, about that year’s Reception for the Court. In his letter, Bernie offered “anecdotal material” bearing upon and illustrating “the human and endearing side” of one of the 50-year members. Bernie explained that he had “thrived” in the employ of this attorney earlier in his career, and that he was knowledgeable about the attorney’s “health, fortune and lovable disposition.”
Bernie expressed surprise as to why Judge Williams had not contacted him for comments about this attorney. To help remedy this quandary, Bernie offered three pages of these “endearing qualities.”
Bernie then attached three pages.
They were numbered. They were blank.
There was no hostility, meanness or unkindness intended. Just a wonderful humor that I am sure put a smile on Judge Williams’ face. A moment of lightheartedness shared by two professionals who had their share of serious matters every working day.