As long time readers of this column know, my first job as a young lawyer was an appointment by the City Law Director as Municipal Court Prosecutor. He was a very hard-working fellow, always in the office with a pile of books in front of him. I was required to show up in his office at least once a week to report on my activities. He kept a sharp eye on his secretary, too.
One day while I was waiting my turn, I noticed a basket of apples and candy bars on the reception table. To help pass the time, assuming the “treats” were offers of hospitality, I ate one of the apples. He apparently noticed that and on my next visit, his secretary told me that the Law Director told her to tell me that the “treats” were for sale, five cents per apple and 10 cents for candy bars. I never ate another of either.
This penuriousness extended to his secretary. He called me once and told me that he would be on vacation the coming week and that I was to come to his office each day exactly at 1 p.m. to see if his secretary was back from lunch on time and if she wasn’t, to wait and see what time she got back. Naturally, I never went near the place that week, but reported to him that she was back a little early every day.
As the years passed, he became as the Municipal Court Judge and I moved on to become Prosecuting Attorney. As you know, that made me the legal adviser for all elected county officials. The County Auditor came to me one day and showed me a letter he had received from my old Law Director boss that the state legislature had passed a new law substantially increasing the pay of judges during their terms of office and directing him to include this pay raise in his next salary payment. Historically, elected officials cannot receive pay raises or cuts during their elected term. The wisdom of that rule is to prevent legislatures from rewarding or punishing their political friends or enemies by increasing the salaries of some and reducing the salaries of others.
I went to the law books and found that the legislature had, in fact, raised the salaries of judges of the Court of Appeals and Common Pleas Court applicable during their current term of office. The statute did not, however, include Municipal Court judges. I prepared an opinion letter and had the auditor advised my old boss that based on my advice, he was not entitled to the raise since Municipal Court judges were not included in the statute. I am sure he knew he wasn’t, but he began a campaign to persuade me to instruct the auditor to increase his pay.
Anyway, I got calls from a number of the local pols, his pals, his friends, my friends, etc. All to no avail. The local judge then filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his federal civil rights had been violated when he was excluded from the benefit of a pay raise by the legislature. The Ohio Municipal Judges Association filed a similar class action lawsuit against the legislature on behalf of all Municipal Court judges. These civil rights cases are heard by three judge Federal Courts, presided over by a Federal Court of Appeals judge.
The association wanted the local judge to dismiss his case and let them handle the entire matter. Naturally, he refused. The case was set for hearing with the local judge and the state association with big-time Columbus counsel on one side and the local auditor and me on the other. The court set it for hearing promptly and ordered the parties to file their briefs. I got the big-time lawyers’ brief of about 40 pages and had 30 days to respond to it before the hearing.
I took one look at it and knew that I did not have the time or experience in federal civil cases to make a proper response. In fact, I had never even had a law school course in federal civil procedure. I called over to Ohio Northern Law School and explained my situation to one of my old professors. He said he had just the guy for me and sent over the top senior law student in federal civil procedure who showed up in my office the next day. I explained the situation to him, including the time restraints. He seemed confident and we settled on $400 for the job.
I wasn’t really expecting too much, but I hoped to get enough to look respectable against the big time Columbus guys. My student law clerk showed up about three weeks later with a newly handcrafted response brief in hand. While he waited, I began to read the brief. As I proceeded, I became more and more impressed to the point where awestruck best describes my feelings. The research, the writing, the professionalism, everything was better than I could have done myself. I quickly paid him the $400, and had it retyped in the correct form and filed it.
I studied the brief thoroughly and went to the hearing feeling pretty good. The big-time Columbus guys and I both made our oral arguments. I didn’t know how many days it would take to get a ruling from the court so I was quite surprised when the senior judge told us not to leave the courtroom. They circled their chairs and appeared to be whispering among themselves. They finally all turned around, faced the litigants and lawyers and the presiding federal appellate judge said, “We don’t need to deliberate any further on this case. The statute doesn’t include Municipal Court judges and there is no federal civil rights violation. Judgment for the County Auditor.”
As everyone was leaving, I found myself near the judge who said to me, “Mr. Huffman, let me compliment you on your brief. It was very thorough and right on point.” No raise for the judge. My old boss never spoke to me again.
Moral of the Story: An apple a day doesn’t keep a skinflint away.
Lawrence S. Huffman is an attorney in Lima and a guest columnist fin The Lima News.