December 30, 2005.
In the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Remarks of James R. Cascio, Esq.
Arthur Cook was virtually unknown to the legal community when I introduced him to take his oath of office for the first time twelve years ago. No one, including, I suspect, Arthur, knew what to expect. The fact that he stands before this court today after having been reelected twice speaks for itself. His wife Maxine, who is his most trusted advisor and dearest friend, thinks that these occasions should be opportunities not to pat him on the back for what he has done but rather to give him a gentle kick in a region of his anatomy slightly to the south of his back to remind him to be up to the challenge he has taken on.
In the news these days we observe a former dictatorship struggling to conduct a legitimate criminal trial in Iraq. We listen to the pundits debate the qualifications and philosophies of nominees to the nation’s highest court. We might often take the courts of this country and Commonwealth for granted. But there is a purpose in considering today a simple question: Why are Courts legitimate sources of law?
Judges command no armies or police forces. They can’t tax. Their records are shaped not by their own policy initiatives, but randomly, by the broad spectrum of cases that litigants happen to bring to their courts. Nowhere is the case mixture richer than at the point of intake that Pennsylvania’s Magisterial District Courts occupy. Each day is different. Each case must be decided on its own merits. Equilibrium emerges, and not by accident.
Judicial decisions are personal to the litigants. It is a “given” that half of the people who come to court go away disappointed. But what sustains the mysterious power of America’s courts is society’s respect for judges, as stewards of fairness. In a democracy, the respect must be earned every day, case by case. The organizing principle is that citizens accept the rulings of courts out of a respect for the due process that produces them. All who are involved in or interested in a court’s cases must feel that the process is fair. They can and should accept -- as law -- unfavorable rulings from fair tribunals. Without respect for fairness and due process, even winners feel like losers.
How can judges sustain respect? There are of course the ancient rituals, the trappings of court. But the courts are human institutions to deal with real issues. I like to think that the wise ones who conceived our magisterial district courts had someone just like Arthur Cook in mind. He has demonstrated the strength to be decisive and the humanity to treat those in his courtroom with respect and good humor. He has the character to expect that they do the same to each other. Most significant is his humility in letting us know that he can be persuaded, which is central to the perception of fairness.
Arthur will be the first to tell you that he is not always right (and Maxine will be the second), but he has been the custodian of his court’s legitimacy by always striving to be dignified, courteous and fair. That, simply said, is his challenge in his new term of office.
Having satisfied all legal requirements and been certified by the county Board of Elections as the duly elected Magisterial District Judge for Somerset County’s District 16-3-03, it is my pleasure to present the Honorable Arthur K. Cook and move that this court administer his oath of office for the third time.