Well, I just wanted to know, but I caught him unawares, so I’m not sure this is the final word. Associated Press Reporter Ed White had interviewed Justice Robert Preston Young, Jr., last week about Justice Young’s use of the “N” word. Justice Young has indicated that it was said during an impassioned plea.
Young, who is black, told the Associated Press that he used the word during an “impassioned plea” to emphasize how someone was being treated “without rights, without dignity.”
“I’m sorry that I used the term. … Obviously I was very hot about this. That’s why I used the word,” Young said. “I remember the heat and the purpose for using it.”
When pressed for details, he couldn’t recall the case.
With yesterday’s revelation through a transcript by Justice Weaver (retired) that Justice Young was laughing and joking about the bad acts and misfortunes of another judge when the phrase dropped from his lips I wondered if the reporter had any sense that he’d been misused. So, I called Mr. White. I told him I wanted to interview him. He was unaware of the further revelation that I had posted last night, had no idea who I was, or why I was calling. ”I have no response,” he said. ”My reporting speaks for itself.” I wonder if he thought I was being critical. I agreed his reporting DID speak for itself. I thought it first rate. But I was inquiring about this further revelation. ”I have nothing to say about anything. Who are you?” Mind you, I had given him my name and said “How do you do?” It’s true I had not identified Delayed Justice. Sometimes I’m not good at this…and what’s Delayed Justice anyway that anybody would know of it? I clumsily rectified my affiliation. He went on to explain: “When I interview people I tell them I’m Ed White and I’m a reporter and then they tell me….” Uh-huh. I heard a click on the line and wondered aloud if I was being recorded. ”This is a newsroom. There’s lots of noise. … I don’t record my telephone conversations.” Just wondered. Didn’t object if he wanted to, although I don’t think I’m necessarily worth all that bother. And in retrospect it’s a little humorous considering the nature of the transcript. Anyway, he said he doesn’t do that. I assured him that neither do I. Pretty close to the end of the conversation he reiterated that he didn’t have anything to offer, but by that time he’d hit the website. Our conversation was concluded.
Still, I wonder what his internal reaction to all that might be. I’ll probably never know. But I do wish him well.
Later: Mr. White called me this time. I told him I’d appreciate a quid pro quo. I’d answer his questions and he would at least consider answering mine. Nope, he said: “I am a reporter and not a participant in this story. I have nothing to say to you.” I tried to explain that such was my work as well, but it didn’t prosper. He wanted to let me know that this all was very serious…the power to put something on the internet can have grave consequences. I agreed; any reportage can have serious consequences. Then his questions: “Is this report authentic?” ”Did Justice Weaver give you this and ask you to put it up at your website?” I had to explain that I believe to the best of my knowledge this is authentic. Justice Weaver did share this with me but she didn’t ask me to put it up. I told her that was my intention. I did get in a question: “Don’t you think this is newsworthy?” He indicated that he WAS looking into it. Next question: “Did you hear the tape?” I said I neither heard any tape nor saw any tape. I told him that I thought his most important job would be to seek corroboration from someone else at the conference. I thought he’d have better luck with that than I would.
Now, as for the other questions that I had, at the top of my list was this: Of all the stories he could have pursued from Justice Weaver’s revelations, why pick up exclusively on that one…the use of bad language. Yes, it’s egregious and unfortunate, but what Justice Young has said is nowhere near as serious as what he’s done on the bench. (As an aside, in Justice Weaver’s transcript, did you note how he changed his vote on the Moxon V Moxon to accommodate himself to then-Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor? The result meant the difference between a Deny and a Remand [a kind of beneficent judicial do-over for the judge]. Interesting.)
I suspect that the answer is that it’s a fairly easy story to report…much more simple, say, than a piece explaining Justice Young’s take on the Common Law (he’s agin’ it). Either Justice Weaver was right that he’d said the “N” word or she was wrong. He admitted he said it. And now either she’s right about when, where, and how he said it or she’s wrong. Yes or no.
Most of the other stories are much more detailed…except for the one about Judge Mary Beth Kelly, who during her tenure as Chief Judge of The Third Circuit Court (Wayne County) earned herself a contempt citation that wouldn’t go away, even after she appealed it to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Even Justice Young had to agree that she’d been playing outside the law.
But I didn’t get the chance to ask that question, either.
I am sure Mr. White is doing his best. I trust that he will dig out this story and plenty of others relating to it. But his assertion that he is not a participant in this story is risible. As soon as you touch a story you become a participant. I touched this story first in 2007 when I sat down with Justice Weaver and she revealed much that I thought of as bad behavior at the Court. In particular, In re: JK revealed that we had Justices (including a Chief Justice) who were signing on to opinions BEFORE oral arguments were heard in cases. (I have copies of the memos if you need them.) Against the law? Don’t know…the Justices get to make the laws. But I think their actions violated all kinds of parts of the Code of Judicial Conduct and do not inspire confidence that any case I’d have before the Court would get an open and fair hearing.
Mr. White’s reporting brought this story to hundreds of thousands of readers. It has a much larger impact because he decided to touch it. He will in some small or large way change the course of history. I’m very glad he did take this up and I hope he doesn’t regret it, either. Yes, he’s a participant, and we have no reason to think that he’ll be anything other than as thorough, as objective, and as truthful as possible.