Public Secrets and Justice – Review

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Public Secrets and Justice: A Journal of a Circuit Court Judge

Written by Laura Melvin

Reviewed by Marion Newton

Several years ago, Laura Melvin attended a meeting for worship at Gila Friends Meeting in Silver City, New Mexico. At that time I didn’t realize that it was her first encounter with a Quaker Meeting. During introductions after meeting, she mentioned that she was staying in her RV only seventeen miles south of my home in rural New Mexico, writing a book, and taking walks with her dog. I invited her to come up for dinner, borrow books from my Quaker bookshelf, and go to a yoga class with me.

During the visits that followed, she talked about what led her to be traveling with her dog, pulling an RV behind her truck. Laura is a retired circuit court judge from Florida who has given up her position in the judiciary world, her house and her former way of life, and has embarked on a path of seeking and discovery as she continues to absorb and live with the issues, cases, and decisions she faced as a judge. This year, her book, Public Secrets and Justice: A Journal of a Circuit Court Judge, was published for all of us to read.

Laura’s writing carries the intonation and phrasing of her spoken words. Her unhurried Southern accent rises from the pages as her travels unfold, as she describes what it was like for her growing up in the South as the daughter of a judge, her struggle to become a judge in her own right, and what it took to faithfully carry within her spirit the responsibility and burdens of that position. I look at news stories differently now, with new insights gained from seeing the judicial decisions and processes from the viewpoint of a conscientious judge.

Perhaps you know this experience, too - driving along, suddenly you discover your mind is re-living and re-thinking forgotten incidents, memories triggered by a line in a radio song, a raven swooping low, or any number of unexpected images. Similarly, Laura chronicles her own history and decisions, including her decision to leave the Bench and her subsequent travels. She alternates descriptions of her travels with journal entries from judicial cases that she presided over, cases that still live within her, imposing themselves on her thoughts. She asks the reader to try to find “the courage, hope, love, forgiveness, kindness, and commitment . . . hidden in plain view among the pain, violence, control, deceit, betrayal, mean-spiritedness, and aggression.”

Laura’s firsthand account of being a Circuit Court Judge has parts that are hard to bear in their honesty, yet these stories are told by a person who was moved by the words of Isaac Pennington while he was in Aylebury Prison: “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another and helping one another up with a tender hand.” Laura Melvin writes, “I wore my robe as long and as well as I could.” She adds in the postscript, “I was traveling in New Mexico ten years after I retired when I went to my first Quaker Meeting. I felt like the Ugly Duckling who had finally landed in a pond with other swans. I realize I’ve always been a Quaker, I just didn’t know it.” I encourage you to read Laura Melvin’s book, Public Secrets and Justice: A Journal of a Circuit Judge. ~~~

Marian Newton is a member of Gila Friends Meeting in Silver City, New Mexico (IMYM).