Connecticut lost a fine trial judge this week. Judge Robert Satter died Monday at the age of 92.
Most employers have probably never heard of him. That’s a shame because they probably would’ve liked him.
(There was a great interview conducted with him from the Rutgers Oral History Archive. Read it. I’ll wait.)
I only knew Judge Satter late in his career by reputation and by his work as a Judge Trial Referee — a polite place where retired judges go to continue
doing public service work. In the times when I had a settlement conference with him, he was a lawyer’s judge who understood the issues at hand but who could help persuade the parties that they had more to lose by trying a case than by settling. He presided over many trials in his decades on the bench and to hear my colleagues speak about him, there are many who say that there just aren’t a lot of judges like him anymore.
Which is why judges like Robert Satter still matter in this world. These front-line judges never get the glory of a Supreme Court position, but those in the know, know that doesn’t matter. There are still plenty of bright and quite capable judges who do the work at the trial court level. These cases never get the glory or press spotlight but they are just as important to our justice system.
But to read about his life and to know him, is to appreciate the importance a good judge can have on an employer’s case. A judge may not decide every issue in your favor but a good judge — indeed, a great judge — can rule against you and still make you feel like you achieved something. You were heard and in the case of Judge Satter, you knew you were going to get a fair shake.
Judge Satter was involved in discrimination issues in his career too not only as President of the Connecticut Chapter of the ACLU but as a legislator. When he was in the legislature he “introduced the first bill in the Connecticut Legislature that made it unlawful to discriminate in private housing, based on race, religion, creed and so forth.” He “got it passed” and described himself as a unabashed “liberal and I was always involved in racial issues.”
Late in life, Judge Satter penned several columns for the Connecticut Law Tribune in which he shared a lot of his wisdom. But I like this section from his oral interview that encapsulates what Judge Satter was about. He was asked what his favorite thing in his career was:
Well, actually, as a lawyer I loved representing clients. I loved being on their side and carrying their banner into the fray in court. Enormous satisfaction out of that, not cases that won me a lot of money, but cases that made a difference in their lives. … [A]s a judge, I’ve enormously enjoyed the intellectual and … human characteristics of the job. I loved the challenge of taking a group of facts and applying the law to them and make a decision that seems to achieve justice. … I love the human quality of deciding cases where I have discretion, where I can help people in one way, or the other. … So I’ve enjoyed each aspect of my career enormously. … I don’t have to go to court everyday. I mean, I’m over eighty-seven, I’m eighty-seven. I could have quit, stopped at seventy, but we can continue as a senior judge. … I come in everyday because I want to, because it’s fun, because I love the challenge. I think I’m good at it, I hope I’m good at it.
He was definitely good at it. He will be missed.