by Justice William W. Bedsworth
"They aren’t on the Supreme Court because they’re never wrong; they’re never wrong because they’re on the Supreme Court.”
This pithy distinction between being actually infallible and being infallible only because there is no one with the authority to reverse you was first expressed to me by Justice Thomas Crosby. Crosby was first my mentor, then my adversary, then my colleague, and now one of my heroes. If you walked into this movie after “The Quill” made his exit, you missed a lot. (See 116 Cal. App. 4th 1420, 1428-31.)
But as Crosby always emphasized, the same analysis applies with almost as much force to court of appeal justices. While there are courts above us with the authority to dent our sense of perfection, their ability to exercise that authority is limited.
The supreme courts are able to address very few of our decisions. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or people on the courts. They’re pretty much limited to correcting only those mistakes they think will have broader significance than the individual case.
That means some of our mistakes are never called out. Denial of a hearing in the supreme court doesn’t necessarily mean we were right; it may mean we just weren’t wrong enough to merit their attention.
I try to keep that in mind. My little brother helps. When I was a teenager working for my father, a casket-maker, there was a simple little hand-held device I was never able to master. Tom had it plated and mounted, and he gave it to me when I was elected to the bench. “This is to remind you of how capable you are of getting things wrong.”
It’s been in my chambers for thirty-five years. I see it every day.
And my colleagues in the superior court help, too. They help by being amazingly good. I spend a lot of time sitting in the instant replay booth thinking, “Dang, she was right! I spent days trying to figure this out—with two colleagues and a research attorney and full briefing by lawyers for both sides—and it turns out she got it right in thirty seconds.”
If you’re an appellate judge and you don’t marvel at the quality of the work being done by the trial court judges, you either picked the wrong place to practice law or you just aren’t paying attention.
But even with all this help, it’s sometimes hard to keep your ego from outgrowing your robe. For the last thirty-five years, all my jokes have been funny, all my insights brilliant, all my lunch choices inspired. That can go to your head if you aren’t careful.
I went to an ABOTA dinner recently, and I got three compliments on my suit, one on my tie, one on my boots, and one on my glasses. At Bar functions, people looking for an icebreaker often default to a compliment about this column.2 I’m trying to limit my contact with attorneys to outdoor events, not because of the pandemic but because my head is liable to swell up so much I won’t be able to get back out the door if I go inside.
So I’m here to tell you it’s good to be king. As long as you remember it’s you the king who’s getting all this attention and not you the person.
It will be hard to give all this up. But I’m getting help from some people who are apparently considering not my job title but my actual capabilities.
LinkedIn has taken to sending me job suggestions. I don’t know whether they’ve been listening to my reviews or they’ve actually taken to reading my opinions, but they’ve clearly decided I have missed my calling.
(This, by the way, is something I hear a lot. I always take it as a compliment, but it’s not like I’m going to pivot and head in another direction at 74.3)
LinkedIn does not think I should be going into alternative dispute resolution. They have rather pointedly not suggested that. I think I agree with them about this; there are a lot of really talented people doing this and, not only are my dispute resolution skills demonstrably limited,4 but the Bar should not have to continue complimenting my boots indefinitely.
But they think I could handle the duties of a data entry clerk. They’ve sent me a half-dozen such job listings in the last couple of months so they must be pretty convinced I could handle this.5 Either that or the appellate bar is insisting they “FIND SOMETHING for him. ANYTHING!”
The one from Target was pretty exciting. Especially because it was written in capital letters:6 “ARE YOU LOOKING TO MAKE QUICK AND EASY MONEY? IF YOU ARE IN THE LA AREA AND HAVE ABOUT 2 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE WITH DATA ENTRY AND WITH USING A SCANNER, WE WANT YOU TO APPLY!”
Unfortunately, I am only in the broadest sense of the words “in the L.A. Area,” I have zero experience with data entry, and my only experience with a scanner consists of asking my wife or my assistant, “Would you please scan this for me?”
So the only way in which I fit what they were seeking is that I have spent much of my life “looking to make quick and easy money.” And given how little success I’ve had with that, calling it a qualification seems a stretch.7
LinkedIn also thought I could handle being a receptionist for Robinson Pharma, Inc. in Santa Ana. I don’t know anything about Robinson Pharma except that they’re closer to home than the Target job, and they have two offices and a warehouse.
Being a receptionist in a warehouse might be less demanding than being a receptionist in an office. Maybe that’s why they thought of me.
But being a receptionist in general far outstrips my patience with both people and electronics. If I had to punch buttons on a phone and be nice to people all day, I’d almost certainly punch some rude visitor before I got my first paycheck.
Then there was the position of billing clerk for Monster Energy Drinks. This would presumably provide me with all the caffeine I need—a helluva perk—but it was in Corona (a bit of a drive) and required me to work with PGIs, Incoterms, SAP software, and—dang it, again—scanning.8
I think the most intriguing one was Service Department Lot Attendant for something called Fanzz. Here’s what LinkedIn said were the primary responsibilities of the job: “The Service Department Lot Attendant is expected to protect the legal, financial, and moral wellbeing of the Larry H. Miller Dealerships; exceed customer expectations with courteous communications while maintain efficient t.”[sic]
Honest. That’s what it said. Word for word and, with regard to the last clause, letter for letter.
I assume they considered me for that because the word “legal” showed up in the listing. But not only am I intimidated by the responsibility of protecting the “moral wellbeing” of Mr. Miller’s dealerships, I’d be afraid of letting them down by not being able to maintain “efficient t.”
Seeing how little the LinkedIn people think of me—and finding out I would fail miserably even at the jobs they recommend—should help keep my ego in check for a while. At least until the next ABOTA meeting.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.