Ode to Judges

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Judges hold a special place in the American legal system. One might argue that they are in fact iconic, even if they don’t wear the traditional wigs of our British forbearers.

Although more people have probably heard of Judge Wapner and Judge Judy than have heard of Judge Isaac C. Parker – the real “hanging judge” for the Territory of Western Arkansas – it’s not surprising that many of these men and women have achieved the status of folk heroes.

Enter Judge Annette Rizzo and Judge Raymond Pianka of the local housing courts in Philadelphia and Cleveland, respectively. These two leaders are saving homes by ensuring mediation between mortgage lenders and borrowers before concluding a foreclosure proceeding. They are, in the truest sense, working to “establish justice” and “insure domestic tranquility.”

People of a different political perspective may argue about the value of activist judges versus those that exercise judicial restraint. The feature story in the November 9th Washington Post about judges who dismiss a bank’s foreclosure proceeding and return the home to the borrower free and clear is certainly a case for debate. But, regardless of one’s politics, it’s hard to argue with the court’s intent to ensure a process that is swift, certain and fair.

Both Judge Rizzo and Judge Pianka are featured speakers at conferences across the country. Their stories are compelling. Modesty prevents them from suggesting that they are doing anything other than their jobs. But even the most dispassionate observer has to acknowledge that the work they are doing goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Leaders are a diverse bunch. Some come to a task armed with significant governmental authority, such as judges and city elected officials. Other leaders have only their innate skills and the courage of their convictions. Maybe wielding governmental power for benevolent ends is what we expect of Judges Rizzo and Pianka. Nonetheless, society owes them a debt, which likely cannot be repaid, for the herculean effort they are undertaking to help countless homeowners during a time of crisis.