By Tom Liotti, Village Justice
Some years ago I was giving my youngest daughter a hard time about her work ethic. She replied: “Dad, I can tolerate your mediocrity, why can’t you tolerate mine.” It was like a knife through my heart but as Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men “[you] can’t take the truth.” When your child tells you you’re boring or mediocre, it’s time for introspection. Is it hopeless? Am I destined to be mediocre forever? Say it isn’t so!
Okay if you’re not going to say it isn’t so, let me try to do better. I became a lawyer because I saw the law and politics as a public service. To me lawyers were power brokers. I viewed law as a vehicle for social change. After 37.5 years of being a high profile lawyer and 24 years as a Village Justice, I still believe in those principles but too often I have found public officials and lawyers are not in the profession for those reasons. For many, but not all, they are in it for the money, the title, the self-aggrandizement— in essence, for all the wrong reasons.
When I became a judge in a little court, I remembered the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said “no matter what your job, be the best you can be.” So our court is like no other. It is a model court because when you come into it you receive a welcoming letter and announcements in English and Spanish that tell you about the court. We generally complete the calendar in one and a half hours. We give out a pamphlet on how to try a case in our court and we remind people of their Constitutional rights both in English and Spanish. I have now published 36 reported decisions because I want to give people a path through the law. I have published a book about the village, town and cistrict courts of New York, now in its 18th year of publication. I had one of my decisions translated from English into French, Spanish and Italian. It was given out in our multi-ethnic community. We are the Court closest to the People.
I am an activist in everything I do. I am trying to break that mold of mediocrity. In 2005 and 2007 I was vetted and screened by the Governor’s and Senator’s Committees for a federal judgeship. I did not make it. Faceless and anonymous enemies lurk in the shadows of our lives. At 67 I am too old for that now. I thought that I could help more people in that role but maybe not. If you believe in destiny, perhaps that was not mine.
So I am an attorney and Village Judge and I want to be the best that I can be. My dreams are still alive. I am sure that I am still mediocre but tomorrow is another day where I will keep trying to break out of that mold. After all, trying is part of the fun, isn’t it?