Today, our fifth day of waiting for a Libby verdict, provided an unexpected opportunity to see Judge Reggie Walton, who has presided over this high profile trial with poise, show a far more passionate side.
While the jury is down the hall working, the judge caught up on other cases.
A series of young men came before him for repeat appearances and various criminal offenses. The judge was quite proper as he reviewed each man's new reason for being in court. But when that business was done, he addressed them personally with a fire that resonated deep belief and personal experience. Judge Walton is African-American and so were the young men in trouble.
Judge Walton raised his voice like an angry father. He thundered, "I get sick and tired of putting young black people in chains. When I go visit prisons, all I see is us." He delivered a powerful dose of history, telling them there was a time when "black people were held in chains and had no choice." He asked the men, "Do you want to live in chains?" and added, "I guess you like to be in bondage. I can't leave you on the street."
He sternly lectured another that if he keeps "breaking bad" his own life would be at risk from "another criminal." He scolded one 20-something man that he could turn his life around and find work: "Somebody who really wants to work can get a job. Maybe not a good job, but a job. And then move up from there." The judge revealed both deep frustration and what surely looked like true concern.
His words reflected something personal. His own path had been rocky. He has said publicly that he was arrested three times in his youth growing up in a tough neighborhood near Pittsburgh. Many of his pals from those days were either jailed or dead.
Judge Walton evolved from a star school athlete to a committed student. He worked his way through law school and ultimately became a Reagan appointee to the federal bench. There's much more to his bio, of course, but the essence of his hard earned achievement was vividly on the record today. It was meaningful. This part of Judge Walton had not been so evident during weeks of the Libby trial, when much power and privilege moved through his courtroom. He must be wondering if any of those young men were listening.