Tender justice: Judge Norma Levy Shapiro's hard-headed humanity.

Author:Goodman, Ellen

One hot August morning, fifteen minutes into my clerkship for Judge Shapiro, I saw the whole woman and her integrated approach to humanism, law, womanhood, community, and professional excellence.

In those first breathless minutes, the Judge, a gracious hostess and domestic doyenne, asked for my opinion about the new furniture she had selected for the clerks' office, and whether I thought it met her precisely articulated aesthetic and functional goals. She then led me with obvious pride through the chambers' small library. I was instructed to consult a treatise first when confronted with unfamiliar areas of the law, despite what the law school writing instructors might have told me. Digests and computer databases were all very useful, but not until the mind had grasped the whole. That instruction evinced the Judge's belief that unschooled electronic searches too often lead to haphazard legal research, but, more profoundly, it revealed her deep respect for the authority of learning.

Next on the agenda that morning was a short visit in the Judge's office, where splashes of color and comfort bespoke a woman at home with her work. The shelves and sills were crowded with awards for community service and legal achievement, with pictures of children and grandchildren, and emblems of a lifelong commitment to Jewish causes, the advancement of women, and social justice. I could not have been in there for more than twelve minutes. But by the time I left, the Judge knew the statistics that were vital to her: my romantic status and hopes, my birthday, and what I like to eat. And in those seven minutes, I absorbed lessons, both philological and psychological, I would never forget. I learned that the word "indicate" should be used with data (always plural) and not with people and that "that" is almost always better than "which," but it is better still to reconstruct the sentence to avoid the that/which grammatical quandary altogether. It wasn't just that the Judge valued good writing. She felt that good and accurate writing was a sign of good and accurate thinking. Just as importantly, the Judge told me that a woman need not abandon either tenderness or common sense in the pursuit of rigorous analysis. Beauty was truth, and truth need not wear boxers.

The next year provided--as has each of the subsequent years--a chance to practice and build upon Judge Shapiro's lessons.


    Federal criminal trials and sentencing are heartbreaking experiences. At least they were for me. The power of the state, with its polished wood and muscular federal marshals, is arrayed against the defendant who, now in the dock, is divested of all authority and menace. He seems small next to his lawyer, in whose direction the young children in the courtroom's back rows, kicking absently at the floor, look to save their helpless parent.

    In the respite from a barrage of drug cases, the Judge presided over the trial of a man in his seventies who was convicted of a criminal Clean Water Act violation. Before his retirement, he had run a generic drug manufacturing company and had ordered an employee to pour toxic substances down a storm drain. Judge Shapiro is pretty tough on crime. Just as she would not hear from drug defendants that they thought their crimes were victimless, she was not going to be moved by the claims of this...

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