U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren, who is based in Wichita, is one of the newest members of the federal bench in Kansas. Prior to being appointed to the federal court, he served as the U.S. attorney for Kansas. His service as U.S. attorney was distinguished and, from all indications, his service as a federal judge will be as well. Even more important, Melgren has the courage to permit his sense of fair play and humanity to influence his decisions as a judge.
Most of us remember that one of the issues raised during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was whether she would exclude any personal opinions or beliefs in reaching decisions as a justice. Many critics of Sotomayor believed that she would not, that she would allow her own life experiences to influence her judicial deliberations. These critics also seem to believe that a judge should not permit any external influences into a case. Instead, a judge should be an automaton and leave his or her humanity at the courtroom door.
I, along with many others, said at the time that such a theory of judging was both unrealistic and undesirable. Melgren has now demonstrated clearly that a dose of humanity in court proceedings is a good thing.
On April 12, Melgren, over the strenuous objections of one side, permitted a short delay in the beginning of a trial. The wife of one attorney is expecting their first child on July 3. The mother-to-be resides in Dallas, and the trial is scheduled for Kansas City. The attorney asked that the trial be delayed so that he could be with his wife when she gave birth.
Much to Melgren’s surprise, lawyers on the other side “refused to agree to continue the trial setting” and asked Melgren to deny the young expectant father’s request for the delay. Further, in opposing the motion for the delay, the lawyers, according to Melgren, “helpfully pointed out the number of daily, non-stop flights between” Dallas and Kansas City and argued the the soon-to-be father could easily fly to Dallas when his child was ready to be born.
Melgren’s decision, albeit on a rather small issue is precisely why we need to ensure that judges not forget their humanity on the court. Melgren deserves high praise for his humanity and for being a great judge.