It was a reason to celebrate and Mark Windham’s Venice neighbors wanted to show just how proud they were of him by throwing a surprise party after the announcement of his judgeship appointment by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Los Angles County Superior Court.
Becoming a judge was not a lifelong aspiration for Mark as it might be for others. But, after being a public defender for twenty-two years it became an evolution from advocacy to actually seeing that justice is done. “I saw it as a way where I could really do the same thing – using my skills to act compassionately in difficult situations,” says Mark. “The difference is that as a judge I’ll act on behalf of the entire community rather than just on behalf of the individual who is accused of a crime.”
People have asked Mark how he will change in his role from public defender to judge. He answers that only the role is changing; he is not. “I intend to do exactly the same thing I have always done and that is to act firmly and decisively out of compassion,” he says. “I aspire to have the wisdom to be able to reconcile the different interests. I think that’s what justice is.”
Is determining justice easy? “No, it will be hard,” says Mark. “I want hard. I welcome that challenge.” Is there a human element in making decisions or is it all law? “The work of a trial judge is deeply enmeshed with humanity,” he says. “Judges make factual decisions and must follow the law and employ the law but in determining how to apply the law to a situation well requires an understanding of human nature. There is a lot of room for equity, not just law. Law typically isn’t rigid. You have to assess a situation and reach a just answer. There usually is a weighing process. The law will give a judge factors to consider but indicate that it is not an exclusive list. Always the motivation is justice. That is inescapably a human problem as opposed to a strictly legal problem.”
Mark feels that his first training for a judgeship was his career as a lawyer. “It’s a great and important asset,” he says. “I know how the courtroom runs. I’ve seen courtrooms that run poorly and courtrooms that run well. I plan on employing the methods that work best.” In addition to special programs and seminars for new judges, Mark also has the opportunity to interact with other colleagues new to the bench. “We benefit from each other’s issues in that we talk about our cases and challenges and help each other resolve them,” he says.
Advancing in any field of endeavor is not always easy. Mark has suggestions for lawyers looking to make their mark. They really pertain to anyone who wants to get ahead.
… Be professional. Keep in mind your ethical obligations and maintain your integrity. Work hard for your client. Advocate zealously but with perspective and balance.
… Be collegial. Get involved in some aspect of an organization that allows you to benefit the profession or your sector of the profession and meet others who are engaged in the same sort of work.
… Get involved with your community. Giving back to the community is a vital part in being a complete person. People who bury themselves in their profession aren’t necessarily going to advance as fast as a balanced person.
Mark is grateful that he’s had fortunate circumstances in life. He had an excellent education at UC Berkeley and UC Hastings College of the Law. His parents have been good role models. As a child, his father, also a lawyer, once took him to a judge’s chambers. Mark was told to call the judge “Your Honor.” “It was a lesson I learned about respect in the court that I always thought was important and it has served me well throughout my career,” he says. Early on, his mother instilled old world values. When he applied for an appointment as a judge and embarked upon the labor-intensive effort to document his career achievements and contact hundreds of references, she was instrumental in his efforts to become a judge. “Suddenly there were deadlines and an enormous amount of work to do for the application which coincided with needing to do my own enormous amount of work on account of his ongoing duties as a manager in the Public Defender’s Office.” She helped out any way she could. Mark gives credit to the support of his wife, Beth Gallagher, also an accomplished person as an Emmy award-winning documentary editor, for many of the things that he has been able to achieve. “The night before I was going to cross-examine the expert on DNA evidence on a capital case I was freaked out because I felt I was not prepared to my standards and it was late and I needed to be fresh in the morning,” he remembers. “Beth walked me two laps around the block and gave me a pep talk. She said it was going to be ok – and it was.”
At Mark’s swearing-in ceremony, he talked about the sense of reverence and how that will influence his task of judging. “Reverence is the forgotten virtue,” he says. “I think it’s been lost in our evolution for increasing self-importance. The reverence, the sense of awe, the appreciation of that which is greater than ourselves, keeps us from delusions of grandeur.”
We recently had an election when we had to vote for judges. How many of us knew anything about the judges on the ballot? Not many, I’m sure. Personally, I’ve always found this to be a major problem. I want to make sure that my vote counts for the best-qualified person. Mark went through a rigorous process to be appointed. People on the ballot can win just by raising enough money to be on the right slate. Mark suggests the Los Angeles County Bar Association, www.lacba.org, which goes to great lengths to evaluate the candidates, as the best source of information. Other sites are League of Women Voters, www.lwv.org, and www.smartvoter.com.
While Mark’s Venice neighbors have known him as a friendly neighbor rather than as a trial lawyer, many of them knew his application for appointment was pending and were overjoyed by the great news. The spontaneous celebration reflects how momentous this occasion is not only for Mark and his family but also for our community.