Two years ago, this newspaper endorsed Patrick Kiniry and Linda Fleming to fill two judgeship vacancies on the Cambria County courts. With every endorsement, you wonder whether the person will live up to that endorsement. After all, our credibility is also on the line.
For various reasons, my path in the community often crosses with Judge Fleming and/or Judge Kiniry. In fact, two weeks ago, our paths crossed because I was summoned for jury duty.
Now I know what you are probably thinking: There is no way a newspaper publisher would ever be selected to serve on a jury.
And I shared that line of thinking, as did most everyone else called to serve that day.
After jury orientation by President Judge Timothy Creany (he did a great job), we were divided into groups of about 50 people and sent to various courtrooms.
I was randomly selected to go to Judge Kiniry’s courtroom. When I walked into his digs, our eyes met and he smiled like an opossum chewing on briars.
It was the kind of smile that reminded me of Sylvester the cat right before he would eat Tweety Bird every week in the cartoons I grew up watching.
I believe the judge was enjoying every minute of my squirming, and was delighted by the fact that there was nothing I could do about it.
Judge Kiniry’s vetting process of each juror was very thorough and included many, many questions.
I realized these were important questions the judge had to ask, to ensure both the defendant and the prosecution got a fair and unbiased jury. As a result, and for various reasons, several people were dismissed from the pool of potential jurors.
I was confident I would join them.
To make a long story short, much to my surprise – and to everyone else’s in the room – I was selected as the fifth jury member on a trial scheduled to begin the following Monday. The session would last two days. And to boot, I got selected as the jury foreman.
I was impressed with the way Judge Kiniry handled the two days of the trial.
His calm manner, his concern for and confident understanding of the law and attention to details were impressive.
I realized that a judge must bring his or her “A-game” every day, because those who are on trial deserve nothing less.
His focus throughout was laser-beam intense. I never once saw him lose concentration or track of the arguments and objections being presented by the attorneys – sometimes with rapid fire.
Folks, I can tell you this:
As a result of serving, I have a newfound respect for our legal system – the judges, attorneys and clerks who work therein. It is a tough job, to say the least.
A judge has an awesome responsibility, and I tip my hat to Judge Kiniry.
During my jury experience, as we took breaks, I bumped into Judge Fleming a few times, but she did not speak.
All I got was a smile and a nod. You see, judges and attorneys are not allowed to interact with any jury member while the jurors serve.
For the judicial process to work properly, and for the sake of fairness to all involved, they must avoid even the appearance of improper contact or influence over a jury.
We were told this during the orientation process. I completely understand why this is necessary.
Today I want to send out kudos to Judge Fleming.
This paper reported that, in an effort to expand her knowledge and experience, Judge Fleming completed a 40-hour training class on crisis intervention.
“Sadly, there are mental-health overtones in many of my criminal cases,” she said.
“Gaining knowledge about clinical issues as well as individual and family perspectives will assist me in making rulings that are better tailored to families and society.”
It is this kind of dedication to excellence by Judges Fleming and Kiniry that reaffirms to us and the community that we indeed did make the right decision to endorse these two fine individuals to fill vacancies on our courts.
The community at large can rest assured that these two are qualified and very capable to preside.
And we look forward to watching them serve for a very long time to come.
Robin L. Quillon is publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.