I decided I’d attend a soiree hosted by a very good friend running for a judgeship in Baton Rouge. I normally don’t get involved with people too much. I spent too many years working in law enforcement to not recognize many people seeking my counsel were looking for loopholes in the law and I don’t really care for the idea of being used. But this was different for me.
I stood on the outside and watched more from a point of view of a security operative than a guest having his pocket plumbed to determine its depth for a campaign contribution. It was interesting.
First I need to describe who I’m talking about and why I’m doing something I rarely do: speak kindly of a candidate.
Randy Piedrahita was introduced to me several years ago as a candidate for a commission in the sheriff’s office I was employed at as the Training Commander. He wasn’t the fresh faced ingénue proclaiming his interest and drive to become a deputy was “in his blood”. I normally suggest rookies who make this infantile statement get dialysis, get in formation, open their minds and shut their mouths so we can disabuse them of the idea the job is all cops and robbers. Randy didn’t fit that bill. He was already aware of what he was trying to do and suffered no delusions about what was entailed.
Randy did everything required of him. As a trial lawyer of some reputation he could have easily used his money and connections to gain what we called in former days a “joy buzzer”, a commission saying you’re a “special deputy”. This allowed you to enforce whatever laws you can spell and/or execute the duties of a school crossing guard without inadvertently using too many of the little darlings as wheel chocks. The “joy buzzer” serves to enhance the testicular challenges some people face because their “blood” is tainted by not really being good enough to make the cut as a cop.
Randy spent his free time studying the law as it was given to him. This was in spite of the extensive knowledge he has of criminal and civil law. He was engaged as a pupil. He took the lessons and without embarrassment helped me understand aspects of law I’d not known: and I taught law to rookie cops for over twenty years. I learned from the student. He improved me as a person and as an instructor.
There was more. When Katrina struck we spent a lot of time working to take care of people here on the home-front far from New Orleans. After we’d spent as much time as was necessary to assure people were properly taken care of at home Randy came to me and asked if I’d accompany him to New Orleans because he wanted to not only see what was going on but help people needing it. I was hesitant but when you deal with Randy on a personal basis you come to understand there’s more to him than appears on the surface. We went to New Orleans and patrolled. We suffered the heat and the street contacts. We walked near empty streets and witnessed the anguish of the local people. I watched a rookie go beyond the softness of his years in training and saw the compassion resident.
Randy became a lawyer out of choice. He wanted to help people struck down by circumstances beyond his control. He became an active law enforcement officer to train and help his fellows better understand how they need to do their jobs. He wanted to participate so there’s less impropriety and less conflict in the enforcement of that law. He’s an active SWAT team member and that’s a specialty requiring lots of selfless training and education.
I watched lawyers and laymen; the wealthy and those financially challenged move with ease amongst each other as Randy greeted each one of them. Randy was comfortable. He greeted all with his firm handshake and a leveled gaze. He looked into the person so as to make him feel comfortable. He’s genuinely a good person.
This is what we need in the courts. We need people who are aware of what’s going on in the world; not just the cold and sterile verbiage in a law book or library. Compassion melded with a firm understanding of law must be developed in our judges and justices. To stand alone, imperious and untouchable like some marble statue of Solon or Justice Learned Hand doesn’t serve justice as much as it serves self.
And, America and Louisiana deserve men and women of character on the bench: not a throne.
I witnessed that at a political fund raiser for Randy Piedrahita.
Thanks for listening.