Published January 2012
By: Eunice T. Baros
Assistant Public Defender
“If there is one thing I would impart to you tonight,” cautioned 15th Judicial Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes to the Nova Southeastern University (NSU) Law School Alumni in Palm Beach County recently, “is that your reputation is everything: Cases come and go; litigants come and go. But how people think of you — as being honest, straightforward, prepared and candid — lasts forever.”
Judge Kastrenakes joined Al Johnson, executive director of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, and Carolyn Bell, Assistant United States Attorney and co-chairperson of the local Bar’s Professionalism Committee, at a CLE dinner on ethics and professionalism recently, sponsored by NSU alums. His comments reflected the thoroughness and commitment he had as lead counsel at the United States Attorney’s Office in prosecuting various crimes, including several politicians several years ago who were convicted of honest services fraud.
“Remember,” Judge Kastrenakes said, “It is easy to tell the same story again and again if you tell the truth. It is hard to do that when we practice deceit. So it is with professionalism.”
“Professionalism: Think of character, integrity, honesty and civility. We must practice being professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We must take measure of our character every day, in every situation — at home, in our dealings with our friends, at work. Then it becomes easy,” Judge Kastrenakes said. “Be honest when answering questions by your family and friends. Treat those who work with and for you with candor. It is not enough that we turn on that honest character thing when we turn on the lights at the office – but then become deceitful in our other dealings.”
Judge Kastrenakes referred to the oft-quoted statement that character is doing the right thing when you think nobody’s looking. “We (in the legal profession) are held to a higher standard,” he said. “Our actions reflect upon us personally and our profession generally. At the end of the day, we cannot win every case; the evidence will not allow it. But when we lose, we lose with dignity and with our reputations for honesty intact.”
While the Judge quoted his heroes and mentors (Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Benjamin Franklin and United States Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan among them) he offered his own view of being a professional in the courtroom:
In two words: Be Prepared.
- Anticipate legal issues. File bench memos on unusual or novel issues. File evidentiary motions with a memorandum of law before trial.
- Stand when addressing anyone, including the Court.
- Do not interrupt.
- Do not engage in personal attacks.
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- Use only surnames.
- Do not curry favor with the jury.
- Do not engage in speaking objections.
- Do not have unauthorized communication with the jury: All communications must go through the Bench.
- Have a good faith basis for objections.
- Try to resolve issues with the opposing party before filing a motion.
- Do not tell the judge, “I just got the file this morning, so I don’t know”…or that “I gave it to my secretary to send, but I don’t know what happened.”
Judge Kastrenakes entertained the alums when he referred to a California case, U.S. v. Alvarez, 638 F. 3rd 666 C.A. 9 (Cal.), 2011 in which Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals discussed the constitutionality of a federal statute which criminalized the false receipt of military medals, known as “The Stolen Valor Act.” 18 U.S. C. 704 (b). In the decision, about a man who won a seat on the Three Valley Water District Board of Directors and who boasted of earning medals of honor that were never awarded, Judge Alvarez opined about a lot of things in life that we take for granted, said Judge Kastrenakes.
Judge Kozinski wrote, “Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying… We lie to protect our privacy… to avoid hurt feelings… to make others feel better… avoid recriminations… to prevent grief… to maintain domestic tranquility… to avoid social stigma… for career advancement…to avoid being lonely (‘I love opera’)…to eliminate a rival…to achieve an objective… to defeat an objective…to make an exit…to delay the inevitable (‘The check is in the mail’ )… to communicate displeasure… to get someone off your back… to name drop… to set up a surprise party… to keep up appearances… to avoid taking out the trash (‘My back hurts’)…to duck an obligation…to maintain a public image… to make a point…to humor… to avoid embarrassment… to curry favor… to get a clerkship…to save the dollar…to maintain innocence…”
“And then he goes on to opine that we just don’t talk the talk, we walk the walk as reflected by the popularity of plastic surgery, elevator shoes, wood veneer paneling, cubic zirconia, toupees, artificial turf and cross-dressing,” Judge Kastrenakes quoted from Judge Kozinski’s opinion.
“This causes one to take pause,” said Judge Kastrenakes. “Is that what we’ve come to? Is that how we deal with each other? Is that how we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives? I say to you, while it is legally protected to lie in society by our First Amendment, we must practice honesty and truthfulness to accept it –not as an exception to a general policy of deceit and untruthfulness — but as a part of our character.”