This Fourth of July, I am reminded about my great-grandfather; Judge Lewis.
One hundred sixty years ago, on November 30, 1856, Judge Albert W Lewis was born into a Quaker farming family in Clinton County, Ohio. The family moved to Saline County, Illinois, during the Civil War, while Albert was still a boy. After a brief career as a school teacher, Albert found his true calling when he was admitted to the practice of law in 1882. His abilities carried him to prominence as a leading member of the bar, and as Republican political leader of Saline County, Illinois. He served as States Attorney (1888 to 1892), Representative in the Illinois legislature (1893-1894), County Judge (1894-1898), States Attorney a second time (1904-1906), and Circuit Judge (1906-1921).
Judge Lewis was my great-grandfather.
Judge Lewis said of insurance companies and insurance “Insurance companies are in the business to make money, and if they could make money selling it, the public could make money by not buying it.” Of promises, Judge Lewis was inflexible “Be careful what you promise. Once a promise is made, you are honor-bound to keep it”.
While he was a Circuit Judge, Judge Lewis maintained a legal office with his son’s Jim and Aquilla, who were both criminal defense attorneys. One year Jim decided to run for States Attorney against the advice of his father. To no one’s surprise – Jim won, and as State Attorney, it fell to him to prosecute all criminal cases. His brother, Aquilla had to take over their combined defense practice, which at the time was almost every case on the docket. Thus, was established what was called, especially by political opponents, “the Lewis Court.” In almost every case – Jim was the prosecutor, Aquilla was the defender, and their father was the judge, and all occupied the same suite of offices.
Aquilla Lewis was my grandfather.
Inevitably there came a time when Judge Lewis was asked by the press, how he could possibly preside over any case where both his sons were the prosecution and the defense. It is reported that Judge Lewis replied, in complete candor, “Between the law and my sons, how could I not choose the law?” and “If he were States Attorney, he would prosecute a member of his family with as much vigor as anyone else.” At that time in Illinois, there was no man more highly respected than Judge Lewis and he was taken at his word.
Who among our elected officials today would be taken at their word? Who today, would in all candor, simply tell the truth without trying to parse the facts?
Fort Lauderdale (the metro area – not just the city) has some of the smartest and experienced people in the country, so why can’t we seem to solve our growing pains, our development issues, traffic problems, our infrastructure needs, the homeless crisis, and I could go on.
Call it mid-western honesty, character or both when a Judge could preside over one son as prosecutor and the other son as defense and it would not only be accepted – but above reproach.
This Fourth of July, we should take some time to think about the quality of our elected officials and commit ourselves to do a better job in future elections.
My great-grandfather would have appreciated the wisdom in the African saying “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
Note: This article appeared in the July 2017 editions of most of the 14 Fort Lauderdale area neighborhood magazines.