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Judicial Experience, or Lack Thereof

A classic from today's Odd Wisconsin:

There's a clamor in the press this morning over the President nominating for justice of the U.S. Supreme Court a candidate who's never sat as a judge anywhere, even in a small-town traffic court. Here in Wisconsin we once had a powerful judge with a similar amount of judicial experience, and he was the sole government in the state at the time.

Charles Reaume (1752-1822) was a failed merchant, farmer, and fur trader who fled to Green Bay from Montreal or Detroit about 1792. Territorial governor William Henry Harrison appointed him Justice of the Peace in 1803 and until 1822 Reaume dispensed idiosyncratic justice according to French and Indian customs rather than U.S. law. In fact, he is said not to have possessed a copy of the statutes.

Once, when two Frenchmen appeared before him over disputed property, he refused to rule in favor of either but found them both culpable and delivered this sentence: "You, Boivert," to the plaintiff, "bring me one load of hay; and you, Crely [the defendant], bring me one load of wood. Now the matter is settled." . . . Many defendants found themselves sentenced to labor a certain number of days on his farm, or to cut and split a certain number of rails for him.