I wrote this piece six months ago, but in light of Judge Kaliste Saloom’s passing yesterday, I thought I might offer it again. Judge Saloom was the iconic city judge of Lafayette. He died yesterday at the age of 99. I stood before Judge Saloom 30 years ago as a 17 year old. Everyone has a Judge Saloom story, and I have mine. I will never forget that day.
My dad accompanied me to juvenile court. He had lectured me about the proper etiquette standing before a judge, but particularly this one. My dad knew first-hand the judge’s reputation. My dad’s warning was well founded. In the opening moments of court, one teenager, along with his mother, was sent home given one-hour to return with a proper shirt on or they would be found in contempt. The teenager was wearing a t-shirt advertising beer—not acceptable attire to the judge for the young man too young to legally drink.
One by one for a couple of hours, everyone was found guilty and given varying sentences of driving school or suspension of license for a judge-determined number of days. With an improper turn ticket in hand that had resulted in an accident, I finally got my turn before the judge.
“What happened, son?”
I began to tell my story indicating my attempt to make a right-hand turn.
“Wait a minute,” Judge Saloom interrupted, “This ticket says you were making a left-hand turn.”
I had not noticed that in the policeman’s writing.
“Well, sir, I was making a right-hand turn.”
He asked, “Well, tell me where you were?”
I told him exactly where I was and to my unbelievable surprise, he said, “You are right. You were making a right-hand turn. I can’t do anything with this. The ticket is wrong. You are dismissed.”
Like little shocked toy soldiers, my dad and I turned around in disbelief to make our way home. Just about the time I was beginning to breathe again, Judge Saloom barked out, “Wait a second, come back here.”
I thought maybe he had changed his mind, and I was about to get my sentence just like everyone else.
I still remember his next sentence. Though he did not mean it as such, what he said next is a clear presentation of the Gospel.
“Son, I didn’t say you were innocent. I just said you weren’t guilty!”
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