Miller Time
Sympathy For The Judge
By Grady Miller
May 23, 2014 - 1:42:15 PM

UNITED STATES—My Guggenheim was about to run out, a Guggenheim from the State of California. To add insult to injury, some benefits already provided were being withdrawn because I had not properly noted on the weekly questionnaire that I had worked on when I had worked. Allegedly, I did not note the work hours, but I was sure I had noted these hours on the form.


When I responded to the office with a request to clarify that I had properly filled out the original form and was not being unfairly docked the benefits, the "system" construed it as an appeal. Thus, I received a letter to the California's Employment Office's appeals division and was given a date with a judge.

This was kind of a drag because all I had wanted was confirmation I had filled out the form correctly. The fact that I had worked was never in question. I heavily considered not showing for the appointment; the wheels of bureaucracy would have kept spinning, all the same. Now, considering the experience, it makes me shiver to think how close I came to being a no-show. I would have never known all the surprises that were in store.

Here comes a special judge.

The first surprise was the glass office building in Inglewood: everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, the name-tagged workers hanging out in the patio or returning from lunch. They were talking animatedly in the elevator: "He was being sarcastic, you know." "Is that like facetious?" "On the acid level, lightest is facetious, then there's sarcastic, and caustic." "Oh, replied the woman, "I think my old boyfriend was caustic."

In the waiting room, where a friendly receptionist instructed to review our file and wait for the judge to come, there was a bookshelf in one corner with a sign, FREE BOOKS, PLEASE TAKE ONE. Talk about unexpected touches to warm a book lover's soul. I got to review the folder; it contained everything: there was my letter to the court and the envelope addressed in my handwriting and the stamp I had put on it, all strangely objectified by time and distance. To be honest it was even a little creepy. Then there was the original questionnaire at the crux of this matter, and clearly, I had written in the work hours and the amounts earned. The reason for this trip was already answered. What more business did I have here?

Then Judge Jackson came into the waiting room and called my name.  I followed her down the hall, her black robe rustling. "This will be all over in five or six minutes," she said. "I know why you're here. I read your file."

Her words were an immediate comfort and she led me into a broad solitary room, wooded as a humidor--the judge's chamber. We sat. I took the oath, and we began the recorded proceedings. All the documents in the file were described as exhibits 1-6, as in a murder case. Judge Jackson said basically that the motion to deduct benefits was the result of a computer glitch. "You filled out the form correctly, now the ball is back in their court."

Judge Jackson then correctly stated the circumstances for which my benefits were awarded: the severe cutbacks to the Adult Educational System in L.A. She had done her research. I appreciated all the care and sensitivity that the judge showed.

"It's very disturbing when you have a profession that you think will continue indefinitely, and then it doesn't. I have seen it on my own family. My brother-in-law was out of work for three years--he just recently got a job. People go through a lot of stress and sometimes they are embarrassed about receiving benefits. I try to be compassionate, and put myself in their shoes.  But it's easier to say it than to be in their shoes," said the judge.

"Here in the state, there are severe cutbacks. We're only operating ninety days funding at a time. I don't know how long I'll be here. It's so hard to deal with knowing I could be let go at any time, though I have seniority. Every time something like this has happened in the past, where there's a huge change, I look back and see there was a plan. And it turned out for the best, though it didn't feel that way at the time. Its hard now contemplating what will be next. I love this job and the people I serve, who need help. You know the worst part is waiting and not knowing what's going to happen. I'll be OK. I've set aside money, spent conservatively, not went out and bought anything crazy. It's terrible not knowing. I must believe that God has a plan."
I wanted to hug her, I wanted to cry. What a glimpse into humanity? I would have been denied if I had not shown up. She gave me comfort, but I was there in the end to give her comfort and shore up her spirits. A privilege beyond measure.

Humorist Grady Miller can be reached at

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