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Washington Lawyer

Your Honors: Two Judges, Two Very Colorful Cases

From Washington Lawyer, March 2015

By Jacob A. Stein

spectatorIt may be of interest to the younger members of the local Bar to read about two judges.

The first is Gerard D. Reilly, chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals from 1972 to 1976. Reilly was appointed by President Nixon in 1970, and served as senior judge from 1976 until his death in May 1995. Judge Reilly had an interesting background. He was a cross-country runner at Harvard, a journalist, a New Dealer, an Old Dealer, and a Neo-Dealer.

Here are two of his cases to show what he could do in writing colorful legal opinions.

The first case is 4934 Incorporated, T/A The Godfather v. Mayor Walter E. Washington and District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, 375 A.2d 20 (D.C. App. 1977). What brought the case to Judge Reilly was an appeal of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s suspension of the liquor license of a nightclub (so to speak) on Wisconsin Avenue called The Godfather. Go-Go dancers provided the entertainment.

One evening three plainclothes policemen observed Miss Miranda dancing the striptease. They decided Miss Miranda’s dance was obscene and notified the board, which suspended The Godfather’s license for 60 days.

The Godfather’s lawyers were not hopeful. It was expected that Judge Reilly would not interfere with the board.

Surprise! Judge Reilly commenced his opinion with a scholarly review of the obscenity laws. Then he was in his stride:

While the dancer may have exceeded the proprieties concerning attire and contact with patrons laid down by club management for the guidance of the entertainers—pursuant apparently to some informal understanding with the police—her dishabille and coyness with the customers did not differ markedly from performances given 50 years ago in the apron of the Old Howard or on the stage of the Washington Gayety by such legendary figures as Ann Corio, Lily St. Cyr, and Gypsy Rose Lee.

The second case is the domestic relations case Clagett v. King, 308 A.2d 245 (D.C. App. 1973). The parties, Dr. Joseph King and Ms. Agnes Clagett, met as young undergraduates, he at Princeton and she at Goucher. After college, they went their separate ways and each married another. It was not until 20 years after their respective marriages, in 1962, that they met again. Ms. Clagett met Dr. King as a guest at a dinner party. They became deeply attached and confessed to dissatisfaction with their present marriages.

They each got a Mexican divorce and they married. But this idyll had an unhappy ending. Dr. King sued in the District of Columbia to annul the marriage, alleging it was invalid because their respective Mexican divorces were counterfeit. The trial judge gave Dr. King the annulment. Ms. Clagett appealed.

Judge Reilly reversed the annulment and made Ms. Clagett the winner. Not only did Judge Reilly do justice, he also drew from his extensive memory and placed into a footnote a quotation from Percy Shelly’s “Epipsychidion.” In the poem, Shelly describes what it was like to meet again, after many years, the first love. The emotion caused Dr. King to recall the chance encounter at the dinner party. Here is the verse in the footnote:

There was a Being whom my spirit oft
Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft,
In the clear golden prime of my youth’s dawn,
Upon the fairy isles of sunny lawn

So, there we have it. Judge Reilly disentangled this complicated body of law dealing with divorce, annulment, and full faith and credit that was necessary to do justice to Ms. Clagett. Not only that, he marked up his opinion with the appropriate lines of verse from that great authority on romantic love. Shelly was the romantic poet who befriended and consoled Lord Byron when Byron required some comfort during one of his many love affairs. Who but a judge like Judge Reilly would do it all in a concise five-page unanimous opinion.

Another judge of interest is Joseph Charles McGarraghy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. McGarraghy was appointed by President Eisenhower in 1954; he assumed senior status in 1967 and served in that capacity until his death in 1975.

Judge McGarraghy was reserved and a man of few words. However, he resolved many disputes. When there was agreement, the defense counsel would call the claims adjuster to get the approval. While waiting for a return call from the adjuster, Judge McGarraghy would ask the lawyers, “What do you think of me as a judge?” Of course, the lawyers responded that he was one of the finest judges on the bench. It was then that Judge McGarraghy would take a letter from his desk and hand it to defense counsel: “Would you read that aloud concerning my reputation?”

The lawyer, with a trembling hand, reads aloud the letter. It said: “Judge McGarraghy, you should not be a judge at all. You don’t know the law and you don’t know anything at all on the facts. In fact, I’m going to write a letter to J. Edgar Hoover and have him look into your cases. You should resign.”

The lawyer looks at Judge McGarraghy, and Judge McGarraghy extends his hand for the letter to put it back in his desk and says, “Now I don’t want any of you to let this get out.” By that time the claims adjuster had called approving the settlement. Judge McGarraghy signs the praecipe concluding the case.

Reach Jacob A. Stein.