Judge S. Arthur Spiegel: A long and meaningful life
On most Sundays, this space is devoted to partisan politics.
Not this Sunday. This Sunday it is time to step back and look at the long career of a man who transcended politics – Senior Judge S. Arthur Spiegel of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio.
He passed away this past week at the age of 94. And, when word came out of his passing, there was a profound sense of loss among his friends, his fellow judges, and the many lawyers who appeared before him over the past 34 years – Democrat and Republican alike.
Spiegel was appointed in 1980 by a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter; and in 1995, he took senior status, but continued to hear cases, almost up to the very end of his life.
“The judiciary has lost a giant,’’ said U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black.
Black’s uncle, the late Judge Robert Black and Spiegel were close friends. As a young lawyer and a state court judge, Timothy Black looked up to Spiegel as a mentor, a role model.
“What I learned from him more than anything else was courage,’’ Black said. “He made a decision and he stuck with it.”
He was not just a legal giant and a keen intellect, but he led a most interesting life – as a painter, as a pilot of his own small plane, as a familiar figure in his home neighborhood of Clifton.
Long-time Clifton residents remember the donkey he bought and kept in the backyard of the Spiegel home. Now and then, he would be seen riding the donkey through the streets of Clifton.
And he was a hero of World War II. He joined the Marines in 1942 and was shipped to the South Pacific, where he saw combat in several battles. In one, he rescued a wounded Marine in New Guinea.
After the war, he came back home, married and raised four sons. He took up the cause of civil rights, pressuring swimming clubs to admit blacks; and putting the heat on private clubs to admit blacks and Jews.
In his long career on the bench, Spiegel presided over a multitude of meaningful an high profile cases – he struck down Cincinnati’s anti-gay initiative in 1993, awarded $2.7 million to inmates at Lucasville prison in a class action lawsuit against the state, and settled a lawsuit involving the Fernald uranium processing plant.
Perhaps the most high profile case he handled was the sentencing of Pete Rose on charges of tax evasion. It happened in 1990, the year after Rose was banished from baseball for betting on games.
Spiegel sentenced Rose to five months in federal prison (it turned out to be a minimum security prison in Marion, Ill.), three months in a halfway house in Cincinnati, and a year of supervised release. And he fined him $50,000.
Here’s part of what Spiegel wrote in his sentencing statement:
“Recognizing that Mr. Rose is a well-known figure, it might be a temptation to make an example of him by imposing a heavy sentence. On the other hand, because he has suffered much in this past year, in his career and financially, there might be a temptation to go light. I have attempted to weigh all of these considerations in determining Mr. Rose’s sentence in an effort to be fair to the defendant and to fulfill the court’s responsibility to society.”
Classic Spiegel. Well thought out. Fair. Impartial. Seeking nothing except that justice be done.
“He was incredibly amazing; he had such a keen mind,’’ said Karl Kadon, a Republican appointee as assistant U.S. attorney who appeared before Spiegel many times.
“Especially in his later years, whenever I would have a witness going on the stand in Judge Spiegel’s court, I would warn them,’’ Kadon said. “I’d say, ‘Look, he may look frail and he doesn’t hear very well, but don’t think for a minute that he isn’t one step ahead of you.’’’
Spiegel, Kadon said, “always thought two moves ahead, like a chess game.”
When you went before Judge Spiegel, either as a lawyer, a defendant or a witness, you could count on being treated with respect, Kadon said.
“He treated everyone with the courtliness and civility that we all should emulate,” Kadon said. “It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, black or white, powerful or an ordinary citizen. He treated all who came before him the same.”
And, Kadon said, “he hated injustice more than anyone I have ever known.”
Al Gerhardstein, the civil rights attorney, appeared before Spiegel in many cases – including the one in which Cincinnati’s anti-gay ordinance was thrown out and the Lucasville inmates’ class action lawsuit.
“One of the most important things about the judge was that he recognized the passion behind civil rights issues,’’ Gerhardstein said. “He had fought for civil rights long before he became a judge.
“He was rigorous in his application of the law, but he didn’t flinch when the defendant was the government,’’ Gerhardstein said. “He was very clear in every case – the facts mattered.”
In the Lucasville case, where one of the allegations of mistreatment of prisoners was that they were being herded into a room and being hit with power hoses, Spiegel went to the prison to look at the room.
“He flew there in his little plane; I drove down,’’ Gerhardstein said. “He wanted to know. He wanted to see it. He wanted to understand.”
Monday, this man who was a giant and a gentleman in his profession and private life will be laid to rest.
He will not be forgotten by those who knew him as a friend or colleague, or even as a legal adversary.
“The likes of Art Spiegel will not come along again,’’ Judge Black said. “Those are shoes that can’t be filled.”