It is only appropriate that as Shelby County enters into a new political era, to be followed a few scant months later by the state of Tennessee, we welcome back to the local bench a federal jurist who as much as anyone has kept the fires of reform burning in both jurisdictions.
Especially in the matters of the Shelby County jail and the Arlington Developmental Center, two institutions where neglect had bred not just scandal but the needless ruin of human lives, District Judge Jon McCalla made sure through repeated judicial order and by the lash of his oft-intemperate tongue that official attention would be paid and public confidence restored. Conditions have already improved in both locales and are, hopefully, on their way to full correction.
Unfortunately, Judge McCalla's means of keeping the heat on in the matters before his court ultimately scorched not only malefactors and laggards but his own reputation and burned out the patience of others in the judicial system. So we were told, anyhow, when McCalla was summarily suspended from his duties more than a year ago and forced to undergo counseling by federal appellate judges acting on local complaints. There were star-chamber aspects to McCalla's temporary cashiering, and we commented upon them at the time.
Even so, Judge McCalla dutifully completed the prescribed course of treatment and is back on the job. First reviews are that he is a kinder, gentler presence more disposed to meet the lawyers in his courtroom halfway.
We do worry about the fact that Judge McCalla's past has compromised his jurisdictional reach. A number of lawyers and firms are off-limits to McCalla, and in some ways, the system seems to have been wrenched to accommodate him. The jury of public opinion is likely to stay out for a while on this case, but we are all for happy endings and are hopeful that such will be the final verdict on this one.
A Useful Convert
As far as we know, we have never before agreed with outgoing House Majority Leader Dick Armey about public matters of substance. The Texas conservative has been an obdurate opponent to overdue government action on issues ranging from benefits for the disabled to the clear need, post-September 11th, to federalize airport security.
But now Armey, who is about to leave office voluntarily and may be making an effort to strip his partisan blinders off, is behaving quite constructively indeed. He has added his pleas for caution on Iraq to that of Brent Skowcroft and other former GOP national-security luminaries.
Citing the "trust, but verify" practices of a recent president whom most Republicans now regard as a saint, Ronald Reagan, Armey called Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's belated acceptance of the idea of unconditional arms inspections a "great opportunity."
All the more reason why President Bush should not, as he seems prepared to, dismiss Saddam's response out of hand. If a hard-shell type like Dick Armey joins in the refrain of "give peace a chance," the president should at least lend an ear.