Chief Justice Pascal Calogero Jr. officially retired from his post as Louisiana's highest-ranking jurist last week in a ceremony at the state Supreme Court. I was there because I had the honor of serving as one of Calogero's clerks, briefly, in 1994.
In the few weeks I clerked for the Chief, I learned volumes about how our judicial system works. At the time, I promised Calogero and the other justices that I would never reveal anything I saw, read or heard during my clerkship. I kept that promise, but on this occasion I feel compelled to share some observations about a man who has served on our state's highest court longer than anyone else in history.
Three things have always stood out in my mind about Calogero — the enormity of his intellect, the tirelessness of his work ethic and the depth of his humility. Any one of those qualities is unusual in a politician; finding all of them in one person is extraordinary.
I first met Calogero in 1974, when I covered the first of his three very difficult re-election campaigns. I was struck then by how dignified he remained, even while his opponents savaged him with exaggerated attacks. He never once raised his voice or otherwise responded in kind. Instead, he spoke of the "rule of law" and every person's constitutional right to fairness. Today, that kind of response would sound, at best, quaint.
In 1993, as a freshly minted lawyer, I ran into him at a bar association function, and he said something I'll never forget. "I owe you an apology," he said.
"I failed to take note of your recent graduation from Loyola Law School by offering you a clerkship," he said.
"Pas," I answered, flabbergasted, "I didn't ask you for a clerkship. Besides, I already have a job at a law firm."
As luck would have it, one of his clerks was about to go on maternity leave, and he needed a pinch hitter. Thus began, in early 1994, my six-week tenure as a law clerk. What I saw during those weeks — and for years afterward — was a man whose devotion to justice and to the judicial system was unflagging, and whose intellect was unsurpassed.
He once called me into his office to assign me an opinion on a matter about which I knew absolutely nothing. Before I could even try to mask my ignorance, he began discussing a case that had been decided more than 10 years earlier — citing it by name and year, without benefit of notes (he never did learn to use a computer, let alone Westlaw) — reviewing the facts of that case and analyzing why it was controlling law in the case at hand. I quickly realized he was dictating the opinion that I was supposed to write, so I fumbled around for a pen. When I pulled the old case, it was exactly as he described — yet neither party in the case at hand had cited it. He did this as effortlessly as you or I might pick up a newspaper and read the headlines.
And then there was his late afternoon ritual: packing up all the day's work and stuffing it into a half-dozen boxy briefcases, wheeling them to his car outside, and loading them into his trunk to take home and read at night. When he pulled out of the parking lot, the back end of his car literally sagged from the weight of all the paperwork in his trunk. Each morning, he would unload it all — much of it marked up with his notes from the night before or earlier that morning — and haul it back up to his office.
He worked this way for 36 years as a Supreme Court justice. No one except his colleagues and his clerks ever saw it, and he never considered working any other way.
"He was meant to be a judge," says his lifelong friend, former law partner and political mentor, Moon Landrieu.
Time has proven the veracity of that assessment, and I feel lucky to have seen a small part of it up close. Happy retirement, Chief.