Archived Story

Berrien judge speaks at DUHS

Published 5:22pm Monday, December 10, 2012


Berrien County Judge Scott Schofield is so passionate about accepting responsibility, the Niles resident blogs on the topic.

He drew on football, opera, Jekyll and Hyde, “Baywatch’s” David Hasselhoff, nerd comedy “The Big Bang Theory” and the story of Adam and Eve to make his points Friday to Dowagiac Union High School civics students taught by Dan VandenHeede, who is also a Niles councilman.

In 15 years on the bench, including now in St. Joseph, Schofield, 61, has presided over criminal, civil and family matters.

Schofield discussed with freshmen how trials serve a dual purpose of protecting the public and punishing and rehabilitating perpetrators.

Criminal proceedings try to make victims whole besides dealing with offenders.

“I can’t wave a magic wand as a judge and make it like it never happened,” said Schofield, who presided over the Dakotah Eliason case, in which a 14-year-old was convicted of the first-degree murder of his step-grandfather on March 7, 2010, by shooting him in the head as he slept. Between graphic photos and autopsy testimony, “We heard and saw things nobody should ever have to hear and see,” he said of his most emotionally challenging case.

“If somebody breaks into your house,” the judge said, “and steals your computer from your bedroom,” even if police apprehend the intruder and recover the property, “some people feel violated, that there’s no place they can feel safe and secure.”

“We are all capable of making poor choices,” Schofield said, “but we can’t avoid accepting responsibility.” He doesn’t impose sentences on whether a person is “good” or “bad,” but imposes consequences for what they did.

Elements of accepting responsibility include admitting the transgression, apologize starting with “I’m sorry” and not make excuses or shift blame to others, as Adam and Eve did after eating forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Eve blamed the snake, Adam God for the mate He made him.

Leaders distinguish themselves by accepting responsibility. Schofield reworked famous quotes by Abraham Lincoln on slavery, Winston Churchill on Germany bombing England across the channel from France and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “nothing to fear but fear itself” during the Depression to show how they could have been undone by shirking responsibility and “kicking the can down the road.”

“Without responsibility we can’t be forgiven, redeemed or rehabilitated,” Schofield said, cuing the clip of Detroit Lion Nadamukong Suh stomping a Green Bay Packer and his “sincere” apology. Schofield said when he hears “sincerely” or “to be honest,” they have the opposite effect.

Suh regretted letting his teammates down, but skipped addressing the opponent he assaulted and shifted blame to “my reaction,” implying it was not a choice he made.

A girl grades it C-.

Schofield showed another clip of a dejected Buffalo Bill in the end zone after dropping a touchdown pass in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, then blaming God in a Tweet — “so ridiculous it’s almost funny,” the judge said. “Lame excuses don’t work in a courtroom, either, but denial is a human tendency.”

Schofield recalled the Big Bang episode where Howard Wolowitz tries to get space security clearance. Sheldon Cooper mentions to an FBI agent getting the Mars Rover stuck trying to impress a date, making things worse. The haughty physicist offers a heartfelt apology, which Wolowitz snubs. “A victim might not be ready to forgive. You can ask, but you can’t make them. Real life is messy.”

Finally, Schofield played Hasselhoff singing “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,” capturing the inner debate of whether he is blameless for a separate entity or his evil alter ego has a demon inside.

“We all have a Hyde inside,” he said.






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