Thursday, November 3, 2011

Edward Cashman

I met Judge Cashman in 2007 when the Vermont Bar Association commissioned me to make portraits a number of retiring Superior Court judges for a gallery in the courthouse.  I was struck by his dry wit and thoughtful comments at the time and thought of him when I began this blog last spring.

Edward J.  Cashman was born in Elizabeth, NJ in 1943, the third of four children.  He left New Jersey in 1961 to attend Boston College and later American University's Washington College of Law.  He had married his Vermont sweetheart Gail in 1966 and after law school, with a wife an two small children, enlisted in the U. S. Army, serving in Vietnam.  He and Gail moved to Vermont where Ed served as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Vermont, Chittenden County Clerk, Commissioner of Public Service and Grand Isle County State's Attorney, all the while maintaining a private law practice.  In 1982 he was appointed District Judge and served in ten of Vermont's fourteen counties over the years.

Ed and Gail settled and raised their three children in Essex Junction  where he has been involved in town government over the years.  He retired from the bench in 2007.  I asked Judge Cashman how he was keeping busy in retirement and it seems to me he couldn't have been this busy when he was working!

Where to start?  He's been a volunteer, Board member and cook at Dismas House for over 20 years, facilitates book discussion groups at the Brownell Library (the current selection - "To Kill A Mockingbird"), teaches constitutional law, First Amendment law and legal theory at Johnson State University and Champlain College, works with a personal trainer and swims pretty regularly.  In fact, he was a competitive swimmer into his 40's.

Judge Cashman told me his older brother gave him this advice: "You don't retire, you refocus."  He also believes lawyers are frustrated teachers and gets a lot of satisfaction from his interaction with his students, a number of whom are criminal justice majors.  If you ever meet him, ask him to describe how he uses the movie "Goonies" in his curriculum.  He's also an avid student, taking college courses for the last 20 years, most recently "Skeptics and Believers".  He told me he is a man of faith and science.  Here's how he put it:  Theology answers 'who?' and 'why?', science answers 'what is it?' and 'how does it work?'.

We talked quite a bit about the current state of or national discourse, which, frankly, worries me a lot.  How does a multicultural society deal with absolute belief?  Do you have a right to be wrong?  Judge Cashman said he hopes his students learn not to be buffeted by the loudest voices in public debate, extremists on both sides.

He says he doesn't miss being on the bench, but has endless interest in issues of fairness.  You may remember a controversial sentence he handed down in 2006 to a sex offender who would receive no treatment in prison sentence because the state no longer offered such treatment to prisoners, but who could receive treatment on the outside, while still remaining under the supervision of Dept. of Corrections.  It was a big deal, with Fox News professional blowhard Bill O'Reilly, among many others around the country ranting about the travesty in Vermont.

Judge Cashman stuck to his guns, so to speak, and one result of all the brouhaha was that the State of Vermont now treats sex offenders in prison.  Judge Cashman was supported by many legislators and members of the Vermont Bar and Judiciary.  He says there is never an easy answer when it comes to victims' suffering weighed against punishment of criminals, but he believes every offender, while under supervision, must be given the keys to use if they want to change their life.  Shortly after this incident he was invited by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal to address a group of judges in Bosnia who were struggling to bring a humane sensibility to their deliberations in that country's trials.  Judge Cashman quipped "That sentence was the best thing that happened for my career."

I remember being proud of both him and Vermont for refusing to bow to shrieks for vengeance and accusations of coddling criminals, but to try to engineer as good an outcome as could be achieved in a terrible situation.  James Gallagher, president of the Vermont Bar Association at the time, said it was unfortunate that Cashman had to endure the criticism that he did.  "He has always struck me as a thoughtful, deliberative, careful person who was trying to do the right thing."

OK.  I almost left out the little dogs he and Gail love so well, but I can't because they are such a big part of Judge Cashman's daily routine.  They say pets keep us young and they, along with his many other interests seem to be doing just that.

1 comment:

  1. 3 years late in responding to this blog but Judge Cashman is one of the great leaders in this state involving rehabilitation as well as punishment when deserved. Did it fairly with long term goals in mind. Thank you Judge you were one of the best.