MARBLE, MURALS, MOSES, HAMMURABI, AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

4 Jan

Norman Goodman stood, hands in pocket, surrounded by zodiac brass inlays in the middle of the marble floor. Under his feet, by accident not design, inside New York’s Supreme Court County Courthouse, the astrological scale of Justice. Goodman, the Clerk of the state judiciary system, retired a long time ago, yet, day after day, he is at 60 Center Street, New York’s civic center off Foley Square.

Goodman’s seal is the stamp of authenticity for the State Courts. In colonial times, the Clerk of The Courts of Common Pleas, Session, Oyers and Terminer was determined to be the state archivist of legal history, keeping county records, judicial process papers and other records valuable to urban social scientists. Authors include John Jay, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.  As the state’s legal archivist, Goodman’s his word goes a long way.  He took his role one step further. He successfully campaigned to restore the rotunda art. “Cigarettes damaged the artwork,” he said, recalling days gone by when barristers and clients sidebarred in clouds of smoke.

Goodman cast his eyes, inside the great rotunda a 100’ above his head, up towards the 30 foot mural painted by Italian emigre Attilio Pusterla, before speaking. “Most people enter the court for a legal purpose. Ex-husbands, ex-wives. Plaintiffs. Respondents. Judges. Lawyers. They walk in. They walk out. Not many look up.” Goodman believes in the system he swore allegiance to years back as a cub attorney passing the bar. “It does work,” he says. “Look at the precedence,” waving at the Great Rotunda.

Pusterla, selected by the Courthouse’s architect Bostonian Guy Lowell, painted “Law Through The Ages,” a left to right parade of six half-moon lunettes spanning Assyrian times through to America’s era, lawgivers who influenced the current judicial system; Hammurabi, King of Babylon’s code, one of the oldest sets of laws in history; Moses asking Pharaoh to release the Jewish people from captivity; King Solomon deciding which of two mothers should receive custody of the child each claimed was theirs; Cyrus The Great, Persia’s first Emperor, letting conquered Babylonian Jewish prisoners return to their homes; Solon forming the first democratic government after relieving Athenians of draconian laws they suffered under; Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero quelling a rebellion with his words accusing Cataline of treason; Byzantine Emperor Justinian compiled a Code of 4,652 laws gleaned from earlier Roman Emperors’ Constitutions; Charles The Great, Charlemagne King of the Franks persuading Pope Leo III to crown him Holy Roman Emperor; King John of England signing the Magna Carta giving English barons rights they’d been denied; 18th Century legal scholar Sir William Blackstone, author of commentaries influencing laws of both England and the United States; the Puritans seeking unification of church and state; Benjamin Franklin who designated the wild turkey, not the bald eagle America’s national bird; John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who determined the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution; Lincoln alongside Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became a presidential advisor, surrounded with a crowd of free people; and George Washington shown presiding over Philadelphia’s 1776 Constitutional Convention where the US Constitution was signed into law.

The décor in Goodman’s office is classic law, lawyers and litigation. Bookcases are rung with leather bound legal books. Aged sepia photos hang on the walls. Goodman’s photos are of the WPA mural artist and building architect Lowell. Linda, his long time secretary, and friend, on her way to lunch, asks what he wants and how it’s to be prepared. A colleague drops by to update Norman on his father’s health.  A judge swaps “do you remember when’s.” An attorney reminisces struggles starting his practice. 

Recent cases at 60 Center Street included Martha Stewart, former SEC CEO Dick Grasso and most recently, denial of A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, National Council of Arab Americans and United for Justice and Peace permit request for mass assembly on New York’s great lawn “in support of justice for Palestine.”  Their members include “New Jersey Solidarity Activist For The Liberation Of Palestine” and Ohio State University’s “Committee For Justice in Palestine” on New York Central Park’s Great Lawn.

 Goodman trusts the system. Presiding judges are counselled in each courtroom with “In God We Trust.”  Daily, Goodman watches history in the making. Peeking at King Solomon above him, Goodman says, “If these wall could talk.” In these days before the Supreme Court rules on God in Texas, one wonders if Goodman is hoping the vibrant art on his walls can remain undiscovered.  Shhhhhhhhhhhh!

 

 

 

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