A Los Angeles County judge writes a letter to the widow of Maryland Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was murdered last week.
Dear Mrs. Wilkinson:
I don’t know you and I can’t even find your or your son’s names in news accounts. Yet I write to you as if I’ve known you all my life. My heart stopped when the news of Drew’s (may I use his first name, please?) murder, apparently at the hands of an enraged family law litigant, was announced by our Presiding Judge in Los Angeles on Friday. It stopped for a second time later that day when I saw the picture of you and Drew at his swearing-in ceremony in 2020. The enrobing photo showed Drew, a lawyer about to become a judge, taking an oath to support the Constitution, and his face bearing the weight and humility of an awesome responsibility. What really reached me was the look on your face – your obvious love and support for this huge step for your husband.
The thing is, that scene is identical to my own enrobing as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge eight years ago – my wife placing a black robe on me for the first time and standing at my side when I took my oath of office. One of the happiest days of our lives. In fact, every judge in our nation, seeing Drew and you in that photo, likewise was transported back to the unforgettable day of their enrobing.
Drew and I shared another experience: working as a family law judge. Drew’s experience probably mirrored mine here in Los Angeles. As family law judges, we were doing the most important work of our lives. You see, I had a job as a lawyer for decades but upon becoming a family law judge I found myself embarked upon a mission. That probably sounds preachy and sanctimonious, but Drew would understand what I mean. So would the thousands of his family court peers throughout our land. Family law judges impose order on heart-wrenching familial chaos, protect vulnerable children and work with broken families to find a new way forward. It’s very difficult but vitally important work. Family law judges make a profound difference in real people’s lives at the most grass roots level – and do so multiple times per day. What is a greater public service?
Your son needs to know that his dad was a hero. Not only in Hagerstown but in the heart of every judge in the U.S., especially the family law judges.
Very truly yours,
Lawrence P. Riff
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge and the former supervising judge of the family law division.