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Letter from Ronald Sokol to Daniel Meador, Wednesday, January 6, 1988

January 6, 1988
Isola [sic] 2000

Dear Dan,

I apologize for the long delay
in responding to your letter. Running
a small law office is a time-consuming
operation, occasionally even all-consuming.

I did read your Lamar article at
once and greatly enjoyed it. It brought
back a flood of fond memories of
our discussions a quarter of a century
ago. I was pleased to find in your
article a reference to Henry Adams
that I thought I recognized, and even
more pleased when I went back to my
edition of the Education of Henry Adams
and easily found the passage which I
had marked, thus giving me the pleasure
of knowing that I had made a small
contribution to your piece.

Your letter and article arrived just a
few days before I had lunch with


Judge Martin of the N.C. Supreme
Ct. He was able to update me a bit
on you and your judges’ school, and
I was able to give him a little
insight into the judges’ school at Bordeaux
so that he might pass the info on to
you and thus disillusion you of any
imaginings that you might have that
France has somehow perfected a better
system for the training of judges.

Judges here are low paid civil servants.
They have about the same amount of
independence as an asst. prosecutor in a
U.S. atty’s office. Most of the time they
are independent and left alone, but if
anything important comes up they are
subject to being overruled by the U.S.
atty. and if it’s really important by
the Atty.-Gen. and eventually the President.

When France recently expelled an
Iranian who had been holed up in the
Iranian embassy in Paris in exchange
for the French consul general whom the
Iranians had kidnapped in Teheran,


the Iranian in Paris was first taken
before an examining magistrate, the
equivalent of a Federal District Judge.
France had been insisting that the Iranian
could not be expelled because there
was evidence that he had committed
crimes in France. As he had no diplomatic
status, he was to be tried. When France
decided that diplomatically it made
more sense to exchange him, the
examining magistrate simply became a
pawn in the diplomatic game and was
told by his superior, the Minister of
Justice (the equivalent of the Atty. Gen.) to
do a pro forma examination and release
him. The exam. magistrate could no more
refuse this request than could an asst.
U.S. atty. refuse to decline to prosecute if
the U.S. atty. or the Atty. Gen told him
not to. Moreover the situation is even
stronger than my analogy because the
asst. U.S. atty. is usually in a
transitional position. He can move into
private practice, etc. The French judge


is a career civil servant on a
tenured track in a society in
which job mobility (particularly
within the legal professions) is not
very great.

All of this has caused me to
begin to stress not simply the
independence of the judiciary about
which we and the French talk but
rather the judiciary as a co-equal
branch of govt. While this is the case
in the U.S., it clearly is not in
France (altho the idea is Montesquieu’s
which is perhaps another confirmation
that the French tend to be better at
theory than at practice).

Even within the context of its own
system the French have recently come
to think that their judges have too
little knowledge of the “real world”
and are now talking about methods
of reform that would give the judges


more practical experience before they
start judging.

You will I know be pleased to
learn that I retain, most of the
time, a passion for the law and
for the practice of the law. I
have continued to find her a jealous
mistress who has foreclosed me from
all others. To some extent I miss
teaching and contact with the young and
the chance to think through ideas and
crystallize them into print, but not
enough for me to want to do it full
time. Unfortunately, combining teaching with
a practice, at least one like mine where
we are only two lawyers, is really not

I remain fascinated by the legal
process and particularly the legal process
as a part of the over-all attempt of
human beings to govern themselves and
impose some semblance of order on the
chaos of events and on the conflicting


passions and interests of men and women.

One of the great ironies to me is
that sitting in Puyricard, a village of
a few hundred people in the south of
France, 500 miles from Paris, I meet
so many people. In addition to lunch
with Judge Martin, a man whom I
very much liked and with whom I
immediately felt on the same wave-length,
I have also in the last few years
lunched with Lee Loevinger, former FTC [FCC]
chairman, etc. & now senior partner of
Hogan & Hartson, Geoffrey Hazard of Yale,
just to mention a few whom you know.
Moreover, when they are here they are usually
more relaxed than in their home environment.

This letter has run on a bit. I
am presently having breakfast in a ski
resort in the Alps behind Nice and
waiting for my family to come down.
We are still hoping for a visit from

I am getting inspired to return to
Virginia as I am presently into my


4th volume of Malone’s life of
Jefferson. I started with vol. 3
which deals with Jefferson in France
as 1987 was the 200th anniversary
of TJ’s stay in France. Then I
went back and read vol. I, then I
jumped to the last volume, The Sage of
Montecello which deals with the founding
of the University. I am now now into
vol. 2 The Ordeal of Liberty. Reading about
the Univ. has caused me to want to
stroll around the Grounds again. I wouldn’t
mind living in one of TJ’s pavillions on
the Lawn for awhile if you hear of
a vacancy.

My family has now arrived for
breakfast so I shall wish you and
Jan my warmest wishes for 1988.
I hope that this will be the year
that we shall be able to get together.

As ever,

Sokol [different hand]

B.P. 3
13540 Puyricard

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