Monday, November 17, 2014

A 'humble giant' by Bill Cooke

Bill Cooke, the author of this post, is a Miami photojournalist and publisher of the Random Pixels blog.

I first met Judge William Hoeveler sometime around 1990, right after he'd been assigned to preside over the trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

A writer for the Los Angeles Times wrote this after he was picked: 

"He stands 6-feet-3, his hair is silver-gray, he speaks in a rich baritone, and his bearing is nothing less than magisterial....

"If you went to Central Casting and said, 'Give me a judge,' " says top Miami defense attorney Roy Black, "you couldn't get someone better than William Hoeveler.

"But he not only looks like a perfect judge," adds Black. "He is."

Back then, I was a freelance photographer shooting news assignments for the Associated Press.

There were lots of stakeouts at the federal courthouse as the trial date neared. Stuff that usually involved taking pictures of attorneys entering and leaving the courthouse. Not very exciting. 

In 1991, one newspaper reported there were "more than 250 pretrial pleadings, motions, responses, memorandums and court orders" in the months leading up to the trial.

At some point, I decided to approach the major players involved in the case and ask them if I could shoot their portraits in a formal setting: Noriega's defense attorney, the prosecutors, and of course, Judge Hoeveler.

This was, after all, going to be what some would call the Trial of the Century.

Frank Noriega, Myles Malman, Guy Lewis and Pat Sullivan all agreed to give me some time.

And then I called Judge Hoeveler. I'd been introduced to him some weeks before by a mutual friend.

"Would you mind if I shot a portrait of you in your chambers, Judge? You know...for history?"

"Of course," was his response, "When would you like to do it?"

A date was set and I lugged my equipment up to the ninth floor. As I shot pictures in his chambers, I soon became fascinated with this man who treated me - a somewhat disheveled and unrefined news photographer - with genuine respect. The judge didn't judge or criticize. He even laughed at my corny jokes.

I soon learned that I wasn't alone. Judge Hoeveler, I found out, had a reputation for treating everyone the same way. With respect. 

Finally, in September 1991, as the trial was about to get underway, I found myself back at the courthouse. I was assigned to get a picture of the judge when he arrived for the first day's proceedings

I decided to stake out the entrance to the courthouse's underground garage - joined by a few TV cameramen - in the hope of getting a shot or two before he disappeared into the garage.

It wasn't long before the judge drove up to the guard shack.

But instead of driving in, he rolled down the window and chatted with us for a bit. He seemed genuinely bewildered, but nevertheless amused, by all the attention he was getting. As we chatted, the judge's equally bewildered Akita, Nisei, peered at us from the back seat of the car.

Here was a judge arriving for perhaps the most important trial of his career, but he still found the time to talk with some scruffy news photographers. Respect. 

Over the years, I found myself back in his chambers for various reasons. I always looked forward to those visits. And when I couldn't visit, I picked up the phone just to say hello and to chat for a few minutes. His secretary, Janice, never told me that he was too busy to talk.

Almost 25 years later, I still call Judge Hoeveler a friend.

I revere the man.

A few months ago, I read that he was finally going to retire.

I made a mental note to go downtown and see him, but I kept putting it off, afraid perhaps, that I might become too emotional.

A few weeks ago, the judge's daughter, Margaret, posted something on Facebook about a going away party that had been held  in his honor. 

I decided to call her.

"I'd like to visit with your dad. Do you think that's possible?"

"Sure," she said, "why don't you call him?"

Last week, I called him. But because it was 8 p.m., I was sure his wife, Christine, would answer.

Not a chance. A strong, clear, familiar voice answered.

"Hi," I said, "this is Bill Cooke."

"And this is Bill Hoeveler," came the answer.

"I'd like to come see you," I said.

"You're welcome to come anytime," he said.

On Saturday, Michael Putney and I dropped in on the judge and Christine. Shortly after we arrived, Margaret popped in. 

We shared some stories, laughed a lot, and someone - I'm not sure who - may have even shed a tear or two.

After our visit, I posted some pictures on Facebook. I noted that I wasn't proficient enough in the English language to adequately describe Judge Hoeveler. 

In my opinion, the word "great" isn't descriptive enough. 

A few hours after I posted on Facebook, the Miami Herald's federal courts reporter, Jay Weaver, left a comment on my post calling the judge "a humble giant."

Indeed, Jay. Indeed.


Rumpole said...

Great post.

South Florida Lawyers said...

Thank you for this, Great stuff.

Bob Becerra said...

On my federal bar swearing in day in January, 1991,(the ceremony they do en masse; that year Judge Hoeveler was giving the oath) I was late to the courthouse due to my ride (my mom) getting lost on the way to my house. When I arrived at the courthouse, the ceremony had been long over; I knocked on chambers and explained what happened. Judge Hoeveler put his robe on, and gave me a personal swearing in, with my mother present. I still have the Polaroid she took afterward with the Judge and me. I cherish it.


Fantastic post David.

Ware said...

It was my honor to serve as Judge Hoeveler's first law clerk 37 years ago. Three months after his investiture the Dade County Bar poll came out and Judge Hoeveler was selected as the outstanding judge in South Florida. We did the math. He had over 600 votes. "Do you think, we've had 600 lawyers come before me?" he asked. Obviously not. "It's a popularity poll," my judge concluded.

Yet every year for several decades Judge Hoeveler was either first or second in the poll. He was that good and our state is better for his service.

Ware Cornell, Weston