The Jammin’ Judge

ERIC ANDELL, THE JUDGE OF A JUVENILE court in Houston, peered down from the bench at the small cluster of people before him. In the center stood a lean sixteen-year-old boy in blue jeans and a light-green jersey with a hood. He and a friend had stolen a car to go joyriding. Most juvenile offenders have fallen behind in school, and he was no exception, but few arrive in court accompanied by such strong family support. His mother and father, a stepfather, and two sets of grandparents were there before the bench with him. Close by, but off to the side, was the man whose car he had stolen. Judge Andell could not resist a moment and an audience like this. Gesturing toward the victim, Andell said to the boy, “The man behind you is going to have a lot to say, so your credibility is at stake. If I sense you are not telling the truth, you’re going straight to jail.” He paused for a moment, then asked, “Did you steal a car?”

Yes,” the boy said, almost inaudibly.

How did you get in?”

Broke a window.”

Andell practically pounced. “That’s what they did when they stole my car,” he said. The recoil by the boy and his family was muted but clearly perceptible. “Now,” Andell went on, “how do you think I feel about car thieves?”

 Andell is a tightly wound, flamboyant man. He runs marathons and wears loud ties and suspenders, and he clearly enjoys performing on the stage that the judge’s bench offers him. He has even appeared on radio programs as the “jammin’ judge.” But his manipulative theatrics are really a way of saying, “Wake up, kid. Now!” In this case, he left the boy in the care of his family and required him to pay $450 of the $900 damage to the car and to perform 100 hours of community service for the remainder.

In the lull that followed the family’s departure, Andell noticed a boy in a blue T-shirt waiting for his case to be heard. “Do you hope I’m

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