We got word today that we lost an old friend.
We knew Edmund Nix as a municipal judge, a lawyer, and the father of one of our good friends. Before we knew him, he was a federal prosecutor and a Democratic congressional candidate, among other things.
RoZ and I first met Judge Nix in the courtroom, on separate occasions shortly after we moved into the area. Even though he found both of us guilty, that didn’t stop us from becoming friends.
We won’t talk about my case, but RoZ’s has a fun backstory.
Once upon a time, RoZ was part of a motley band of local activists that took a “Critical Mass” bike ride during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. The constabulary followed in their cars for most of the ride – some could say the riders were “escorted” – and at the end of the ride ten riders were detained and issued tickets for “obstructing traffic.”
The “La Crosse Ten” contested their citations in Judge Nix’s courtroom. After all the evidence and arguments were presented, he handed down his verdict. “You did obstruct traffic, so I have to find you guilty.” Then it got interesting. “Sometimes, I have to be innovative in sentencing, so what I want you to do… I want you all to do something legal and creative to promote your cause. Write letters to the editor, call in to radio talk shows, have parades and demonstrations – LEGAL demonstrations – and report back to me in 60 days on what you did, and I will likely waive any fine.”
As the accused and their comrades in the gallery approached to greet each other, one activist exclaimed in his flamboyant voice, “I don’t believe it! He sentenced you to be ACTIVISTS!” We heard the word “parade” in the judge’s list of suggestions and latched onto it. So on a rainy Saturday in September, 150 people marched in the first SpokesnFolks Parade (which always included a festival in the park afterwards), and Judge Nix declared satisfaction that the sentence he’d handed down was served.
It wasn’t long after that that Ed Nix retired as a judge, which made him available to join in on the fun. The SpokesnFolks Parade used prizes to motivate floats and colorful costumes, and we needed a judge to fairly determine whose efforts deserved those prizes. Judge Nix was more than happy to put his black robe back on and be a part of our parade/festival. One year, when it came time to hand out awards, he opened his remarks with, “Never have I been treated so well by people I found guilty.”
He totally enjoyed standing on the curb in his black robe, watching the parade pass before him. I’d stand by with a clipboard while he’d point people out. “I want to give that person a prize… and that one over there…”
Over the years we got to visit with the judge quite a few times. He knew that he could call me if he ever needed to talk to a computer guy, and we knew that we could call him if one of us ever needed to talk to a lawyer. Fortunately, we stayed out of trouble so he probably got the better deal out of that arrangement, though he did help us with some routine personal legal paperwork.
As a person and as a judge, Ed Nix was everything you could ask for. He was fair, reasonable, thoughtful, rational, and (most importantly) innovative. The SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival was an annual event for about five years, but it might have never happened at all without Judge Nix’s “innovative sentencing.”
We miss him.
Update 12/2 5:30pm: Just found this interesting little tidbit here:
In 1961 [mobster Carl] Caputo was indicted for income tax evasion. He had reported income totaling $721.56 and had actually earned $31,000. This garnered him a 30-day jail sentence and two years of probation. U.S. attorney Edmund Nix had prosecuted Caputo. Ironically, Nix had once worked in a tavern owned by Caputo and was paying his way through Wisconsin-Madison Law School as a bartender.