Monday, February 05, 2007

A Good Friend and Mentor, Judge John C. Hohnhorst, has Died

John C. Hohnhorst, my mentor and my friend, died over the weekend while waiting for a lung transplant. He was 55.

I first met John Hohnhorst in December of 2004 when I intervied for the law clerk position. He first struck me as extremely easy to get along with. I thought it interesting that he had several items of Lincoln memorabilia situated around his office. Not knowing an awful lot about Lincoln (except that he was a good president), I thought that anyone who has chosen Lincoln as their hero must be a pretty good guy.

To my surprise and elation, he offered me the job a few weeks later. And after graduating, finishing the summer bar exam and getting 1 1/2 hours of training, I began my new job as his law clerk. I was blessed (and cursed) to have Judge Hohnhorst on vacation for those first few weeks of my employment. While I could have sorely used his advice, I was left alone with a few assignments and some time to get into the groove of my new job before I had to face my boss again!

When he returned, I had the jitters. I was extremely nervous handing him my first research and writing assignment, but was relieved when he told me that it was "outstanding work." I think he could sense my nervousness and wanted to help me relax. When introducing me to people, he referred to me as the "executive editor of the law review." He knew how to make me feel important during a difficult transition.

I enjoy writing (I always have), but I found it even more rewarding to be able to discuss my research and writing in depth with Judge Hohnhorst. It seemed he could remember just about everything, and he always wanted to listen and discuss. I also got to sit in on every hearing or meeting that Judge Hohnhorst held, whether it was in court or in his office. He liked to get my opinion on the issues, and I often stepped outside on his back porch to discuss cases with him.

Even on the hardest days he had something hilarious to say. He'd always be cracking jokes by email or in his office, and sometimes I just laughed until my side hurt. A month or so into my clerkship with him, I noticed that he said some pretty funny things on the bench, as well. So I started writing them down. By the end of my clerkship, I had over a hundred short quips by Judge Hohnhorst that I framed and put up in the Judge's office. I really wish I could share some of them here, but I seem to have misplaced the file.

Judge Hohnhorst gave of himself freely. He was always saying, "Stoker, Smyser and Harris and I are going to lunch, wanna come? I'm buyin'." He took me to all of his favorite restaurants in town. I think his favorite (and my least favorite) would have to be The Cove. Those are the days I wish we'd gone to Prasai's, but oh well. It was always enjoyable going to lunch with him.

He gave me some really outstanding advice while I was there. Law school taught me to be detail-oriented; Judge Hohnhorst taught me to be more concise. He would always give me insights into how certain lawyers operated, what he thought they did good, and what he knew they did not so good. He taught me to really think about things; he did not make fast decisions. He was a deliberator, and fairness was his #1 concern.

What I think I will remember the most is the way he approached his job. He was so concerned with handling each civil case with exactness, and he treated every criminal defendant like they were his own son. Judge Hohnhorst was notoriously long winded; all of our hearings lasted longer than the other judge's hearing. The Monday calendar was always the longest for everyone, but no matter what, Judge Hohnhorst's was longer. We would frequently go home after 5 pm, sometimes as late as 7:30 pm. It would concern him; he'd always ask us, "how can I get done with my calendar faster?" But it took so long because he counseled each defendant like a father. He took his time with them, and, quite often, he gave them another chance. At first I thought he was just "soft" on criminals. Now I see that he treated them like human beings.

Judge Hohnhorst his condition with more courage than I had ever seen from an individual. He was determined to lose 90 pounds in only a few months so he could be added to the list of donees. What is remarkable is that he succeeded. And because he couldn't breath heavily, he did it without exercise.

When my clerkship ended in August of 2006, I gave him the framed list I had compiled, as well as the book 1776 by David McCullough. Recently, I felt compelled to read 1776 myself. I never had the opportunity to tell Judge Hohnhorst that I read it as well. I went on to read (and am still reading) Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. I know this is a book that Judge Hohnhorst had read; I think I was inspired to read it mostly so I could understand Judge Hohnhorst a little better.

Today, I received an email that told me that Judge Hohnhorst had passed away, apparently in his sleep. I was devastated. I had emailed him several times within the past week, and hadn't received a response. I myself was concerned, but I hoped that he was just in surgery. Unfortunately, his wait was too long.

I stepped outside for a moment at lunchtime, and realized that I was still on this earth, and he was not. It was a surreal feeling.

I will never forget my mentor and friend, John C. Hohnhorst.


Loghomeguy said...

I was a couple years younger than John. We met at summer camp, a debate workshop in 1971. We soon became close friends. I think John had been given a couple traffic tickets by the Washington State Patrol for slight infractions. He was always leery of the power of Government so I agree,while he was not soft on criminals, he was never too fast in passing judgment. I was sad to learn today, Dec. 19th 2008 of his passing. I want to thank you for writing such a good review of him.
I would love it if you could post his place of burial so I can pay my respects next time I am near there.

Michael Simmons loghomeguy12 at yahoo dot com.

WildBill1952 said...

I am John's first cousin, Bill Sedgwick, living in Jupiter, Florida. I was not aware of John's passing until I attempted to call him after my mother's (John's Aunt Dotty) passing in July of 2008. John was born 22 days after I was and we seemed to grow up together, although separated by a continent.

John and I got to see each other for about 2 weeks every other summer as we grew up. SInce I lived in Charlestion , SC we only made it out to Idaho once every two years. John and his Dad treated us like we had never been gone for a day, treating us to fishing trips and a thousand things we had never done before.

I last saw John in 1988 when my family made a visit to Idaho. It was only months before John's mother and father passed.

I thank you for the wonderful tribute to him.