MisJudged

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Muecke ruled on the letter of the law, but his liberal views and tough courtroom style made him the judge that conservatives love to hate

Muecke asserts that today, "Justice generally goes to the people who are rich and powerful," and he admits he is not the first person to have said so.

"We're not just talking about criminals now, we're talking about the average citizen. To bring a lawsuit nowadays and pay a lawyer, you go bankrupt. It isn't really justice if that's the case."

What good is a man without strong opinions? Muecke has plenty of them.
He grumbles about the current U.S. Supreme Court, packed and stacked by presidents Reagan and Bush to be decidedly more conservative than the court that presided over the first years of his judicial career. And since Arizona is such a breeding ground for conservative jurists, it's no wonder that two of the current justices--Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor--are Arizonans. They are Muecke's contemporaries, even if they are also his polar opposites.

"Arizona is a very strange place," he says. "I've lived here 50 years."
He sputters over how the current Congress refuses to approve Bill Clinton's appointments to the federal bench, stalling until the day a good Republican is in office so that they can stack the lower courts, too. More than 100 vacancies remain in the federal courts, contributing to the legal logjams that the same crime-fighting Congress complains about.

"At the same time, they want to take away tenure from federal judges and all sorts of wonderful things that were not proposed by the great founding fathers, whose product is suddenly becoming evil," Muecke says.

From Congress to talk radio, would-be wise men complain about the federal government intruding on the lives of U.S. citizens.

"In what way do they interfere with your life?" Muecke asks. "It's a great public relations thing they have achieved."

He worries about the environment.
"You'd have to be kind of thick not to think about your children and grandchildren and the future of the country," he says.

Above all, he worries about human rights and civil rights.
"No one wants to think very deeply about anything. They just want trouble to go away.

"As a result, we're turning out into our society all types of people, many of whom drop out of schools and wind up eventually in the courts. Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox."

But he can't get off it.
He shakes his head over a daily newspaper series whose headlines scream at finding ex-convicts working in nursing homes.

"You know, a lot of people who are inmates are not serial killers or sex criminals," he says. "They're just stupid kids and men who never got an education or a trade."

If he is particularly outspoken about prisoners' rights, it's because he has seen the worst a prison can be. At the end of World War II, Muecke was one of the first Americans to see Hitler's concentration camps at Dachau and Buchenwald. He'd witnessed the most heinous crime of the 20th century and realized that it had been perpetrated by his own people.

"He's a very complicated person," says his former clerk Mary Wade. "Most of the ways he views the world are based on a couple of facts. He is the son of German immigrants and grew up in New York City. And also he was a Marine in World War II. He's extremely patriotic. He really believes in the United States. He very much believes in the law. He believes that judges were put in that position to make difficult decisions, and that's why they were put there for life."

Carl Muecke was born in Brooklyn in 1918. His father was an engraver and etcher from Germany. His mother had come from Bavaria to be a girl Friday for a wealthy Rhode Island family. The Mueckes christened their son Charles, a good American name, but they called him Carly, a diminutive form of the German equivalent, Carl. When he outgrew the kid's name, he called himself Carl. And rather than use his Christian name Charles, he took to signing C.A. Muecke.

He grew up speaking German as well as English, listening to the tales told by relatives from the old country who worriedly whispered about the Depression and the rise of Hitler.

Muecke finished high school a year early and then worked his way through William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. He finished college in three years because he didn't feel he could afford to pay for a fourth.

Then, though he was offered a scholarship to do graduate work in economics at the University of Virginia, he took a job instead with the Works Project Administration. His WPA assignment was to administer white-collar projects, which mostly meant liquidating them, since the war was already turning around the U.S. economy.

In 1942, Muecke was accepted into the Marines, went through officer training school, and because he spoke German, he was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services in Europe. Some of his OSS work there was documented in the 1979 book Piercing the Reich, by Joseph E. Persico.

Muecke was sent behind enemy lines, but spent much of his time turning German prisoners of war into OSS agents. Then, when the war ended, he went off in search of escaped Nazi officers.

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