In Search of Intellectual Honesty: A Belated Memoriam To Justice David M. Borden

“I hope I’ll be remembered as a judge who was intellectually honest about his craft.”

Justice David M. Borden

It has been eight months since Justice David M. Borden passed away last August at the age of 79. Justice Borden was one of the giants of the Connecticut bench. His death left an intellectual and personal hole in the judiciary–not to mention in the lives of his family and friends–that may never be filled.

Justice Borden was one of my heroes, but I struggled to find something meaningful to say about him that hadn’t already been said in the many wonderful tributes to him following his death. He was also a dear friend, and coming to terms with his death has been difficult.

I first met Justice Borden in 1990, when I was clerking on the Connecticut Supreme Court. Justice Borden had just been elevated to the Supreme Court from the Appellate Court, on which he had sat since it was created in 1983. Just before my clerkship began, my mother told me that she and Justice Borden used to walk together to the old Vine Street school in Hartford when they were both in kindergarten. Learning of that family connection marked the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Justice Borden.

I moved to Boston after my clerkship ended to begin my career in private practice. Five years later I returned to Connecticut, married and with a young child. My wife was a fitness guru (so much so that she eventually earned a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology). She quickly got a job as a Spinning (e.g., indoor cycling) instructor at the Hartford YMCA. One morning I bumped into Justice Borden at the Y. He asked me if my wife was a Spinning instructor. I said she was. He told me that he and his wife, Judy, loved taking her class. As soon as I got to work that morning I called my wife and asked if she knew Justice Borden. She said “who?” I said, “Justice Borden. He and his wife Judy take your class.” She said, “Oh, you mean Dave and Judy. They’re a blast. I love having them in my class.” I laughed and said, “Well, they may be Dave and Judy to you, but they are Justice Borden and Judy to me.” For the next several years, Justice Borden and Judy were part of a group of instructors and students who would occasionally get ┬átogether for dinner. I would sit there at dinner and say “Justice Borden. . . .” Eventually he said to me, “Daniel, you can stop calling me Justice Borden. Outside of court I’m David.” Even with his permission, I often fell into the old habit of calling him Justice Borden. He would laugh.

Several years ago I interviewed Justice Borden as part of a Connecticut Bar Association project to interview present and former Connecticut Supreme Court justices about their views on effective appellate advocacy. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life. At the very end of the interview I asked Justice Borden how he hoped to be remembered as a judge. He answered with the quote at the beginning of this post. That is how he wanted to be remembered. That is how he should be remembered.

Intellectual honesty is a trait that all judges should have. Indeed, of the many important traits that judges should possess–judicial temperament, humility, impartiality, self-awareness, an abiding passion for the rule of law–intellectual honesty should be at the top of the list. Unfortunately, I sense a decline in the importance of that essential judicial trait. I hope my sense is wrong.

If you have the time, please watch this interview with Justice Borden. I promise you that it will be time well spent. And make sure to at least watch the last few minutes so you can remember Justice Borden the way he wanted to be remembered–as a judge who understood the value of intellectual honesty and whose life as jurist reflected that trait.

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