A common sentiment has it that we should bear the death of our elders with a kind of sensible equanimity. The idea seems to be that the old folks have had their turn, served out their usefulness, and, by their departure, have beneficently made more room for the rest of us. Or, more charitably, in a culture that still resonates now and then to Biblical thought, perhaps we are moved to that common sentiment by the mournful cadence of the Ninetieth Psalm, which warns us of the “labour and sorrow” attending survival of the “strong” beyond three score and ten. Whatever the explanation for the sentiment, the recent death of Justice Sidney W. Wernick, though he was nearly eighty-two years of age, is not easy to accept with equanimity. The people of Maine have sustained a serious loss. The official title of the post that Justice Wernick held since June of 1984, “active retired justice of the Supreme Judicial Court,” hardly reflects the fact that he continued to work in the mainstream of legal affairs up to the time of his death, presiding in superior court over often complex and difficult trials and teaching each fall at the University of Maine School of Law as an adjunct professor during almost all that period. The bench and bar and the law school will feel directly the loss from his departure. Less directly, yet surely with some effect, all citizens of the state have been deprived of an exemplar of learning, civility, and common sense in the administration of justice. In an era of entrenched ill will on the part of many citizens and groups of citizens toward one another and toward their government, there is a special need for judges who are, and are widely perceived to be, careful and fair in reaching their judgments. The state is fortunate in having a judiciary of exceptional ability and integrity, but the loss of a distinguished and experienced judge with those qualities is occasion for deep civic regret.

First Page