Shortly after passing the Illinois bar exam, my wife and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit my aunt and uncle and their family. One weekend, we rented a car and drove south into the hinterlands of Oregon.
Upon leaving a small town, I saw birds on the road ahead. I announced to Donna in my best John Wayne voice “watch this” and I stomped on the accelerator. The car sped up 80, 90, 100 . . . Donna is shouting at me to slow down but – hey – I’m 25 and macho. As I approached the birds, they looked up and casually flew off. I rocketed over the carrion they’d been chewing on (“Guess I showed them“). About that time, I looked in the rear view mirror and was surprised to see a car behind us. A police car. #&X@*! I pulled over and stopped. And got a ticket. 108 in a 65 zone. #&X@*!
The bad thing was that I was to appear in court at a time I was to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar (“sorry fellows – I have a court date“). Donna was silent. Stewing. At the next town, I stopped. The judge’s name was on the ticket. So I . . . called the Police Station from a pay phone:
Scott: Hello? Officer, I’m trying to reach Judge ____ . Can you call him and ask him to please call me?
Officer: It’s Sunday.
Scott: I know but it’s important.
Officer: I’ll see (Click).
I waited for 30 minutes. The sun was setting. Quiet. Birds chirping their evening hymms. Then the pay phone rang.
Scott: This is Scott Petersen (I figured that was better than “hullo“).
Judge: This is Judge ___ . You wanted me to call (sounds of splashing and children in the background)
Scott: Your Honor, I’m from Chicago. I (explained in detail how I had) just graduated from law school and passed the bar. I was just pulled over by two officers for speeding – 108 in a 65 zone. I am supposed to appear in court and I am also supposed to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Bar at that time. I was wondering. . . .
Judge: Just a minute (long silence). All right, Mister Petersen. Raise your right hand. Repeat after me. “I promise that I will never speed again.”
Scott: I will never speed again.
Judge: I want you to promise. I want you to swear to me. . .
Scott: (I raised my hand in the phone booth) I swear. . . I swear. . . I will never speed again.
Judge: Send me your ticket. Mark it “personal.” Remember Mister Petersen – you promised me. (Click)
The Judge could have said “tough kid – you show up or else.” But he didn’t. The lesson therefore became all the more powerful. And since then, I have never taken a car much beyond the speed limit. When tempted, I am always tugged back to a fall day in 1972. . . . when I made a promise. . . .