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Tom Davies

Judge Tom Davies wielded the gavel in Fargo's Municipal Court for nearly 40 years, the longest term of any elected official in the city's history, until health problems forced his retirement in 2012. Born in Grand Forks, the UND business and law graduate has lived in Fargo since 1956, when his father, Ronald Davies, was appointed a federal judge. The outspoken, irreverent jurist remains an insatiable consumer of news, sharing his observations in Moorhead's weekly newspaper, The Extra … and now here on the Fish blog. As a child, Davies delivered the Grand Forks Herald and sold them on the street corner.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Hell-Bent On DIY? Read This First

Once upon a time, there was a man named Tom. Tom wasn’t a mechanic. He wasn’t a repairman. He did, however, try to repair or fix things without reading the “How to do it” manuals.

I am that Tom, and here is the result of my latest project.

Years ago, we purchased an early manufactured 12-foot Sunfish sailboat. My wife and kids loved to sail, but I learned the hard way why I won’t.

Here’s why. Our great former neighbors, Walt and Charlene Balmer, invited us to their cottage for the weekend. They had a sailboat, and my wife talked me into going for a ride with Walt in command.

Out we went to the middle of the lake … and then the wind stopped blowing. My personal supply of hot air could not provide sufficient energy.

A few hours later, when we finally made it to shore, my wife was slightly bronzed. I looked like a boiled lobster. It took many moons for the various layers of burned skin to peel off and heal, and for the next few days, I couldn’t do anything but suffer and swear. It was a good thing I wasn’t on the judicial bench by that time, or I tell you, there would have been some naughty sentences imposed on scofflaws.

Despite all that, when we purchased our own cottage years later, we bought the Sunfish in question. I confess, we allowed the Sunfish to deteriorate. Not being any kind of expert in fiberglass repair, I retired it to a place behind our bunkhouse, where it sat for years.

One fine day, I called a guy who said he repaired fiberglass boats. He gave me an estimate, and I delivered the boat to his shop. I gave my wife a photo of that little sailboat for Christmas, along with a promise that it would be ready in the spring. She was overjoyed.

Two years later — yeah, I said two years later — I called the man and asked WTH was wrong? Instead of being decent about it, he quickly replied, “If you don’t like the delay, come get your boat.” He offered no explanation or excuses, just plain sarcasm … something I am familiar with.

I told him to go … play with himself and drove right over to get the boat. It went straight back behind the bunkhouse, where it again sat for another seven or eight years, housing many crawling bugs and critters.

Last summer, while I was cutting the grass behind the building, I turned the sailer over and took a look. I thought, “WTH, I’ll bet I can fix the cracks in the bottom.” I got the supplies, read the instructions on how to mix the fiberglass and hardener, then proceeded to place it over the fiberglass matting and smoothed (kind of smoothed) it over.

After the repairs hardened, I turned the boat over. While the top was pocked and ugly, my wife happily jumped aboard and took off for an afternoon of fun. It actually worked pretty well. But then the season ended. A month ago, the real problem developed.

I looked at the top and the missing edging strips and thought, “Sure, I can repair, replace and paint this.” That is exactly what I did.

I bought the brightest red fiberglass paint that credit could buy, along with another supply of Fiberglas and hardener. I sanded, scraped and sanded again after applying the fiberglass patches. Then, on went two coats of primer and two coats of the red paint. Add the white bumper trim around the whole boat, and, for a do-it-yourselfer, I thought it looked pretty darn good.

Maureen, my wife, took it out on its maiden voyage, around and back. Then we parked it on shore.

My son, Ron, came down last weekend. After some prompting from his mom, he took the red rocket out for a spin. (That’s not its official name, you understand; we haven’t picked that yet.) He sailed it around a bend and out of sight, then seemed to stay out for a very long. He finally returned — frustrated and laughing at the same time.

It seems that the longer he was out, the clumsier the handling became. It was getting really bad by the time he heard swishing sounds, maybe from the hull. The boat seemed to be getting bow-heavy, too, so he moved out of the tiny cockpit toward the back of the sailer. When he made his move, the damned sailboat moved, too —straight up into the air, dumping him on his keester wondering what had just happened. Then the main sail broke and collapsed.

Another boat happened to be nearby, and the folks on board boat were as startled as Ron himself. Suspected cause: water in the hull.

After the boat leveled, Ron eventually made it back by using the sail as a jib. Luckily for him, unlike me on my own maiden voyage years before, he had previously covered all exposed parts in sunscreen.

It took a long time to drain the hull — yeah, that one I’d “fixed” — as it was completely full of water. After it was empty, we tipped it over, and sure enough, there were some hairline cracks … exactly where my “repairs” had been.

So now I’m off to find something to put across the middle bottom of the boat to really seal it and make it seaworthy. There’s a product called KeelGuard that that might do the job. It’s a good thing I’m retired with time on my hands. The adventure continues. I’ll let you know sometime how the final repair turns out.

This article is dedicated to all you do-it-yourselfer who start strong but end up wondering: Should you hired a professional after all? You know the answer now. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Surprise! Lobsters And Lessons Well Learned

I’ve talked about my adventures with dogs, horses and spiders, but I forgot about one multilegged creature that provided a special moment of embarrassment.

Years ago (too many to count), the Supreme Court honored me with an appointment to attend a judicial conference in Montreal, as a newly elected municipal judge. Although my father was a judge, I knew little if anything about the judicial system’s internal operations.

As my wife and I flew over the waters to Montreal, all I could think about when we crossed the water was man-eating sharks and the fact, if the plane were to land prematurely, I swim like a rock.

But the plane didn’t crash, and we made it safely to our hotel … a collection of long, narrow walkways completely filled with people all day and all night. Apparently, some people either don’t sleep, or sleep all day and socialize all night. I’ve always been (and still am) an early-to-bed type of guy. My wife, on the other hand, has a taste for adventure. She decided to go out walking to see the area and its shops. Not to be outdone, I went to bed.

The next day, she told me about this fantastic restaurant. At least, that’s what I thought she meant. She and the wife of a Supreme Court judge from Tennessee had spotted it the night before and thought we should dine there. So off I go with my wife and a group of Tennessee judges and wives.

We arrived at a cozy little smoke-filled place (emphasis on “little,” and so smoky I wondered if they’d been smoking dope the night before.). I think I was the only one who had never before been in such an exclusive place. We were all dressed in business casual, while the waitstaff was all dressed to a T. I knew right off the bat that the bill for this meal was going to exceed my annual income, but we were there so we were going to eat.

The staff in all their finery provided place settings fit for kings, complete with drinks and a wide variety of foods. I even got used to the smoke, which turned out to be from cooking and not cigarettes and cigars. I was carrying on a conversation with one of the wives. We were laughing it up (nope, no drinks yet) and just having a fun time. The servers wheeled up a tray of delicacies to choose from.

The lady and I were examining what was in front of us until I noticed what I thought was a movement on the tray. I continued talking while I looked around again … and by golly, there were giant man-eating-sized lobsters on that table lying on crushed ice.

I may have mentioned before that I have a fear of multilegged critters that look like spiders. As I focused on one of these monsters, the damn thing moved.

Remember, this was years before I ever went to Red Lobster and got used to seeing them in person. When it moved, I shrieked out a shrill yell like a child who’d been dropped on his head. I pushed away from the table in utter panic.

My wife should have poured a drink on my head at that point, but she kept her cool. Everyone thought it was funny but me. I had seen myself jump out of my skin on previous occasions when I’d been startled. They had not. The friendly lady from Tennessee just about passed out from laughing at my unplanned antics. But karma was about to strike her.

Our meals arrived. Just like in the movies, everything was delivered under glass or, in her case, beneath a solid cover.

Well, we had ordered the same thing, fish. Mine came without its head. Such was not the case for hers. When the waiter pulled the cover off of her meal, the fish not only had its head on — its mouth was wide open. She let out a shriek; like me before, she pushed her chair back and really let out a holler. Hell, I thought someone was stabbing her! I asked her what was wrong and how I could help. Her reply: “Cut off its head! It’s looking at me!) I looked around us, wondering whose head she wanted removed. I didn’t realize it was the fish until she pointed.

I don’t know who cut its head off, but things settled down after that. We were once again just a group of people enjoying a quiet meal — surrounded by other patrons who wondered what planet we had arrived from.

* * *

The shock and awe of the Fourth of July reminded me of a good friend from our neighborhood in Grand Forks who found a 50-caliber machine gun shell back when we were in seventh grade. Naturally, he placed it in in a vice in his basement and slammed it with a hammer.

I wasn’t in attendance for the demonstration but found out later that it blew a hole in the basement wall and scarred his hands pretty badly. He was lucky, I suppose, that he did not blow his fingers off or worse. But when his dad entered the scene, he caused some serious damage to my friend’s behind. It was one of those situations when, after something bad has happened, you are so happy that your loved one wasn’t hurt that you beat the hell out of them.

This same friend lived next door to Porter’s Grocery. The store was on the main floor of the building, and the owners lived above it, on the second. Access to their living quarters was by a long flight of stairs straight up.

Being young and stupid, we dropped a load of firecrackers at the steps to the second floor down at ground level — two years in a row. We then sat back and waited for the owner (who, by the way, was a really nice man) to go running around the block seeking the blasters.

We weren’t caught the first time. But when the next year came around, our store owner turned out to have a good memory. We waited until the lights were out, then struck again. We lit those firecrackers and turned to run — right into his chest. He was there in the dark waiting for us. We shrieked like babies in a crib. He could not have possibly scared us more than we scared ourselves! Instead of killing us and burying our remains, he laughed and told us never to do it again. And we didn’t.

We had what we thought was fun at the expense of others while we were growing up — but it always caught up with us, and turned out to be a great learning experience. Note: I do not recommend that the youth of today copy any of the adventures outlined in my columns because today you’d end up in juvenile court with Scott Griffeth and Susan Solheim, the local juvenile judges, and they do a great job. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Oh, Say, Can You See?

You’re never too old to learn! I’m no history buff, but it came as a surprise to learn the significance of July 2, while we Americans celebrate the Fourth of July as a national holiday.

Here’s either what I never knew, or had forgotten: During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain in 1776 actually occurred July 2, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June 1776. It declared that the United States were independent from the rule of Great Britain. (“were” is grammatically correct because at the time the colonies were still a group of separate entities.)

After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to a statement explaining its decision. It debated it, revised some wording and finally approved it two days later … on July 4.

So, there you have it. Without July 2, 1776, there would have been no July 4 celebration.

* * *

We had a lot of family at our cottage last weekend. I’m glad they brought their dogs with them —  glad because I learned about dogs’ reaction to loud explosions and noise. I found it somewhat similar to humans like me, who jump up, down and sideways when there is a loud noise.

One dog quietly went into the small bathroom and simply slept. Another dog simply stood at attention and looked around — I believe he may have been thinking how to kill the SOBs using the howitzer for fun — but showed little reaction. These two belong to my daughter, Diane.

Then there’s my wife’s dog. (At one time, I’d thought she was my dog, but the dog thought differently.) She and daughter Lisa’s dog had similar reactions. At each boom … abject terror. Ears down, crouched low to the ground, they’d just about crawl looking for a place to hide. Both usually turned to the bedrooms to temporarily find solitude.

Exit the ladies, who went outside to further damage their eardrums. At that point, the real war began. Damned explosions rocked the cottage. The two dogs who’d been in hiding bolted from their bedrooms right across and over the chair and couch and landed on me. On my right was Lisa’s dog, shaking like a leaf. On the left was my (oops — my wife’s) dog, who cuddled next to me with head on my leg.

Violent outbursts like those scare the bejeezus out of animals, as well as some humans. I can’t imagine how some of our military who have experienced combat deal with the explosions in a supposed peacetime setting.

We should be way past explosive celebrations. The Fourth can be fun without explosions. Aerial displays are both beautiful and not so noisy. Those damned cannons, or whatever you call those ear-shattering, close-to-the-ground explosions, just aren’t needed.

* * *

Fourth of July in years gone by, however, had their moments. My brother, Tim, had a way of rigging up fireworks explosives that were louder and more powerful than anything on the market today. I really think it may have been World War II surplus munitions. Unfortunately for some, he also knew how to aim.

Well, as the warfare began in the early afternoon one year at his lake cottage, one of the county’s finest (a cop) drove up and stopped. Like a startled deer, I grabbed my family and went into hiding, along with most of Tim’s family.

My dad, the federal judge, said he’d handle it. He promptly extended his 5-foot-1-inch frame and stepped up to the 6-foot-plus deputy. With a smile on his face, he said something like, “I’m Federal Judge Ronald Davies and we’re in the same business -— how can I help you?”

Not to be outdone, the deputy responded, “I’m in law enforcement so you judges have a job. You can do your job after I’ve done mine.” Rarely did I see my dad without a response, but he had none to that.

The deputy asked the judge if he could quiet things down. Dad’s  response was truly “judgely” -— you better believe he would — and so he did. (I know “judgely” isn’t a word, but neither are “yuuuuuge” or “bigly,” if you get my drift.)

* * *

The Fourth of July also reminds me of my first horse, Silver, who was gentle enough but had no braking system. If you let her run, you couldn’t stop her because she had a hard mouth. Horse folks know what that means.

One fine day, I looked kind of cowboyish, dressed to a T in western garb with a .22 pistol and holster, along with a belt full of .22 shells. I’d seen so many western movies in my younger days that it’s a wonder I ever found time to sleep. In all those movies, the cowboys and Indians were shooting pistols and rifles on horseback from a stop to the walk and the run. And in all those movies, their horses were well-behaved.

Well, my damned horse had never been to the movies. Without giving that a thought, I rode out into the pasture, drew my pistol and fired a shot into the air.

Now, if you’d seen Silver, you’d know that jumping was not that little porker’s forte. But when my pistol fired, all I can remember is that she went forward, up, down, sideways … and somewhere in between her jumps, I became airborne and landed in a heap. I was shaken, not stirred, but still alive. I never fired a weapon around a horse again.

I have wondered ever since what would have happened had someone dropped a firecracker in front of her while I was on board. Methinks the results would have been the same, if not even worse.

* * *

My dad was a judge, but he was also an entertainer.

One year, when we rented our first cottage on Big Detroit, we decided to go for a ride around the lake, with me driving the boat. For some strange reason, on this particular Fourth of July, everyone on shore and on the lake seemed to be waving at us. I thought it strange but kept waving back. Then my little son, Greg, tugged at my arm with a little boyish grin and pointed behind me.

I twisted around to see what he was pointing at. There was Dad in shirt, slacks and a captain’s cap, standing on the back seat saluting everyone he could see.

It was fun at the time. When I think back to that day, I remember that I hadn’t known he was standing up. He could swim essentially like a rock, and I myself swim like a sack of rocks. If I’d hit the gas, it would have made for an interesting scene. Or not.

Hope you’ve had a safe and healthy Fourth of July this year! Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Inhumane Sanctions Reflect A Cold, Callous Heart

The word “humanity” is often tossed around, but I wonder if the term is understood. Definitions abound. Here’s how Merriam-Webster explains it: A) the quality or state of being human; B) the quality or state of being kind to other people or to animals.

Another word that also seems to be understood is “sanctions.” Again, the dictionary’s definition: A) a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule; B) a penalty, punishment or deterrent.

Take North Korea, for example. Sanctions in place right now deprive them of coal and food products, as well as other items essential to life, in response to their constant violation of human rights and their military threats.

Their leaders live like kings. When their president is offended by citizens, he simply has them killed.

The United States has thousands of troops stationed in South Korea. They’ve remained there since we bombed the hell out of the North from 1950 to 1953 and finally forced a truce, which holds to this day.

Why should the North feel comfortable with our troops next door … and particularly since we have placed anti-ballistic missiles in South Korea?

The North Korean people face winters as bad as any the free world experiences, and coal is essential for heat. Whenever sanctions are applied, it hurts the civilians. That is simply inhumane. Yet we applaud the act of withholding coal.

We have enough nuclear deterrent to destroy the entire world if we wish. So why do we maintain thousands of troops in South Korea 64 years after signing the truce?

All administrations say they are there to “preserve the peace.” But at the same time, they claim that if the North moves, the North will use nuclear weapons. The last thing we need is to have our men and women on the ground where the fear is nuclear. Their presence will not for one second deter an admitted mad man. (We sure don’t need two mad leaders in this world, but that’s what we seem to have right now.)

America’s current dictator wants China to do his dirty work for him and is surprised that there is nothing in it for the Chinese, even if they could control the North. China is not our ally, but neither is it an enemy. China is growing; while you can call them inhuman or inhumane if you wish, at least they have signed onto the Paris Accords and are working extremely hard to clean the environment. Only one world leader ignores climate change, and that is 45.

Is it humane for us to punish civilians … not just in North Korea but also in the Mideast, including but not limited to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq? By agreement, we are supposed to exit Iraq, and the same holds true in the near future for Afghanistan. The Russians left Afghanistan knowing nothing would stop the occupants from feuding, as they have since time began. Then we took over.

We killed the leader of Iraq, not knowing at the time that his method of governing was what kept the country together, albeit not in a democratic way. The price has been, and is now being paid by the Iraqis.

The Afghans and Iraqi no longer desire our presence. The cost to the U.S. is far up into the billions, not counting thousands of men and women killed and wounded in action, including those grappling with continuing mental problems resulting from those wars.

When we talk about sanctions, we should consider them in the same sentence as the word “humanity.” In the world today, using them is dead wrong.

Here at home, we have leaders falsely claiming to be concerned about humane treatment of our citizens as they seek to abolish the Affordable Care Act. Though it does definitely need improving, that certainly won’t happen under their UN-affordable Care Act that essentially exists to give substantial tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Those breaks would come at the expense of health care for the elderly, the young, families, the disabled, low-income individuals and military veterans … everyone except the wealthy. That’s just plain wrong.

What 45 and the Republicans in Congress propose and support is absolutely IN-humane. Their proposal places sanctions on those who can least respond by proposing the deletion and replacement of the ACA — which may not be perfect, but has greatly improved the picture for tens of millions of Americans.

This is the United States of America, not the Soviet Republic of the United States. It’s time for our legislators at all levels to throw off their party labels and start representing the American people — all of us. In the current environment, we cannot afford to be simply Republican or Democratic. We must first be American. That means we must look out for each other, not line a small number of rich people’s pockets.

I’m 78 years young. In my wildest nightmare, I could never have envisioned the cold-blooded, forget-about-people administration we now have. This can be laid at the feet of POTUS 45. Make a list of his pre-election promises and another of those he has broken or where he has flat-out lied. You’d better have lots of computer memory and a ton of paper if you go to print them out.

Simply stated, this administration is being inhumane … and it is we the people who are under its sanctions. Amen

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Don’t Build The Convention Center Downtown

The creation of the new 400-plus parking ramp on Roberts Street in Fargo does not impact whether the proposed convention center should be built downtown. Most of its space has been rented to tenants.

That should provide some relief to existing businesses that hope that the ramp will at least take employee parking off the streets and allow for more customer parking and access.

Add the proposed Block Nine high-rise west of First Bank and Broadway, and there will already be more need to accommodate the occupants of the new building — but less parking, since it will occupy what’s now a lot.

An aside: Some serious thinking needs to go into downtown before any decision is made going forward. Consider that ugly new floodwall along Second Street North. It blocks what was a beautiful view of the Red River. I know it’s now too late now to speculate — coulda, woulda, shoulda — but wouldn’t it have been nice to raise the road to the height of the wall, preserving the natural beauty while still providing the essential flood protection? If I had to define “ugly,” that wall would qualify. (This comment on the wall also endears me to my wife, Maureen, who planted the seed in my mind.)

So, then, let’s consider the impact of putting the convention center downtown. Assuming it will be as widely used and contribute as predicted to the overall economy of the city, easy and convenient access will be essential. Think for just a moment what would happen downtown if all of the current traffic from the Fargodome were to be diverted there! We can quickly conclude there would not be sufficient roadway access and parking to accommodate it.

Even if our city planners stood on their heads and planned for eons, no plan could be possibly be developed that didn’t disrupt and partially destroy neighborhoods. New and improved access roads would be absolutely required. Ultimately, we’d need to build the largest parking facility on the planet to accommodate the needs of the folks who would use it.

I’m not suggesting that the Fargodome site on the North Dakota State University campus is necessarily the best spot for the center — just that downtown would not suffice and ought to be excluded from consideration.

* * *

While on the subject of traffic, I have my own little ax to grind. My home overlooks Elephant Park, aka Percy Godwin Park. I’m on the curve on 18th Avenue North, and no amount of money could replace our view.

The best soccer in the area is played there evenings, regardless of weather, by a group of really good players. (I think they attend North Dakota State University, but this might just be a group of men who love the game.) They are as courteous a group of men as I have ever known.

Whenever the soccer ball ends up in my yard, they always offer me an apology that I don’t need. I’ve told them that if the ball bounces into my yard, just come through the gate and get it … no permission necessary. Yet they always ask.

Now to my point: There’s no parking on the curve where they play, but they do attract onlookers. At the same time, many walkers and bikers — both children and adults — move around it. I’ve seen parents pushing baby strollers along that stretch with other children walking or biking ahead of them.

Unfortunately, some true donkeyholes also use that road and apparently drive with blinders on. Pedestrians entering from the north can’t see oncoming cars and vice versa, which creates a really hazardous situation. In the winter, the jeopardy is even worse; we’ve actually witnessed speeding cars slide off the road and down the hill.

Our neighborhood has asked the city to install speed bumps and reduce speeds to 15 or 20 mph. The most they’ve done is to install “no parking” signs in the area … which are usually ignored.

The speed limit on the wide open road on Edgewood Drive in North Fargo is 20 mph, and it has speed bumps. When those speed bumps are installed, they do just what they are supposed to do: They slow traffic waaaay down.

I hold my breath when pedestrians and motorized vehicles meet each other along that curve. And I ask myself: Will it take the death or injury of a pedestrian, probably a child, to get the city to do something about this obvious hazard?

There’s no sense in adding more police patrols; everyone slows down when police are present but ignores the limit when they’re not. But the same holds true all the time when a speed bump is installed. Everyone slows down!

* * *

Since I’m on the subject of traffic, I wonder whether the city’s sound ordinances have been eliminated. All kinds of trucks, cars and motorcycles have modified mufflers — or none at all. When their drivers so desire, they stomp on gas and create deafening noise on purpose. Some of these scofflaws are in high school, some in college; some work at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and other just drive around thinking that making noise means they’re cool.

I’ve always found it odd that a decibel meter can lead to a ticket for vehicle noise or unlawful equipment … but dealers can still sell mufflers (or otherwise modify them) that are quiet if you drive correctly, but sound like a jet taking off on one cylinder if you stomp on the gas.

It’s a problem all over town. Park on any corner near West Acres and count the number of loud, noisy or defective mufflers passing by. Pickup trucks rank No. 1. I’m not just talking about junkers. The modified late-models are enough easy to spot. They’re followed by cars, No. 2 and — in third place — motorcycles.

It would not take a patrol officer long to direct many of these noisemakers into Fargo Municipal Court or (or in the case of sheriff’s deputies and the highway patrol) into Cass District Court. Peace and quiet!

I do know none of our police officers spend their shifts letting dust gather under their feet. But every once in a while, everyone has quiet time. How better occupy it than to sit, listen and cite the noisemakers?

* * *

Last but not least, since I’m on the subject of vehicles, I’ve noticed a lot of gals driving motorcycles wearing helmets and shorts — young men, too. While jeans may not provide much protection if you fall, shorts provide none at all. You can save a lot of skin if you find yourself sliding down the pavement just by dressing correctly.

And I still see many young adults riding double on cycles and scooters with neither wearing a helmet or other protective head gear. That ride may be fun with the wind in your hair, but one accident can turn that fun into a life-changing disaster. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to give a serious thought to safety.

With that, please note that I’ve not made even one political comment this week. Live with it! Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Memories Of Dad’s Days In Little Rock

Most children miss their deceased fathers, especially around Father’s Day. Like them, I miss my dad, Judge Ronald N. Davies. I was sorting through some papers and came across an article by his court reporter and secretary, the late Zona A. McArthur. To my knowledge, this personal account has never been published before. If you like history, you may enjoy it.

Who Reported It?

By Zona A. McArthur

It was in 1957, a long time ago, but a time in history that held a unique experience for me.

It began with the assignment of United States District Judge Ronald N. Davies of Fargo, North Dakota, to Little Rock, Arkansas. Judge Davies had been sworn in on August 16, 1955, and I became his official court reporter less than a week later. In those days in less populated districts, the court reporter also acted as the judge’s secretary, so I went along to Little Rock.

When we arrived in Little Rock during the latter part of August, it seemed to me that no one was expecting us. As a matter of fact, the clerk of court was on vacation, and no calendar was ready.

Judge Davies began hearing matters on Aug. 29. The next day, among other cases, he heard the matter of John Aaron, et al, versus William G. Cooper and the Little Rock Independent School District, a corporation, et al. Six attorneys appeared. Then the chaos began.

A transcript was requested of the judge’s order. I prepared one, with a good many copies. The deputy United States marshal stood outside my door to hand the transcript to news reporters. They literally grabbed it and ran to write their stories.

During this period, I was greeted by a host of newsmen every morning. Finally, a deputy United States marshal was more or less permanently stationed at my door. Thereafter, the only — for lack of a better word — “static” I got was from the long-distance telephone operators. I had been told not to put through any long-distance calls to the judge, and this upset the operators.

At one point, the bailiff came in with a huge stack of mail for Judge Davies. He said they had been holding the mail in the clerk’s office because it might hurt the judge’s feelings. Judge Davies was given this mail, and thereafter similar stacks of uncomplimentary and sometimes threatening mail came in for him on a daily basis.

Judge Davies had indicated early on that it was not necessary to provide him with protection from the marshal’s office. However, after Judge Davies had read the mail and also upon the insistence of the United States marshal that it was his duty to protect him, Judge Davies accepted protection and was guarded day and night.

Of course, Judge Davies heard other matters in addition to the school desegregation case. But, as you can imagine, the halls and courtroom were packed and the atmosphere tense during those particular hearings.

There were, of course, many members of the out-of-town news media present. Toward the end of this matter, those media representatives came around wearing red ribbons, which they said were battle ribbons for serving in the “Battle of Little Rock.”

On a day when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus was flying to a meeting of governors, President Eisenhower took over the Arkansas National Guard. When the governor left his airplane, he was interviewed about this on television. He said that, like General MacArthur, he had been relieved of his command.

Later on, I sat in my hotel room one evening watching the news and was relieved to see a caravan of covered trucks coming across the bridge into Little Rock. The 101st Airborne had arrived.

I felt lucky to be staying in a hotel about six blocks from the courthouse. After all, sometimes the only exercise a court reporter gets is by walking to and from work. None of the employees at this hotel knew what my job was. In fact, one waitress who thought she did said, “I know who you are. You’re a magazine writer.” Anyone reading this article can easily tell I am not a magazine writer.

At any rate, I did not bother to enlighten her. For several years while I was freelancing, I had lived in the South and been the beneficiary of some of the fine hospitality for which this area of the country is famous. So, having lived in this area, I was aware of local feelings and customs. I tried to maintain as low a profile as possible.

However, Judge Davies stayed at the hotel directly across the street from the courthouse and was under constant guard. Of course everyone knew who he was. How he ever managed to maintain his excellent sense of humor through this whole ordeal, I will never know. I never heard him express any rancor. In fact, he told me he would like to go back to Little Rock someday so he could see the city in the daylight. He said he was sure it was a beautiful city, but the only time he had gotten to see it was at night, “with the marshals riding shotgun.”

I know this experience is one I will never forget, but I doubt if I would “volunteer” for another like it.

*  * *

Zona was most protective of my dad. As any lawyer and members of the media will affirm, to get through to Judge Davies, you had to go through Zona first. If you didn’t have a good reason, you didn’t get by her.

When they first arrived in Little Rock and saw it was not, legally speaking, a safe place to be, Dad told his staff that anyone who wanted to bail and return to North Dakota could. Only his law clerk (not Thomas J. Gaughan) took him up on the offer and went home.

Another reason Judge Davies accepted protection from the marshals was that my mom had told him he would, period. The only person on the planet who could “direct” my father was my mom.

Wow, think for a moment how this case would have been handled by the media if all of the current means of communication had been available then. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — The ‘Little Engine That Could’ Takes A Dive

Once upon a time, I had a fishing boat with a little 9.9 hp Johnson outboard motor. You could drive all day and all night and wouldn’t use a cup of gas. The kids learned to water ski behind it and loved to go wave-jumping in it. The only thing we didn’t do was fish … until one of my grandchildren got the bug.

Well, one sunny but very windswept day, one of the youngsters decided to go wave-hopping in it. The Little Engine that Could powered them over the waves and deep into the swells. A few hours later, said youngster and his friend showed up at the cabin, forlorn, sad and extremely tired. I came out and started talking to them. As we conversed, I asked where the boat was.

The answer was not funny at the time, though it certainly is now as I look back. It seems they had a mechanical problem on the far side of the lake and instead of calling on their cell phones for help, they walked all the way to the cottage. If I’d thought about it for a second, I’d have known that there was a reason there was no call, but I didn’t think.

It seems that as the little fishing boat with the little motor jumped the waves, drove through the swells and flew through the air with the greatest of ease —  the little 9.9 “engine that could” had fallen off.

Now, that explanation woke me up. We piled on the pontoon to drive to the site to tow the boat back and, incidentally, to prowl the deep, looking for the wayward motor.

The damned waves were so large we just about lost some passengers, so we gave up the hunt, put a line on the fishing boat and headed back. Those who had been in it when the motor fell off wanted to ride back in the fishing boat. They probably regret that decision to this day. That little boat bobbed, bounced, swayed, turned and tossed all the way back. It was like sitting in a mixer. It’s a tribute to the young men that they didn’t leave their innards in the boat —  although I did not check their shorts.

Once the lake calmed down, we spent an hour or two on different days looking through the clear water trying to spot Mr. Johnson … but no luck.

This past weekend, my wife, my daughter Lisa and I spent time cleaning up the beach, cutting and trimming the lawn, and doing all of the essential chores before relaxing.

Now comes the rub. I have the nicest neighbors in the world, both at the lake and at my home in Fargo. My next-door lake neighbor, Brad Klose, husband of the Lady Sheila Klose, asked my wife if I had noticed that he put our replacement 9.9 motor on our boat. I looked out and, sure enough, the 9.9 hp Johnson was in fact on the boat. I walked over and profusely thanked him for installing it, while at the same time wondering how in hell he got into the locked garage to do that.

While organizing my tools in the garage, I noted he had forgotten to put the gas can in the boat. Then I walked down. From the shore, the motor looked weathered and ancient. I thought, “The bugger — he found and installed our old motor.”

I asked him whether that was our old motor. Brad simply smiled and said, “No.” I went back to arranging my tools.

A few hours later, my wife glanced into the corner of the garage, and there, on the floor, was my replacement engine.

I ran out and asked Brad how and where he found my old motor, the one he’d installed on the boat. He simply smiled and said it was not the old motor, then told me to take a closer look. I did … and that goof, with some assistance from parties, had stenciled and painted “Johnson 9.9” on a cardboard box and stuck a piece of wood through the box representing the steering mechanism. From a distance, it really looked real.

Brad may think he really pulled this off, but payback is in the works. This is what makes living fun and takes one’s mind off the bad happenings of the world.

But no article of mine would be complete without some reference to POTUS 45. The attorney general isn’t competent to give him legal advice, and his personal attorney is dumber than a box of rocks. I use the terms “incompetent” and “dumb” because, with a client like 45, there must be some controls —  and there aren’t.

With a case pending before the Supreme Court on his travel ban, 45 —  the dolt —  tweets an insult to the Muslim mayor of London at a time when terrorists have just killed citizens of his city. Trump simply can’t keep his mouth shut! The Putin lover has not considered that his tweets simply fuel the case for terminating his Muslim travel ban and reinforce the belief the ban was against a specific religion.

I think it’s malpractice for an attorney to represent 45 if he will not adhere to legal advice and simply “shut up.”

When he recently shoved another world leader out of his way at the NATO summit, stuck out his chin and struck a Mussolini pose, his true colors came through.

Like all Americans, I wanted our president to succeed. He is not my president, though I never thought I would say that about the leader of our country. But since he doesn’t give a whit about the average American, there’s no reason to support him.

When he ran for president, 45 made all kinds of promises and claims. Decent, hard-working people believed him and voted for him, and that’s fine. I think it’s fair to say no one thought he’d try to run the country like his business, as a one-man show making all the decisions himself and listening to no one. This country is too large and diverse to have dictatorial type management.

He has removed and not replaced all U.S. attorneys; he removed but has not replaced our diplomats; and he has not replaced or even started to consider the numerous government employees he either terminated or who would have left when any new administration came in.

The president simply has no clue how to run this country. I pray and hope that the courts, as they always have, will resolve the problem of his lack of leadership —  sooner rather than later.

In closing, ask yourself this question. The president wanted a 90-day ban on admitting people from seven Muslim-majority nations, and the courts put a stay on his order. The 90 days have now elapsed, and he’s still asking for the ban. He wanted those 90 days to see if the bad folks would infiltrate and attack us. They haven’t. He doesn’t like losing, yet he’s never won since being elected (except for placing his nominee on the Supreme Court).

As I wrap this up, I’m listening to Vice President Pence on the news singing the praises of 45. Wow. Until just now, I must have missed all the accomplishments he’s claiming. Guess I’ll have to study up more, because I do love watching the news. It is what keeps this country safe. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Memorial Day’s Lessons In History

I took it upon myself to drive the main roads in Dilworth, Minn., Moorhead and Fargo on Memorial Day weekend. I was pleased to see that each city had placed flags in honor of our fallen soldiers. It was also very heartening to see the many veterans and civic organizations providing programs to honor the warriors.

It prompted me to head back home and Google some facts that I had not previously seen. I want to share them with you in case you, too, did not know or have forgotten them.

The closest I came to the military myself was college ROTC, so I have a deep respect for those — living and dead — who have served or are serving.

I obtained statistics (stop reading right now if you don’t want to learn) that relate to American combat deaths by war. Just remember: These aren’t just numbers. They were men and women who had brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives and children … people who dearly missed them.

1. World War II (1941-45) – 291,557.

2. American Civil War (1861-65) – 212,938.

3. World War I (1917-18) – 53,402.

4. Vietnam War (1955-75) – 47,424.

5. Korean War (1950-53) – 33,746.

6. Revolutionary War (1775-83) – 8,000.

7. Iraq/Afghanistan Wars (2001-14) – 5,650.

8. War of 1812 (1812-15) – 2,260.

9. Mexican-American War (1846-48) – 1,733.

For those confirmed dead, at least there was closure for their survivors, if that term ever really applies. But there is another bracket for whom there can be no closure. The category of “missing in action” blew me away and made me wonder how the survivors handled it: WWI, 3,350. WWII, 30,314. Korea, 4,759. Vietnam, 2,489. Iraq, 2.

While researching the statistics, I came across an interesting article that I find both educational and spot on. It’s titled, “I hope you’re having a meaningful day.” The author is Navy veteran Luke Visconti, who co-founded the website

He recently wrote, “On Memorial Day, one should avoid the common refrain, ‘Thank you for your service.’ His reasoning was spot on. “On Memorial Day, the veteran you’re talking to may be going through a bit of melancholy, remembering people who died over the years.”

Visconti continues, “As most people are aware (or should be), Memorial Day and Veterans Day serve different purposes.

“Veterans Day is to honor the service of people who have worn the uniforms of the armed forces. Memorial Day is intended to remember those who died while serving.”

Instead, he suggested, we should thank that veteran because he may have had friends who died in combat. His idea may seem trite at first … until you follow his logic.

A few years back, I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was simply walking along until I spotted the names of Cliff Cushman and Tom Beyer. I knew Cliff from Grand Forks Central and Tom from Shanley High School. That slammed home just what I was looking at. I felt pride and pain at the same time. Hurt — that they paid the ultimate price. Pride — in my having known them.

It saddens me that, as we honor the fallen, we live in a time period in which the values they fought for have been brought into question by our own president. When 45 addressed a military gathering on his way back from his world travels, did he talk about their current service to this country? No, he bragged about all the great things he had done on his own trip.

In all America’s various wars, the assistance was not one-sided. We helped our allies, and they helped us. We provide aid and supplies to this day — but the allies provide naval, air and military bases and allow use of their space for our purposes. All this talk about NATO not paying its fair share is so much baloney. The United States participated side by side with its allies, plus former enemies who are now allies. A united front is needed.

Not one word did POTUS 45 utter about Russian interference in our nation. Not one word did he utter about the work of our own intelligence agencies. The image of the fallen who’ve fought for us in the past should be burned into his very being. Perhaps then, and only then, will he stop paying homage to Russia and instead work to keep this beloved country safe.

We have good and decent people in this country. They, with the assistance of the courts, will slow down and ultimately stop the damage being done to our image worldwide. They will once again assure our allies that we have their backs, like they have ours.

The American military has always performed as asked. It has allowed this country to be great and prosper. Its members deserve thanks and more. Thanks to all the entities and organizations giving the deceased warriors the credit they deserve as we observe Memorial Day.

Some may ask, “Why does Davies always find a way to blast 45?” I don’t need to find a way. Every time he opens his mouth, I get a free pass. My father and his brother, Clint, served in the Army; I also had a brother in the Air Force. The actions of 45 affecting our military, intelligence agencies and the courts light a fire in my being that will not go out … until he does.

I wonder if the flipping rain is getting me down. I’d like to think of this as an informative and enlightening article, without any political reference, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. Have a wonderful week. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Leakers Or Patriotic Whistle-blowers?

It appears that some media types and supporters of President Trump, hereinafter referred to as 45, are having difficulty with how to describe those in government positions who are providing information that is classified to those who will publicize it.

The naysayers suggest those whom they term “leakers” should be sought out, identified and then fired or criminally prosecuted. In a perfect political world that might make sense … but this is not a perfect world from any standpoint.

A quick dictionary search defines a “leaker” as someone who lets people know secret information. I think the more appropriate term would be “whistle-blower.”

A “patriot” is someone who feels a strong support for their country. “Patriotism” is defined as an attachment to the homeland. It can be viewed in terms of differences relating to the homeland, including but not limited to ethnic, cultural, political or historical aspects.

(If you Google each of these terms, the definitions do vary widely. I’ve used the shortest versions here.)

Individuals within the White House, FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies of government have released information that causes us to focus on certain behaviors that truly endanger this country and everything it stands for. These whistle-blowers are supplying information because they place the future of their country before all else. Individually, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by their actions.

Some will call them leakers. I call them whistle-blowing patriots. The information they have released so far and continue to reveal does not create harm to this country … but screams that we must protect (and in some cases restore) those values that set the United States of America apart from any other nation.

POTUS 45’s suggestion that those who work in government should pledge their loyalty to him personally is not American. It is Russian and echoes all other dictators throughout time. In our community, we are taught to report anything we deem suspicious. Our schools teach us to be good citizens and not tolerate nor accept crime and or other misbehavior … not blindly follow any man.

We are, in fact, taught right from wrong, even when it sometimes seems that distinction is fading. When we sense wrong, we should address it.

Maybe some would consider me a bad person because of my belief on this subject. But if I had taken an oath of secrecy and then learned of a plot to murder someone, do you think for one instant that I’d consider that all right? Each and every one of us was born with a brain. If it functions as it is supposed to, it helps us determine right from wrong … and wrong from sheer insanity.

One of the many problems facing elected officials is their fear to call “foul” when they see a wrong! They place party above country and loyalty to party above all else. They can’t get it through their muck-filled brains that their loyalty belongs to our country first, as well as the people they represent.

This is a time in which government, specifically the criminal justice system, demands nothing less than best and the brightest. Now, though, 45 is considering Joe Lieberman as a finalist for the directorship of the FBI. Yet he now works for the very same law firm that represents 45. He’s 75 years old. While he’s been in politics a long time, he has zero federal law enforcement experience. Prior appointees have been former federal prosecutors and judges. (I cannot conceive of a reason why a federal judge would leave a lifetime appointment to the bench to accept a not-so-safe appointment to a position 45 could terminate.)

My point is that, aside from working for a law firm that represents Trump, Lieberman is a good, honest man. But he’s simply not qualified for that position, so I hope common sense will be factored into the appointment.

Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI, has all the relevant credentials, is clearly his own man and would not be influenced in the slightest by 45 trying to direct his investigations. The FBI trusts him. In this era of 45 attacking all investigations of his administration by the FBI, his constant assaults on the media, and his childish name-calling — a well-trained and respected director is needed.

Whether one liked former Director Comey, his qualifications, sincerity and integrity were and still are above reproach.

Once all these House, Senate, FBI and Special Counsel investigations are complete, I predict the next step will be the courts. As I’ve already said, I expect them to potty-train 45 to understand the concept of three separate but co-equal branches of government. There will be criminal prosecutions resulting from the investigations.

My strong sense is that, given the difficulties the Constitution presents when dealing with 45, it may well result that a competency hearing. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that this president of the United States is unfit to hold office. The 25th Amendment may be the option that saves us.

* * *

Why is it that Sen. John Hoeven and Congressman Kevin Cramer cannot condemn even one of the inappropriate actions 45 has taken?

The president promised he would run the country like he runs his companies; that’s one promise he has kept. In business, he repeatedly ran up the bills and then didn’t pay the little guy for what he’d ordered. He promised health care for all — but forgot to mention the caveat, “if you can afford to pay for it.” His climate change denial and his poorly thought out executive orders clearly show that he has no concern at all for wages, jobs and the average citizen.

All this … and not one word of criticism from North Dakota’s Republican senator and congressman.

Minnesota is really well-represented. Its senators and representatives, even though from different parties, have not forgotten they work for the people, not vice versa. Then again, Minnesota has a two- or even three-party system. North Dakota does not.

* * *

Fargo attorney Leo Wilking has successfully dealt with health issues, as have I, at Sanford Health. The doctors, nurses, therapists, receptionists, those who clean rooms and even volunteer drivers like Roger Mjones make Sanford what it is — a first-class organization. I join Wilking in his recently published opinion: If Sanford wants to throw a party to celebrate its new Fargo facility, have at it! Your people have more than earned it.

I’m sure some of you are waiting for me to add something political at this point. Not gonna happen this time! Have a great week. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Inspired By A Young Man Who Loves It Here

This past weekend, while I was shopping at one of the big-box stores in Fargo, I noticed a young black man who appeared to be in his early 20s. This lad was helping everyone within “hello” distance and had a smile that lit up the room.

I watched him for about 10 minutes. His mood improved my own so much I walked over and struck up a conversation. He told me he was from North Carolina. I asked him how he liked our area, since he was so far from home. He replied without flinching, with that incredible smile going all the time, “I love it here.” I pressed him for his reasoning. He told me the people are warm and friendly; jobs are plentiful; and — most importantly — he loved local law enforcement because when he waves and says “hi,” they wave back.

Perhaps he exaggerated (or maybe not, since I’ve not been to North Carolina), but he implied there wasn’t much communication between the law and people of color in that state — and certainly no small talk. After listening to him, I gained a much better understanding of life in the Deep South from the viewpoint of one individual.

There are those in this community who would not have spoken to this young man under similar circumstances. The sadness of that is it’s hard to understand the lives some have to live if you don’t speak to them.

The young man did not know me from the man in the moon, yet his response was as open and friendly as those from other people of color I’ve met since retiring from the bench. But I’ve also met many young men who have felt the same type of prejudice right here in River City. That’s sad. I’m referring to Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and immigrants whose only apparent problem is that they aren’t the same color as we are.

The only color that matters is “red.” We all bleed that color. For my purpose here, that designates what it takes to be an American. What clothing we wear and how we wear our hair (or shave our heads) does not show who we are as a people — just what our individual tastes may be.

I personally don’t care if you believe in God, in Allah, in any other Creator … or don’t believe in the afterlife at all. If you are a good person, live an honest life and treat others as you wish to be treated, you are making this world a better place to live. If ever we’ve needed these types of people, it’s now more than ever.

My conversation with that young man from North Carolina piqued my interest in the state he came from. The North Carolina Legislature has been trying to set the clock back on civil rights. It is particularly active now in the time of President 45, who doesn’t recognize there are three co-equal branches of government. As he systematically tries to destroy the criminal justice system and remake it in his own image and likeness — the courts are once again reminding him and his supporters that this country is governed by the rule of law. God help us if that ever changes.

As in many states, North Carolina’s voter suppression attempts are being stomped on. That state accepted a variety of government-issued photo ID cards — drivers licenses, passports and military ID cards. However, in a not-so-subtle attempt to keep minorities from voting, this state would not accept public assistance card used disproportionately as identification by minorities in North Carolina. Legislators also tried to cut early voting days and end same-day voter registration. There was nothing subtle about their attempts to discourage and limit certain voters. Were it not for the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against them, they would have succeeded.

It’s one thing to be prosecuted because you have done something wrong. It is quite another to be persecuted because you exist.

Some might say that I take bigotry and prejudice personally because of the legacy of my father, Judge Ronald N. Davies. They’d be partially right. My father turned the spotlight on the problems of bigotry and prejudice for me, and it has never dimmed. I am so proud of that.

* * *

When my wife went to the lake this weekend with one of my daughters, each brought a dog. I stayed home because I was going to (and did) cut and apply weed killer to the lawn. Our dog chews crabgrass like a doper smokes pot, and I didn’t want to take any chances with him getting into the treated lawn. So Maureen will be hearing about my adventures at North Fargo Hornbacher’s for the first time as she reads this column.

Apparently Saturday must have been Tattoo Day for grocery shoppers there. One young lady was showing off some writing and some kind of picture emblazoned just above her (slightly exposed) boob line. At my age, the body parts were of no interest. But as I tried to glimpse what the writing said, this lady— not a teenager, but in her 40s or 50s — looked me right in the eye and said, “Do you like what you see?”

With the speed of light. I replied, “Don’t flatter yourself, I wouldn’t have to squint if the print was as large as you-know-what.”

That was not the end of my violating social taboos. In front of me in the checkout line was another woman, a younger one, with an exposed back. I looked away at something as she stood there talking to her friend. When I glanced back, her tattoo caught my eye — it looked just like a real spider. I let out a whoop and a holler and jumped back before I realized what I was looking at. I had to explain to the startled teen how I am deathly afraid of spiders. I don’t think she, the clerk or the others who witnessed the event stopped laughing until after I’d left the store.

* * *

Here’s a special shout-out to Justin Benson, Erik Benson and my grandson, Rhys Luger, for becoming Eagle Scouts at the Boy Scouts of America Troop 214 ceremony on Mother’s Day. Until I saw the list of accomplishments required to earn this honor, I had no idea of the dedication each of these young men demonstrated to achieve his goal.

There is no doubt in my mind these young men will succeed in life. Their achievement is also a testament to their parents who supported them. Awesome job, young men! Amen.