Thursday, November 24, 2022

Birthday lunch

Judge Martin Moltz

      Certain readers have written to me so consistently for so long, I feel as if I know them, even when we've never met. It helps to have a distinctive name, like Royal Berg, which sounds like a character out of Tolkien, but is actually an attorney in the Loop specializing in immigration law.

     He said he had bought two copies of my new book, and would it be possible to swing by and sign them? I said sure, and we arranged to meet downtown Monday. He said there was a luncheon of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity, honoring the birthday of a judge at Delmonico Restaurant, across from City Hall. Why don't I come as his guest?
     Putting those data points together — law fraternity, a judge, a restaurant called Delmonico's — what would you expect? I pictured the Union League Club, men in Brioni suits murmuring over their folded copies of the Wall Street Journal. I wore a jacket and a tie to fit in.
     The first surprise was Delmonico's. That's the name of perhaps the most famous New York restaurant of the 19th century. In the 21st century Chicago version, it was a nondescript interior room in the lobby 111 W. Washington, with steam tables and a cash register but no windows looking out into the street. I blew past it the first time, trucking through the lobby, not perceiving it as a restaurant, and had to ask directions, literally while standing directly in front of the place.
     I was directed to the buffet, selected a slice of Yankee pot roast and some broccoli and put them on my sectioned styrofoam plate — that seemed safe. There were eight or 10 people gathered to celebrate the 78th birthday of Judge Martin Moltz. Sixteen years on the bench. How's that going?
     "I love it," he said. "I enjoy it way too much. I'm so happy to do it at my age."
     I know the feeling. Judge Moltz, and the others gathered, some from the city law department, had a certain low-key, salt-of-the-earth quality — the German word heimlich comes to mind: familiar, agreeable. Not law as practiced by Ed Burke. There was no pretense, no aloofness. We traded stories. They all seemed to have read the Sun-Times for their entire lives and were pleased to meet me. Everybody was relaxed. Nobody was in a rush — I had to remind Judge Moltz to blow out his candles. Otherwise they might have just burned down to the frosting.
     Judge Moltz was appointed an associate judge of the Cook County First Municipal Circuit Court in 2007. In case you assume, as I did, that his canary yellow jacket was a birthday indulgence, it's not. The Chicago Lawyer published a photo of his closet: suits of purple, orange, aqua, salmon. 
     This is not to say he doesn't have legal chops. As Deputy Director of the State Appellate Prosecutor's office, he argued 1 ,700 cases before the appellate and state supreme Courts, a record that will probably never be broken.
     Soon we were happily discussing ... roller coasters. He grew up going to Riverview, remained an enthusiast all his life, and has ridden every roller coaster in the United States. And Canada. And England. And Wales.

     But that isn't the incredible part. The incredible part is that he didn't mention that personal achievement. I dug it up later. Accomplished and modest.
     Perhaps all that swooping and hurtling has primed him for Illinois politics. He had no reluctant last year to declare in open court that J.B. Pritzker's eviction moratorium is "utter idiocy," which it was, as much a stab at the rule of law as any MAGA machination. Landlords have to make a living too.
     It's Thanksgiving, so I should leave it at that and let you get back to preparations. I worried for a moment that I was setting some precedent, pointing out that I had agreed to meet a reader for lunch just because he'd purchased two books. But it's worse than that. I sometimes go to lunch with readers just because they ask, no books involved. Though I should flog the product: if you buy two books, I'll meet up with you and sign them, and we might as well have lunch while we're doing so. It certainly worked in this case; pleasant, distinctive company and the great inert stone of my publishing career moved two inches forward. Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. I haven't heard that name in years. I went to Hebrew School with Marty's kid brother Ira.

  2. Hmm, I’m thinking of where we could meet…….?

  3. This was nice to read. I argued several cases against Marty back in the early eighties when I worked for the Appellate Defender in Elgin, and Marty was an Appellate Prosecutor in Elgin. The colors of his wardrobe sound about right! I can’t agree with him or you that Governor Pritzker’s eviction moratorium was “idiocy,” utter or otherwise. While landlords do have to make a living, they are rarely living hand to mouth as their tenants are, and in a public emergency that put many people out of work, a temporary emergency order that kept more families from becoming homeless and made our society a little less Dickensian seems to me to have been the opposite of idiocy. But it is Thanksgiving as you said, so enough of that.

  4. What a delightful surprise! I feared that the Thanksgiving column that appeared in today’s paper and in yesterday’s blog was going to show up a third time. But no, I encounter a tale of charming characters discovered in a locale I’ve frequented often and never noticed its appeal. Another reason for gratitude.


  5. Happy Thanksgiving to you and you family. Neil.

  6. ...and YOUR family too.


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