Notice & Comment

D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed: Hon. David B. Sentelle, The First Interview

The D.C. Circuit did not decide any cases this week. This creates a dilemma. How should you spend your “five minutes”? One option is to listen to this song and call it a week. That would be a very good choice. For those of you, however, who would like to learn something new about the D.C. Circuit, D.C. Circuit Review — Reviewed is happy to help.

This week I started reading the series of seven interviews with Judge Sentelle found at the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.* The accomplished David Frederick is the interviewer.

I have not yet finished reading the whole series. But what I have read thus far is worth your time. This is not surprising; the Historical Society “does great work.” So today, I have decided to flag some of the highlights from the First Interview, which covers Sentelle’s youth up through his time as a federal prosecutor.

Be warned: Few people alive can tell a story as well as Judge Sentelle.

  • “I run into people occasionally who tell me I couldn’t have been born in Canton because there is no hospital there. I tell them that I was neither sick nor in need of an operation and, therefore, it’s not necessary that you get to a hospital. It’s only necessary that you be near your mother at the time and she didn’t go to the hospital so I didn’t either.”
  • “My father was Horace Sentelle, Jr. He was known to most of his friends –- to most everybody — as Dugan. Dugan was a character from a comic strip, Maggie and Jiggs Bringing Up Father. Dugan hung out in the pool hall all the time and apparently my father, in his younger days, had stayed in the pool hall all the time and picked up the nickname of Dugan. He rather liked it. He was sort of an eccentric who taught us to call him Dugan, so my brother and I always called him Dugan and said we were Dugan’s boys.”
  • “My great-great-grandfather, whose name was also Samuel Sentelle – that seems to turn up generation after generation – was a mountain Unionist. And he, like quite a few other mountaineers, left the South to fight for the North and he was a Union soldier. Family legend had always been that he was killed on the way back after the war. A local historian finally found an accurate tracing. He was killed on the way back, but the war was not over. He was apparently AWOL at the time he was killed. He and another man by the name of Sentelle and a third companion were ambushed in what’s called the Pink Beds area of the Smokies on the way back. If you’ve ever read the novel Cold Mountain about the Confederate soldiers on their way back to Haywood County – cause he went AWOL near the end of the war and was murdered. It’s the same story except they were Union soldiers and were probably going to the Transylvania side of the county line rather than the Haywood County line, but it’s the same general area as that – very similar to the story told except that it’s Union soldiers instead of Confederates.”
  • “We had Uncle Wayne, who was not really a kin to us at all, Wayne Melton. He was as thorough a Democrat as my father was a Republican. The two of them would take off from the mill in the fall and go to the farms for the hog killings. These were festivals, the hog killings were essential. My brother and I would be set up on the fence to watch. We’d get a hog bladder to blow up and bat around.”
  • “Pauline Hall was my fifth grade teacher. She had a son in my class and I beat him up one time. I don’t think she ever forgot that, though she was an old acquaintance of my parents from Haywood County where Canton is. I don’t think she ever liked me very much. I didn’t think she was a great teacher, but maybe that’s because I didn’t like her.”
  • “I was known as Brother Dave. There was a southern comedian of whom you’ve probably never heard, Brother Dave Gardner, who used to appear on the old Tonight Show with Jack Parr occasionally. Brother Dave had some standup routines that were recorded on old black flat records and his favorite expression was, ‘Rejoice, Dear Hearts, your Brother Dave is amongst you.’ I used to do his routines, so I was called Brother Dave by everyone including the teachers at the high school.”
  • “Trial lawyers who take a lot of notes are not going to do a very good job because they’re not hearing everything that is said and they’re not thinking about what they’re going to say back. You’ve got to learn to hear it, remember it, and respond, and you learn the ways to speak to which people are responsive.”
  • “I knew that I eventually wanted to go to law school, so I had in my mind that political science was probably the way you should prepare for law school. I read that somewhere. I’m not sure that it’s true. I wound up taking enough English courses to have a second major in English. And if I had to advise, I might tell people that English would be a good major for pre-law.”
  • “My approach in high school had always been that I would do enough to get by and then figure out how to ace the exam, during the exam. It was more exciting that way.”
  • “In 1984, Jim Martin was our congressman from Charlotte and Charlotte was a district run by Republicans since 1952. Jim decided to run for governor. I had been county party chairman. Jim called me, among others, to tell me he’d decided to run for governor. I hung the phone up and said, ‘Jane, Jim’s not running for Congress.’ She said, ‘You’re not either.'”
  • “Bill Buckley was someone we all admired. Later I came to, on this court, respect his brother a great deal more than I ever did Bill. I think Jim is one of the most intellectual people I ever met, but we didn’t know about Jim so much then until he ran for Senate and was elected.”
  • “We didn’t have much drug offense in those days. We still had a little bit of whiskey, some drugs. We had draft dodgers — the selective service violation cases. Charlotte was a banking center, so we had some bank embezzlement cases. Bank robbery was the state sport in North Carolina then. We tried a lot of bank robberies. ”

This is just a small sample. The Judge also discusses his experience with Brown v. Board of Education, his view of Yale as a “Yankee school,” and “the history of Andy Griffith.”

And with that, have a great (and safe) weekend.

* As a reminder, D.C. Circuit Review — Reviewed has a soft spot for Judge Sentelle.

D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed is designed to help you keep track of the nation’s “second most important court” in just five minutes a week.

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