JUDGE SHOULD BE ABOVE ZANY CASE

I don’t really care where Anna Nicole Smith is buried or who gets her money, and I don’t think it matters which deadbeat gold digger is the father of her baby, because, no matter what, that poor kid will need years of therapy.

But I do want to say something about the absurd trial that was just televised almost nonstop by our cable TV news channels (Official Motto: “Always on the lookout for the next O.J.”). Because, if any impressionable kids were watching, they should know this.

The judge? Larry Seidlin?

Not what our forefathers had in mind.

The whiny, wisecracking Seidlin may think he was auditioning for his own TV show – and who isn’t? – but he ignored something fundamental to the justice process:

It doesn’t matter that you’re presiding over a room full of celebrity-obsessed lunatics.

You can’t become one of them.

The circus comes to the courtroom

Seidlin did. He was a nightclub act. A carnival sideshow. People tuned in to see what weird, outlandish comments he would make. This, we remind you, is the JUDGE!

Here is a guy who began the proceedings by telling the courtroom that Anna Nicole’s body “belongs to me now” and “that baby is in a cold, cold storage room.”

In the days that followed, he gave rambling details of his morning exercise routine, his blood pressure, his discomfort with funeral specifics (this is a probate judge, by the way), compared Anna Nicole to a Shakespearean character and the trial to a Muhammad Ali fight, suggested the disputing parties should all “join hands” in a Kumbaya moment, paid homage to the troops in Iraq, addressed lawyers by their home states (“Sit down, Texas”), told a blond attorney she was beautiful, let his cell phone ring, and actually said, when a man collapsed in the courtroom apparently from diabetic shock, “Here’s my credit card. Buy him an orange juice.”

That’s just a sample. I don’t care that Seidlin was once a New York City cab driver. I care that he still acts like one.

Now, you may say I’m being priggish. Let the guy have his fun. Let the guy be entertaining. His wife last week told ABC News that people are always saying how Seidlin should have his own TV program. And, considering the lineup of spotlight-seeking vultures in this sick and bizarre opera, why, you ask, should Seidlin be different from the rest?

I’ll tell you why.

He’s the only one with the word “judge” in front of his name.

That used to mean something.

Made for television?

Not every profession is supposed to offer a TV version. Once upon a time, psychiatrists practiced in offices, not on a glitzy set. Financial advisers worked behind desks, not in front of cable news cameras. Courtrooms were for litigators and plaintiffs, not directors and producers.

And judges were austere.

Not auditioning.

I’m one of those strange people who believe a judge who decides who goes to jail, who gets custody of children, who receives an inheritance or who gets a dead body should come across, at least some of the time, as being from planet Earth.

Seidlin – thanks to all the attention he drew – sent a different message. He told millions of viewers that being entertaining is the most important thing. Oh, and crying as you announce your verdict is a nice touch.

Maybe someday someone will explain why so much weird government behavior seems to happen in Florida. Kathryn Harris. The Elian Gonzalez trial. Meanwhile, Seidlin’s defenders insist he is just being his “down-to-earth” self.

Sorry. But when the whole world is watching, you should put some effort into standing taller. After all, “down to earth” isn’t far from “in the mud.” And a judge should be better than that.

Even if his case isn’t.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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