Justice Jovial

Everyone knew Justice Jovial from the time he was at the Bar. He possessed an ever-smiling countenance and was very pleasantly disposed towards juniors.

He volunteered to help all those who he felt had the ‘potential’ to make it big in the profession. Once, he saw a junior lawyer assiduously poring over law tomes in the library. Jovial walked over to the junior and peering over his shoulder patted the junior on his back saying: “Waah! Chaan! (Good)!”

Jovial: “What are you searching for so intently?”

Junior: “Sir, my matter is in the post-lunch session and Justice Bigwig has told me to find a judgment which he recalled having read on a particular point of law … but could not immediately locate. But I too can’t find it.”

Jovial: “Don’t worry. Just tell me what the proposition of law is and I shall tell you the citation.”

By now others in the library within earshot were all ears.

The junior then proceeded to briefly explain the point involved.

Jovial laughed out loud: “Go have your lunch peacefully. That is my case. I had argued it. I know the citation pit-pat.”

Everyone looked admiringly at Jovial. The junior too looked most relieved.

Jovial insisted that he must go have lunch and come back to the library just before going to the court.

Jovial would not only give him the citation but ensure that the librarian kept the relevant volume ready for the junior to carry to the court.

The junior looked overwhelmed by this unsolicited assistance and unexpected promise. He went to have lunch. When he came back to the library for the citation, Jovial was nowhere to be seen.

The librarian too informed the junior that no volume had been left by Jovial for him. Other lawyers told him that Jovial had walked out of the library just five minutes earlier.

Panic-stricken, the junior ran outside and started scouring the corridors for Jovial. Luckily, he managed to spot him. Jovial was surrounded by other lawyers who were guffawing at some joke he had cracked.

The junior had hardly five minutes before he was required to be in court. Jovial saw him approach and hollered “AIR 1973 Bom. 123”.

The junior thanked him, ran back to the library, grabbed that volume and rushed into the courtroom out of breath. He made it in the nick of time.

The judge came in, took his seat and inquired: “Did you find that judgment?”

The junior nodded and passed on the volume of AIR 1973 (Bom.) flagged on page 123. The judge read the head note and wondered if the junior had lost his head.

He then started firing the poor fellow for bringing some utterly irrelevant citation and making a fool of himself!

The junior apologised, begged forgiveness and requested a short adjournment. Mercifully, it was granted.

Colleagues in court then started asking him why he had done what he did. The crestfallen fellow told them about advocate Jovial’s promise. They all burst into laughter. They said it was well-known that just as some people are avid name-droppers, Jovial loved to drop citations to impress juniors and onlookers.

Such ‘authorities’ were just random citations having no relevance. Those who knew of Jovial’s habit never believed such bogus citations.

The junior said he did not know this but he had now learnt his lesson the hard way.

The next day, in the court corridor, he once again bumped into a beaming Jovial who said: “So, did you get the Order? I hope the citation helped?”

Junior (visibly angry): “Sir, it had no relevance at all!”

Jovial: “Really? Then why did that duffer sitting on the Bench need it?”

Before the shocked junior could respond with anything, Jovial patted him on the back and moved on.

But not before adding: “I am always there for you should you need me anytime. All the best!”

Despite being livid, the junior could not help smiling. It was impossible not to like Jovial. He was very popular at the Bar and regularly won Bar elections. He held several important positions in the Bar Council and tried to help members in whatever way he could.

No wonder he soon got elevated to the Bench at a comparatively young age. The elevation of Jovial did not surprise many. He had a political pedigree, was good at wheeling-dealing, had a large circle of friends and well-wishers and had even managed to become chairman of the Bar Council for a while at a young age.

Once on the Bench, he always managed to corner ‘plum’ assignments by being in the good books of whosoever was the chief.

Jovial’s large entourage of juniors prospered immensely by his elevation. They went all across the State seeking clients with lines like: “High courtaat kaahi kaam asel tar saanga.” (Let us know if you have some work in the HC).

Because he wanted to retain hold over the Bar Council even after being elevated, Jovial motivated his son to contest ‘his seat’.

His erstwhile juniors were sent out to campaign far and wide even during court working hours and days. They were promised that no harm would come to their matters while they were ‘campaigning’ for junior Jovial. Sure enough, that is exactly how it was!

Jovial knew how to use his power and position to good advantage, both personal and philanthropic.

He remained actively involved in the Alumni Association of his law college. The association had applied for an 80-G exemption to generate more donations but the income tax authorities kept raising new objections every time and the issuance of the exemption seemed to be stuck indefinitely.

At a meeting of the governing council of the association, attended by some sitting milords who had all been students of that law college, when this issue came up, Justice Jovial asked the chartered accountant for the name of the commissioner under whose jurisdiction the 80-G exemption grant issue was placed.

Then turning to two milords attending that meeting, Jovial asked: “Aren’t you guys heading the tax Bench at present?”

The two milords nodded.

Jovial: “How dare these income tax officers keep calling our chartered accountant and harassing him? From tomorrow, start flexing your muscles. Show the income tax department your power. Summon that arrogant commissioner to court for any small mistake or misdemeanor in every case where you find it. Threaten income tax officers with contempt every now and then.”

The two milords were taken aback and asked: “What is going to happen even if we do all this?”

Jovial: “Take my word, we will get that 80-G delivered to us with folded hands within a fortnight.”

Lo and behold, that is exactly what happened!

At the next meeting of the Alumni Association, Jovial revealed his modus operandi. Once the tax Bench started whipping the department, they didn’t know how to escape. Jovial then acted as their saviour.

He got a middleman to arrange for three income tax commissioners to meet him privately. They begged him to use his ‘good offices’ for some relief from the torture. He told them he would certainly help them but they must reciprocate.

They readily agreed.

Once this ‘working arrangement’ was decided, 80-G was a very small thing. Everyone applauded Justice Jovial for sorting out in a fortnight what had remained unresolved for over a year! Justice Jovial had this uncanny knack of swaying people to his point of view.

He was once on a three-judge full Bench to which an important issue had been referred. The Bench was headed by a scholarly judge with a Ph.D. We may call him Justice Treatise. Jovial was second in terms of seniority on that Bench.

The junior judge kept yawning when he was not nodding and agreeing to everything which fell from the seniormost judge. We will call him Justice Goody.

When the hearings concluded after several days, Justice Treatise indicated his view. He would allow the petitions. Justice Jovial respectfully disagreed and said he would pen a dissent.

Justice Goody demurely said he hadn’t quite got a grip on the issues involved but would support Justice Treatise who was heading the Bench. Judgments were thereafter reserved.

Justice Treatise got down to penning an elaborate judgment and sent it to Justice Goody when it was ready.

Justice Jovial wrote a short dissent on how it was politically incorrect to allow such petitions. He reproduced the respondent government’s arguments and upheld them without much ado. He said that the petitions deserved to be dismissed.

On the day fixed for the pronouncement of the judgment, the three judges (who by now had separate assignments to handle on other Benches) assembled in Justice Treatise’s chamber. They all sat down and had tea. Then they trudged to the courtroom to pronounce the judgment.

The scholarly judge had his heavily foot-noted landmark ruling ready to become law by a majority decision of 2-1. He pushed the file to Justice Goody for him to sign. He looked visibly uncomfortable and hesitated.

What happened? Any problem?” queried Justice Treatise.

Sir, I have changed my mind. I am now going with Justice Jovial’s view,” said Justice Goody.

Justice Treatise was shocked. His prospective magnum opus had suddenly metamorphosed into a lone, forlorn dissent! Justice Jovial had a smug smile on his face.

Justice Treatise realised that he had been out-flanked and out-manoeuvred by Justice Jovial. But he could not do anything about it. The government just loved Justice Jovial.

The love was reciprocal. He loved to decide in favour of the government.

Justice Goody too started adopting the same policy. It paid rich dividends for both of them.

While Justice Treatise retired as a senior puisne judge and landed a state-level tribunal presidentship as a post-retirement reward, Justice Jovial went North to become Chief Justice of a big high court.

In due course, Justice Goody too got a plum posting. He went South as a chief justice. Jovial’s story does not end here. Post-retirement as chief justice, he went back to doing what he always did best— being the quintessential wheeler-dealer.

But that is another story for another day.

The Leaflet