25 years ago this fall, I found myself shoveling books in and out of a law school locker next to a tall, clean-cut young man who was soft spoken and kind yet also very thoughtful and keenly intelligent.
We became easy friends and enjoyed each others company through our law school years. We went out weekends with our wives and served together as summer associates at Brown, Todd and Heyburn (now Frost, Brown, Todd). By the end of our legal education I counted David Hale as one of my closest friends in life.
A few years after that, David was my closest advisors in my effort to run for Secretary of State. When my campaign seemed in trouble, David intervened. He introduced me to his dear friend, a Harvard College and Harvard Law grad named Jonathan Miller. The two men single handedly managed my campaign, wrote my commercials, and David even used the backyard of his parent’s house (and his father’s office inside) to film my commercials. I was 31 and David and Jonathan were in their late 20s. We had a lot of pluck and energy and had no real idea what we were doing —but had the youthful exuberance that led us to believe we could do it successfully anyway. And we were right.
David continued to be a dear friend and advisor ever since. We became neighbors for many years and in times of personal self-doubt or spiritual upheaval, David Hale was always there…always offering to be helpful and give his time and thoughtful and caring insights. But perhaps most importantly, to always listen. David listens better than about anyone I’ve ever known. And has the rare gift of being a person who has never heard a stupid or silly question. I remember pulling David aside in my mid 30’s one day after we had lunch and asking embarrassingly, “What exactly is the Holy Spirit? I think it is something I’ve felt before but didn’t know there was an actual term for it.” David explained it to me calmly and matter-of-factly without ever wincing — just like I had asked him directions to the nearest convenient store.
David’s priorities have never wavered. When he wasn’t at work, he seemed to be involved at his church or doing something with is family. And if he wasn’t doing any of those things, he was reading some meaty book or talking to a close friend about history, law, politics or religion.
In the 25 years I have known David he has never spoken a curse word or shared an off-color joke. At least not in my presence. It’s kinda maddening, to tell you the truth. And forces me to reign in my own salty language and penchant for occasional coarse humor when in private. This side of David may be maddening to me. But it also makes me a better person. David has that affect on people. Most remarkably of all, you never feel like David is judging you or feeling holier than thou. You just get the sense that you are with a good friend, no better and no worse, but who is perhaps trying a little harder than you to be a little bit better person that day.
David is a devoted father and husband who pays attention to the big things in life. But he also tends to the smaller details. I remember several times walking or driving by David’s house and seeing him pulling up “crab grass.” He explained to me what it was and why it had to be yanked out— but I never paid close attention because I never wanted to feel compelled to comb through my yard pulling out irritating weeds. I never said it to David but thought to myself, “Hell, I can’t tell the difference between crabgrass and real grass…why don’t you just leave it and pretend it all blends together?” And I didn’t say it, of course, because David would never do that.
David sees the big picture about as well as anyone I know. He stays focused on the main point of the main thing and for the main reasons in every matter. But he also deals with the details just as deftly — and prunes away the extraneous crabgrass as he mentally mows through a complicated concept or situation he is analyzing — whether in his personal or professional life. And when he is finished explaining to you why he has decided whatever conclusion he has come to, you feel grateful David has so thoughtfully simplified and clarified such a complex and thorny situation for you. And pointed you in the right direction.
And the same traits that have helped make David Hale such a great friend to so many and a model person I look up to so admiringly, are many of the same traits that will help make him a great federal judge, just as he has served so honorably as our U.S Attorney in recent years.
It’s a cliche to say when something good happens to someone that it “Couldn’t have happened to a better guy.” Except in that rare instance when it is not a cliche. And such is the case with David J Hale’s appointment today, by a unanimous U.S Senate vote, to make him our new federal court judge for the Western District of Kentucky.
And we are all fortunate to have David in this role overseeing the proper dispensation of justice –where he is sure to be as good and decent and thoughtful a federal judge as he is a good and decent and thoughtful person.