David Carroll: Remembering Judge Moon
Commentary from WRCB News Anchor David Carroll
(WRCB) -- Just hours after hearing the shocking news of Judge Bob Moon's sudden death, those of us who knew him are finding it hard to believe that we can no longer make a phone call to get the Judge's take on a crime-related news topic. I'm still trying to digest the fact I will no longer receive an e-mail from him, often with a poem he wrote about a passionate interest. I can no longer tell a friend to visit his courtroom to get an idea of what's happening "in the real world."
Judge Moon would look you in the eye. He had strong beliefs, instilled by a loving family. He would shake his head in disbelief when hearing of children abandoned by parents, left to seek approval from gang members. He was tough on truancy offenders. "You can't teach an empty desk," he'd say. "We're going to find these parents who don't care enough to send their children to school, and there will be consequences."
He could be compassionate with multiple offenders like "Goldfinger," Paul Vandiver, who was a regular in Judge Moon's court. The nickname came from Vandiver's penchant for huffing spray paint, preferably gold. With a court appearance tote board well into the dozens, Vandiver was a familiar face. Judge Moon would smile and compare the situation to a well-known fictitious character from Mayberry. "Mr. Vandiver, I might as well give you a key to the jail like the one Sheriff Andy gave Otis. You could just let yourself in and out."
Judge Moon certainly believed in punishment, and could dish it out in large doses, but he always tried compassion first. He understood the value of a second chance. If you took him up on that second chance, life could be good. Third chances were not viewed so favorably. Pass that drug screen, get that GED, and Judge Moon felt his job was done. Repeat offenders, or those who failed to take advantage of his second-chance opportunities might as well prepare for a stay behind bars.
Throughout his 30-plus year tenure on the bench, especially since being appointed to Hamilton County Sessions Court in 1996, he was a strong believer in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chattanooga. They had helped him as a youth from the streets of East Lake, and he saw their continued value in the gang-riddled world of today. He was their most vocal cheerleader, not with words, but with action. He created "Tie Day," linking inner city youths with local business leaders for lunch, and the gift of a new neck tie (along with a lesson in tying the knot).
He organized field trips for kids who were exposed to little outdoor activity outside of their often violent surroundings. He told me, "When some of the inner city kids were camping for their very first time at the Boys Club's Camp Kiwanis one year, we had to take several of them back home when it became dark and the bullfrogs and katydids begin croaking and singing. They had never heard those sounds before and were terrified. They would have slept through sirens and gunshots."
It was that kind of world from which Judge Bob Moon helped many escape. Who will be their champion now? The Judge with the strong opinions, the steely glare and the stern court presence might be remembered as a strict jurist by some. But I will remember him as someone who cared about kids, and left his hometown a better place than he found it, just sixty years ago.
The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home and 1:30-3 p.m. on Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, 554 McCallie Avenue. Services will be held at the church at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Follow David Carroll at twitter.com/DavidCarroll3