Judging from my records, the end begins around 1985, the year in which Michail Gorbachev rises to power in the Soviet Union. But his name does not come up in my Lüritz story. It is no sudden event that brings about the change but the slow addition of factors that existed long before: a jug is being filled and finally runs over; a virus, initially harmless, spreads and causes an epidemic; a rumor, at first just whispered, spreads and grows until it is shouted from the rooftops. Frau Nissen, ex-director of the Regional Court in Neuburg, confirms my dating of the turning of the tide. In the second half of the 1980s, she and her judges had noticed a change of public attitudes toward the judiciary. If before, the courts’ clients had behaved in a friendly, even “affectionate” manner toward judges, she now began to sense a “cooling” of the air. Not a lack of interest but “defiance.” “We no longer were in step.”
Everywhere, the writing is on the wall. The Justice Administration is losing volunteers: between 1984 and 1988, 9.2% of all members of the dispute commissions in the Neuburg region (lay courts adjudicating minor civil disputes and administrative offenses in the public housing sector) resign from office, but less than a third of the lay judges needed to replace them can be found. The Regional Court reports “considerable recruitment problems” to the Ministry of Justice. In Lüritz, only 60% of the lay judges still on the books show up for the regular training sessions. It “cannot be denied that the number of objective reasons for citizens’ unwillingness to get involved have grown,” the Regional Court informs the Ministry. “Objective reasons”? Those must be the same reasons as those that in 1986 motivate a Lüritz lay assessor not to vote (a scandalous behavior for a civic volunteer) and that, by the year 1989, have moved twenty-two other lay assessors to submit their resignations to the Lüritz Court. Several lay judges simply return their court ID cards in the mail. Some of the accompanying letters of the drop-outs offer tactful excuses: “For personal reasons …”; “for reasons of personal health …”; “asking for your understanding….” “I do not want to talk about the reasons that caused me to resign my office,” one lay assessor writes in the fall of 1989 and thanks the court “for the excellent cooperation and the trust shown.” He has renounced a job that meant a lot to him.
Not that the mood among the judges is much more sanguine. In one of Frau Walter’s notebooks (“Meetings and Conferences. July 1987–July 1988”—a