City Paper is not for tourists
Mark Judge, the only potential witness to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged assault on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has been gracing the pages of City Paperfor nearly three decades—first as a freelancer and in more recent years as a mention in articles by other authors.
His collected works, which appear between 1990 and 1998, are generally unmemorable. In 1990 and ‘91 he wrote five articles on an array of gentle topics, like his grandfather’s career as a first baseman for the Washington Senators, and two Bethesda siblings who ran a fanzine. In the years that followed he wrote a series of letters on alcoholism, and had an ugly quote about women in a 1996 article. He returned to City Paper in 1998, this time on the swing dance beat.
It’s his relationships with his editors that ranged from stormy to explosive.
His most notable appearance in City Paper history—a fiery episode in late ’98—marked the end of his time as a contributor.
Judge had been riding the swing revival in that summer. He had a feature on swing dance teacherTom Koerner, and he wrote up a few recommendations—one for an album, some for dance and music events. In early September, he published a story on the closing of Bethesda music club Twist & Shout, which he described as a “raw, cheap, unfiltered good time.”
Brad McKee was City Paper’s arts editor at the time. He can’t recall what, if anything, he did to invoke Judge’s rage—he guesses that he tried to push him for a piece on something other than swing dancing. But McKee and a good portion of the staff of City Paper circa 1998 do remember what happened next: Judge responded that McKee would, or should, suffer the same fate as Matthew Shepard (as the Post also reported.)
Shepard died after two young men beat him brutally in Laramie, Wyoming in October of ’98. Shepard was gay and tested positive for HIV, and his terrible death produced a turning point in the gay rights movement.
“I’m never an asshole to people,” says McKee, now the editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine. “I’m as nice when I say no as when I say yes, so I can tell you for certain, I didn’t start any shit with the guy. And so I was duly shocked by the response.”
“Carr, he really really lit up,” says McKee, who remembers getting Judge’s message in an email. The email, generations of City Paper IT staffers confirm, is long gone from the records. But the memory is not.
The paper’s Young and Hungry columnist then, Brett Anderson, had come to D.C. from Minnesota, as Carr had. Anderson ate dinners out for his column on occasion, and sometimes brought Carr with him. “I do very vividly remember him telling me about the Matthew Shepard email and it occupying an entire evening’s worth of our conversation,” says Anderson. “And I remember actively thinking that other publications should not publish Mark Judge. … I was just blown away that someone would put that in an email.”
Nineteen years later, Judge himself wrote about the incident for a Baltimore-based publication called Splice Today. “I experienced Carr’s rage once. It was in 1998, when he was the editor of Washington City Paper and I was a freelancer,” wrote Judge. “I made a remark about an editor whose opinion I didn’t agree with, and it got back to Carr, who called me at home and exploded in a psychotic rage for 10 minutes.”
Judge’s story was an argument to end the New York Times’ David Carr Fellowship, but he neglected to disclose his role in his City Paper conflict, instead focusing on Carr (who unearthed his own worst moments and greatest loves in his 2009 book The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.)
In short, a lot of drama over a few columns about swing dancing.
And this was the second time Judge left City Paper on poor terms. He annoyed an entirely different set of City Paper editors in ’90 and ’91.
In the early 90s, when Jack Shafer was chief editor, Judge wrote five stories for the paper—a collection of mild features. In the one on his grandfather Joe Judge, who helped the Washington Senators win its only World Series in 1924, he wrote:
“The unflashiest of players, Judge loved the National Pastime like a second wife—an affair that lasted 36 years, until the game and city he loved changed, grew unfamiliar, and passed him by. Today, his place in baseball history may be just a scribble in a local historian’s notebook, but 70 years ago, Joe Judge was a Washington institution.”
Over the course of the five pieces, Judge managed to annoy at least three editors (though he praised one, Katherine Boo, who worked with him on his story about his grandfather).
“We didn’t get along and he took his keyboard elsewhere,” says Shafer. “He was just too much bother to deal with and if you know alt-weeklies, that’s saying a lot.”
In 2011 Judge wrote a piece for The Daily Callerin which he criticized the edits he had gotten 20 years earlier from City Paper’s then senior editor, Liza Mundy, claiming that she had made his subjects “look like idiots.”
Mundy remembers Judge, but she doesn’t remember editing his work. “I certainly could have; we processed a lot of copy,” she says in an email, “but I vividly remember that he was regarded as a troublesome freelancer. To the point where I couldn’t believe that the Mark Judge we worked with was now the same Mark Judge being talked about in connection to a Supreme Court nominee. It did not seem possible that these were the same people. Now, after the hearing, it does.”
Alona Wartofsky, then arts editor, doesn’t recall editing his work either, which is likely since he wasn’t big on arts stories in the early ’90s. “What I remember vividly is that he was the most arrogant person I had ever encountered,” says Wartofsky. “He wielded what he perceived as his social superiority like a weapon.”
Judge did not respond to a request for comment.
But City Paper did track down his old dance teacher, Tom Koerner, whom he wrote about in July of 1998. (In Judge’s article, he quoted Koerner as saying, of a woman who didn’t dance well, “I told her to get off the floor … She kind of laughed and mock-threw her beer at me, which could have caused someone to slip and fall. But then she moved. Good thing she didn’t toss that beer, ’cause I would have hit her. I would have hit her in a second.”)
Koerner, now 60, met Judge back during the swing revival of the ’90s. A restaurant in Tyson’s Corner hosted swing dances on Friday nights, and Koerner remembers seeing Judge there. Later on, Judge would attend dances at Glen Echo and took classes from Koerner, who says he enjoyed having a journalist who could help “spread the word of swing dancing.”
“Like most of the things he did, he was a true believer in whatever he’s following, whether that’s Catholicism, or swing dancing,” Koerner says. “He became a true believer, which is a good thing in terms of ardor for the dance.”
Koerner, who still teaches swing dance, also works as a criminal defense attorney in Fairfax County and identifies as “a fairly liberal person.”
“To tell you the truth, I think dancing is a lot like making love: Our memories are better than reality,” says Koerner when asked about Judge’s dancing abilities. “If you ask me, he was no worse than anyone else. He wasn’t dangerous. In those days, everyone was going around kicking things, always wanted to be like those in the videos, but he was…a chatty guy, very social.”
Koerner has not spoken with or seen Judge in years, and was surprised to see the name of his former student in the news. He believes that given Judge’s alcohol problems, which Judge has chronicled, it may be tough for him to remember certain events—like the one in which he is accused of being party to a sexual assault on Ford.
He adds that he has represented a number of people in sexual assault cases, and “when you’re the victim, you remember that. That sticks in your brain. I think there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think people just make that stuff up.”
Judge himself remembers being the victim of his City Paper editors, decades later.
After he stopped writing for the paper, his name appeared in a smattering of articles. He and his grandfather are in a post by Dave McKenna. His theories on race and theft came up in 2013. Those are among a few other mentions.
McKee hasn’t spent much time dwelling on the old email from Judge. His former colleagues—several of them—were the ones to remember. He recalls wanting to avoid the attention and do his work.
Of the Matthew Shepard comment, McKee says: “It’s the kind of thing you just want to go away, it’s so ugly.”