Life goes on, 8 years later

"When Jack came along," she said, "it was like a burst of spring."

She's been seeing a man lately, her first serious relationship in these eight years, someone she met when she officiated at a wedding.

"He likes to have fun and play," she said. "It's good for me to have fun."

She still has lunch with the marshal who ran her security detail after the murders. She likes knowing that because of what happened to her, federal marshals are now better trained and federal judges are better protected.

She doesn't go to church as much as she used to, but she went on Ash Wednesday and watched as her youngest daughter knelt to light candles for the dead. Her faith remains, loosely.

"I just feel God is here on Earth with us," she said, "in what we do or say, in how we treat others, how we accept adversity."

She still enjoys her work, and couple of hours before the ceremony in her honor, she put on her black judge's robe and went into her courtroom to hear a guilty plea. The man had stolen $500 from a bank and now faced years in prison.

She spoke to him carefully, respectfully, the way she speaks to everyone who stands before her.

On her way out, she stopped by a big old wooden desk that sits next to her high judge's bench. It had belonged to Michael.

She opened a drawer she hadn't opened since she moved it into the courtroom eight years ago, and she pulled out an ancient lottery ticket.

"I didn't know he played the lottery," she said.

She put it back and closed the drawer.

At 2 p.m., Lefkow rode the elevator to the second floor, where judges, lawyers, clerks, friends and her four daughters crowded into a room next to the cafeteria. Babies in cribs were rolled in. Jack was there.

When Lefkow went on senior status in September, which meant slightly reducing her workload, the chief judge, James Holderman, wanted to do something for her. He says she's beloved in the building.

The answer: Name the child care center after her.

The center had been Lefkow's idea, back when she was a young working mother. It opened in February 1989, against the judgment of some powers in the building. Her youngest daughter was among the first four babies.

"What I feel is my legacy, my heart," Lefkow said Friday, standing in front of the crowd, "is this little day care center."

Then she walked down the hallway for the unveiling of the sign.

Around the federal courthouse, what happened to Lefkow eight years ago is rarely mentioned. It wasn't mentioned Friday either, though the memory of what she has lived through was in the air when the white cover was peeled off a silver plaque that said:

The Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow Day Care Center.

She put her hand over her heart, and for the first time that day looked as if she might cry.