Judges are people, just like the rest of us. There are many types of judges, young, old, women, men, smart, not so smart, nice, and not nice. In my years of working as a jury/trial consultant, I have encountered many judges. I have met judges during hundreds of jury selections; I have made presentations with judges as audience members; some of my clients are/were former judges; some of my clients have become judges; and I was once in a rock band with a judge (obviously, a pretty cool judge!). Therefore, unlike most people, I have a lot of familiarity with judges, in various types of situations. Most of my experiences with judges have, of course, been in the formal setting of a courtroom, on days when I am assisting attorneys in selecting juries. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am comfortable in courthouses and courtrooms, due to the fact my father worked in a courthouse and I grew up spending time with him there. Judges don’t intimidate me, not in the least. I have noticed there are as many types of judges as there are attorneys, or for that matter, psychologists or people in any profession. Recently, however, I have had the experience of meeting the best judge I have ever met in my career, during a jury selection in a small city in a conservative venue, as well as the worst judge I have ever met, in a larger city near my home. The juxtaposition of meeting these contrasting personalities, one after the other, was startling to me. The nice judge is a kind and compassionate person who made every possible accommodation for one of my clients, who is a physically and cognitively challenged person. The attorneys for whom I was working are also kind and compassionate and they made requests of the court regarding their client’s comfort that were vehemently challenged by opposing counsel, but were granted, 100%, by the judge. The trial, as a result, went smoothly and in the end, justice was served. In contrast, the mean, unkind, and unprofessional judge took every available opportunity to berate and belittle almost everyone in the courtroom, including the attorneys on both sides of the case, their clients, and me. The power trip this judge is on is toxic and unlike any I have ever witnessed (and, believe me, I have seen some serious power trippers!). In addition, while this judge was outwardly, but falsely, friendly to the jury, he refused to excuse some jurors who explained that, if they were forced to serve on the jury, their family would be unable to eat, due to the fact they only get paid when they work. What a meanie! As with almost everything in life, most of the judges I encounter fall someplace between these two extremes, with the majority of them appearing to be competent in performing their job. Overall, it is important to remember that judges are people, and people come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.
I’m sure in most professions there are good and bad. I can’t think of any profession without such outliers at the extremes. I don’t get to observe many judges in action, I’ve met plenty, but seeing them in action is in Melissa’s bailiwick, not mine. Most judges I know are courteous and professional, but I usually see them in low pressure settings. (Well, except for the 4 or 5 times I’ve been called for jury duty.) If you read or listen to the news, it seems like there are plenty of bad judges, professionally or personally, but these are the exceptions. The exceptions are noteworthy; they make the news. But, the examples Melissa gives are not of these kinds of exceptions. It is about having and using compassion, empathy, and kindness. I’m sure some of the judges have heard it all and are fed up with excuses, real or made up. I’m sure the toll, on a day to day basis, of hearing stories about crimes committed, injuries, or even “just” money being disputed, is difficult. The considerate judge made a difficult situation (all trials are difficult) a little bit better. In contrast, the inability of the “bad” judge to conduct himself with decorum in these situations might be a sign that it is time to find a new job. Hopefully karma, or the voters, will have the last word.