The Thing About Judges …
November 7, 2013 § 5 Comments
Phillip Thomas has an excellent post on his blog about judges and how they are perceived by lawyers who come before them. Although it is framed in the context of the epic Eaton v. Frisby litigation, there is truth there for every lawyer who ever has to deal with a judge, which would be an overwhelming percentage, I am sure.
Most often, in my experience, lawyers view judges based on memorable experiences, good or bad, and not on the judge’s total body of work. For instance, the judge who yells at you for wasting an afternoon on a meaningless motion is perceived quite differently from the judge who kindly calls you into chambers and points out that, in the future, you should not waste everyone’s time. Those are what sticks in the mind, not the whole history of mundane, routine matters that the judge handles by the dozens day by day.
As Mr. Thomas points out, some lawyers become dark conspiracy theorists about judges. They see a personal animus in every adverse ruling. They attribute bad results to the judge’s dislike for where the lawyer or client came from, or the color of suit he wore, or that the judge hates lawyers who represent certain kinds of clients.
The thing about judges is that we are just like you, with our own personality quirks, points of view, ways of approaching things, likes and dislikes, patience and impatience, and on and on. Each judge has to make a decision based on the law and the facts, no matter how well or poorly presented, no matter how thorough or slapdash the job done by the lawyers, no matter whether either lawyer bothered to come equipped with some authority for a decision. Faced with that smorgasbord of factors, some judges react like Saint Francis, and some like Jack the Ripper.
It’s true that some judges are more energetic than others, some are more intelligent than others, and some are more persnickety than others. But what has impressed me since I took the bench is that all judges — within those parameters, and within the sphere of their own personalities — are dedicated to getting it right.
We don’t always get it right, though. Judges are not perfect, and we are not required to be. That’s why we have appellate courts.