Tuesday, April 29, 2014

There's Judging and There's Judging

A(nother) former student of mine is applying for a judgeship.  I think he's an ideal candidate and it would fill me with great (reflected) pride to see him get it, but it does set me back to thinking about a topic I guess I've written about before--namely, the characteristics of a good judge. And which I write about again now partly because I think I've just had (egad) a new thought.

Core point: people often talk about the judge in terms of how "intelligent" he is.  Fair enough: you don't want your judge dumb as a box of nails.  But "intelligence," though it may be on the list of qualities you want in a judge is not at the top of the list.  I'd put it down somewhere like fifth or sixth, behind balance, predictability, a willingness to listen, a decent work ethic.   Oh, and integrity, I almost forgot about integrity.  Oh, and a willingness to decide stuff.  Amazing  how many judges don't like to decide stuff.  A dreadful quality in a judge, like a duck being allergic to feathers.  It can turn him/her into a monster.

And an absence of vanity (I guess I am up past 5-6 now)--a willingness to work hard without letting his ego get in the way.  Coincidence, I was trying to spell this out to Mrs. Buce just the other night. Do you remember, I asked, the OJ trial (no link required)?  Of course you  remember the OJ trial, but do you remember how at the same time, there was a trial going forward in New York, some kind of mass shooting, maybe the Long Island Railroad (correct).  The defendant was a showman who saw the courtroom was his theatre.  Do you remember that trial?  Well, um… we don't have cable.

Okay, do you  remember the judge in the OJ case?  Of course.  It was Lance Ito, he of The Dancing Itos, one of the few judges with his own IMDb page.

Okay, do you remember the judge in the Long Island Railroad Case?  Well like I said, we don't have cable.  Yes, but that's the thing.  Even without cable, you knew all about Ito.  He made himself part of the story.  The judge in the LIRR case made you forget he was there.  That's a big difference.  Making you forget he was there: what I call a sterling quality in a judge.  

So far, so good.  But now a new fillip.  The topic being judges who get their name in the papers,  Mrs. Buce muttered.  "Judge Judy…"  She didn't follow up on the point, but I guess I get what she was driving at: Judge Judy is the very definition of a judge who gets her name in the paper.  And--

And what?  And, you could say, she isn't a judge; like the defendant in the LIRR case (and like everybody in OJ), she's in theatre.  The audience comes for the entertainment and stays for the entertainment and goes away happy.

But don't let the point slip away from you here.  Yes, Judge Judy is entertainment. But one thing we want out of our judges is entertainment.  Or more precisely: we want the judge not merely to decide, but to announce, to declare, to point with pride, to view with alarm, to give judgment, like the volcano in the old Tom Hanks movie.

So add a (I guess) seventh to my list of qualities.  Do I get it?  Not quite it, but it's there like infant baptism and Monday night football and a lot of other things I don't get.  Might as well learn to I've with it.

Footnote:  It was this guy.


Scott said...

As to your comments on an judge being intelligent . . . I recall at the firm I worked at attorneys referred to judges who decided in their favor as being "intelligent." Those who decided against, implicitly, weren't. I wonder if that similar code existed (exists?) in general among lawyers.

Unknown said...

We are very lucky to practice in a place where judicial integrity is only fifth or sixth in the qualities we think of. And when you use the term integrity I think you mean intellectual honesty as much as disinterested or not crooked. This was not always the case in the past and is not the case in many parts of the world.