In part one of our post, we posited that a good judge needs 15 years of legal experience, ten of which are spent in courtrooms as a PD or ASA. Once the judge has the experience, we move on to the issue of character.
Character counts for the judiciary. It's easy to do the popular thing. It's much tougher to do the right thing.
Lawyers and the judiciary are viewed through by the public through a media and pop-culture lens of unrealistic results. Movies and TV shows portray the justice system as an over-worked bureaucracy where high-paid lawyers routinely get evidence suppressed and cases dismissed based on technicalities like finding that a defendant's middle name in a document in a murder case was spelled wrong. In the movies, an angry and over-worked judge releases the killer who then goes on a mass murder spree while a defense attorney laughs in his or her new Tesla (which are really really great cars btw).
The reality is that since the mid-1980s there has been a relentless assault on the bill of rights. Exception after exception allows unconstitutional searches to survive, while prosecutors intentionally hide exculpatory evidence, only to see convictions upheld on the harmless error analysis.
Millions of poor people are processed through a conveyor-belt justice system, where they are forced to plea to small misdemeanor and felonies, and then over-whelmed with excessive court costs, fees, license suspensions, and the inability to get a job or live in public housing because they pled no contest to smoking marijuana. The media ignores the daily tragedies of criminal courts. When was the last time an exonerated defendant released from death row was on the front page of the Herald, or led the news coverage on Fox? But the nation hung transfixed about the trials and acquittals of George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony, cases that are not the norm in criminal court.
There was an old time circuit judge who used to mentor new judges by telling them they could rule however they wanted in 98% of the cases that came before them, but in the other 2% of the cases, they had to satisfy the public, the police and the prosecutors with favorable rulings and a stiff sentence.
The character of a judge counts in whether a judge will be average, good or great. We ask judges to have the courage of their legal knowledge, and to stand up to the mob and the public outcry for vengeance. In Florida, as in many state courts, the costs for a judge ruling with their conscience may be a challenger in the next election. This in turn means that a judge may spend over $100,000.00 of their own money. All because they did what was right.
Sorry, but we have no sympathy for this scenario. Everyone who wears a black robe to work wanted the job. They applied for it. They filled out hundred page questionnaires, endured sophomoric, solipsistic questioning by panels of lawyers, while they begged acquaintances for letters of recommendation. Or, in the alternative, they spent months on a campaign, mortgaging their home, spending money to get the job.
Don't complain when the job you want requires you to make a hard decision. Good judges do it. Great judges do it exceptionally well. And bad judges follow the advice of that long since passed judge who told young judges to just follow the mob on the tough cases.
Which judge sitting in the REGJB today could issue a judgement of acquittal in case where a white police officer is accused of killing a black teen in a bad shoot (assuming of course the facts deserved the ruling)?
If a judge couldn't make that call- and perhaps sacrifice their career in the name of justice, then they don't belong on the bench. Any judge that could live with an innocent person serving life in prison because the public wanted a conviction shouldn't be on the bench.
Tough words about a tough job.
We often poke gentle fun at our robe wearing colleagues. But don't think for one moment we do not know how tough their job is. We do. They can have it.
Not for us.*
See you in court.
* We don't mind the long hours or the tough decisions. But the low pay? Switching to $50 bottles of wine with dinner? Have you ever sipped the 2012 Ulysses Cab with foie gras seared just right at the Four Seasons in San Fran (tell Seema or Andreas at the door you read the blog and want table #4- it's the best in the restaurant, the views are grand)? Foregoing our monthly excursion to Per Se in Manhattan? Switch from NetJets to (lord forbid) commercial air travel? Have you gone mad?
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