A: Judge Judy (Judith Sheindlin) was a New York City criminal court judge for four years and later a family court judge for another 10. But she’s a long way from a courtroom today. She dispenses her justice in a TV studio made up to look like a courtroom. Her role is actually that of arbiter.
She is not bound by the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct. You are. So here is what the code says about how judges are supposed to conduct themselves:
“A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control.” Canon 2, Rule 2.8(B)
That provision is included, usually verbatim, in every state’s code and the federal code. It is not included, apparently, in the code of conduct for judges on TV court shows because they are often rude, harsh, arrogant, impatient, antagonistic, unfeeling, and unjust.
As judges, we should remember that most people in our courtrooms don’t want to be there. Courtrooms are often rather formal, tense environments. Only you, the lawyers, the court staff, and perhaps some of the witnesses are present voluntarily. And to people who have not been in a courtroom before, you in your black robe, usually seated upon a raised bench, are a scary sight indeed. A warm, pleasant demeanor and a smile can go a long way in allaying their fears. In short, be kind.
Following the advice that William Doughty, a district judge in New Mexico, gave me years ago when I was a trial judge, I taped a card to my desk area on the bench where only I could see it. It read:
KEASLER! THE CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT SAYS THAT YOU WILL BE PATIENT, DIGNIFIED, AND COURTEOUS
It was always in my field of vision when I took the bench each day, and since the Good Lord didn’t bless me with an abundance of patience, that quotation may have saved me some public embarrassment.
Speaking on behalf of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct: Judge Michael E. Keasler of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Judge Keasler has taught judicial ethics for 25 years at the NJC, at most state judicial conferences, and internationally. He also has written law review articles on the subject and wrote ethics curricula for Texas and the NJC. He is a former chair of the ABA’s National Conference of State Trial Judges’ Ethics Committee.