In February 2017, the NJC launched its monthly one-question emailed survey of its more than 12,000 living alumni who have known email addresses.
Because no attempt is made to get a random sample of respondents, the results can’t be characterized as conclusive research findings. But they provide some insight into what hundreds of judges all over the country (and some abroad) are thinking.
To commemorate the five-year anniversary of Question of the Month, here are the results from every survey with a comment or two from the voters.
When in private practice I regularly appeared before a judge who never wore a robe. Several of my clients, after court, commented, ‘That judge sure didn’t look very judicial.’ I decided I would give individuals the ‘Full Monty’ when I took the bench, so I always wear a robe in the courtroom. People expect it.”
In terms of your professional life, do you fear for your safety more so than in the past?
I don’t want to exaggerate the situation. I do not live in constant fear. I do, however, feel the need to be alert and cautious all the time, and I have started to request specific special security measures in connection with particular proceedings.”
Do you consider yourself adequately prepared to handle issues related to the opioid crisis in your courtroom?
There is simply no legitimate reason for anybody to be fined or incarcerated for the recreational consumption of this item. It is a waste of taxpayer’s money, a bad allocation of law enforcement personnel, and poor use of judicial resources to prosecute these matters.”
Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?
Samuel Alito – 4.41%
Stephen Breyer – 3.68%
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – 34.93%
Neil Gorsuch – 11.4%
Elena Kagan – 1.65%
Anthony Kennedy – 8.09%
John Roberts – 9.56%
Sonia Sotomayor – 14.52%
Clarence Thomas – 11.76%
How would you have ruled if you presided over the case in the movie Miracle on 34th Street?
Committed – 18%
Not Committed – 82%
In the case, the judge must decide if the defendant, Kris Kringle, should be committed to a mental institution because he claims to be Santa Claus. That was a real-life decision faced by one of the NJC’s alumni. Read his story and other tales of judging during the holidays.
A decade or so ago I heard a mental health case a few days before Christmas in which the subject of the proceeding claimed to be Santa Claus. Primarily based on the weight of the psychiatric evidence, I granted the commitment. On Christmas morning I did have a slight bit of apprehension when gathering the morning’s newspaper. Fortunately for me, there were no photos of red-eyed children standing near empty stockings and stories about Santa being detained by a Grinch of a judge.”
[B]eing a lawyer is nothing like being a judge. An entirely different skill set is required. Transitioning from an advocate to a neutral takes a lot of thought, preparation and understanding that a new judge … only gets through judicial training.”
Do you believe that, in practice, the judiciary is a “coequal” branch of the government, as the Constitution envisions?
Since the judiciary’s budget is decided by the legislature, it is unsurprising that they routinely use control of the purse strings as a way to exert political pressure on the courts.”
If you could change one thing about being a judge, what would it be?
Shorter hours. “The role of the judge is extraordinary, yet most models treat it the same as other professions. We are faced with trauma each day and are tasked with making decisions that affect others’ lives, yet we are not provided any respite for it.”
Ability to shed one’s judicial identity away in social situations. “[There’s a perception that] we are not entitled to a normal personal life.”
Get rid of elections and the need for fundraising. “Judging should be about the fair and timely adjudication of cases instead of fundraising from the attorneys who appear before us.”
Some members of the Court have trouble understanding that their decisions about – for example, voting rights, the 2nd Amendment, and campaign finance – have serious real-world consequences. The pretense that judges can ‘channel’ or read 18th century minds and look to them to answer 21st century problems needs to be debunked.”
Do you do anything to alert jurors to unconscious or implicit bias before rendering a verdict?
[I ask] folks from this area (Iowa) to raise their hands if they consider themselves Iowa Hawkeyes fans, Iowa State Cyclones fans or Nebraska Cornhusker fans. And then I use that show of hands — and the typical joking that takes place — to talk about how we feel about those who might not like a team we like or point out how we take sides in such contests and may generally feel or react to others who do not see things as we do.”
ABSOLUTELY NOT [because] permitting juror questioning of witnesses takes us down a dangerous path that will begin to erode the burden of proof and cause jurors to engage in theory development, hypotheses building and second-guessing.”
Do you think civil jury trials are headed for extinction?
“I have seen many attorneys run for the position of judge stating that they have a law degree and that qualifies them. When they take the bench, they have no idea as to what to do. It is a whole new world on this side of the bench.”
Do you feel that judicial independence is being threatened?
At both federal and state levels, judicial candidates are increasingly being evaluated on their political party affiliations and whether their judicial records (and writings) meet a political test rather than legal analysis.”
The best job in the world is to have the opportunity to touch so many people and inspire confidence in our judicial system. I absolutely recommend judging as a profession for the patient lawyer who wants to make a difference.”
What is your No. 1 suggestion for getting more judges to attend our courses?
Lower the cost/increase scholarships – 58.6%
Offer different/additional courses – 3.72%
Improve courses/instructors – .93%
Offer courses closer to me – 16.05%
Other (please specify) – 20.7%
Summary jury trials are a useful tool. However, this type of alternative resolution effort should not take up valuable court time. Summary trials are something that should be used outside of court or scheduled for an empty courtroom without using a sitting judge’s time.”
Should judges speak out against attacks on judicial independence?
If we don’t speak out and educate on the importance of judicial independence, no one else will. We have too many politicians at local, state and national levels who do not understand the role of the courts. It is appalling, but we are the ones who can educate them and the public.”
About how often do you disagree with the jury’s verdict?
Less than 25 percent of the time – 81.74%
26 to 50 percent of the time – 13.7%
51 to 75 percent of the time – 2.39%
More than 75 percent of the time – 2.17%
“When you hear the voice of a dozen people speak in unison, it is rare that they get it wrong.”
Who do you consider to be the most consequential chief justice of the United States? You may vote for up to three.
Earl Warren – 71.74%
John Marshall – 69.84%
Warren Burger – 22.01%
William Rehnquist – 20.11%
John Jay – 13.04%
John Roberts – 6.52%
Roger Taney – 5.71%
William H. Taft – 5.16%
Charles E. Hughes – 3.8%
Harlan F. Stone – 2.17%
Salmon P. Chase – 1.63%
Frederick M. Vinson – .54%
John Rutledge – .54%
Oliver Ellsworth – .27%
Morrison R. Waite – .27%
Edward D. White – .54%
Melville Fuller – 0%
It is sometimes hard for me to fathom the scope of the advancement of civil liberties during [Earl Warren’s] leadership.”
Which of these 13 potential new courses would you most want to be offered at the NJC?
Vote for as many as you’d like.
When Mental Health is an Issue in a Case – 61.54%
Judicial Discipline: How a Lapse in Judgement Could Cost You – 52.16%
Effective Sentencing: The Latest Research – 50.84%
Is There a Role for Compassion in Judging? – 45.4%
Modern Approaches to Presiding over Civil Matters – 43.15%
Judging Plea Bargains – 41.65%
Retirement for Judges – 36.02%
Peacemaking, Family Mediation and Other Alternatives for Resolving Disputes – 27.95%
Know Your Power: State Constitution Interpretation – 27.02%
Record-Sealing Decisions and Considering the Public Interest- 26.83%
Other – 9.19%
Land Issues and the Dormant Commerce Clause – 6.19%
Oil and Gas Law: An Introduction – 4.69%
There is testing done for other professions where they are entrusted with people’s lives, such as airline pilots and train operators. Just as those folks need good reflexes and (an) ability to act under pressure, judges need to have brains operating clearly and precisely.”
Do you order perpetrators to pay restitution in every case where the law allows it?
(I order restitution) every time I can. It helps make a victim whole, helps resolve the conflict, helps the perpetrator accept responsibility, and makes him or her think about the consequences of future actions. It’s one of the best things we can do to help restorative justice.”
How many laws, ordinances, regulations, etc. does the Grinch (or do the Whos) violate in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas?
The totals ranged from 25 to, in the solemn jurisprudence of one anonymous judge, “None. We are only bound by the law and we have no idea what conduct Whoville statutes, if any, proscribe or require.”
(T)he weather outside is frightful, so thefts of coats and gloves will be on the rise. The fire is delightful in the post office, so drinking will be on the rise with DUIs and drunk and disorderly conduct keeping the cells … full. With the snow coming down, domestics will be on the rise. In general, the Whos will be breaking laws by the plenty and with no corn for popping, shoplifting will be not (be) stopping.”
Do you think using artificial intelligence in court – having computers and algorithms offer advice in bail and sentencing decisions, for instance – holds promise for eliminating bias from those decisions?
Many of the programs contain a bias due to past decisions. This leads low-income defendants and people of color to be overrepresented in past arrests and criminal history given the reality of past justice system practice.”
Do you know what the common plea-bargain practice known as “masking” is?
As a traffic magistrate, I know more about masking than I probably ever wanted to know. It is something that I always have to be mindful of when I receive dismissals and amendments to the citations to determine if masking is occurring.”
Do you feel adequately prepared to make judicial decisions involving the coronavirus or a similar public health emergency?
Our court has not provided us any information regarding contingency plans for a public health emergency, and there are confirmed cases in our state. I feel absolutely unprepared and uninformed about what to expect and am concerned about the lack of forward-focused leadership in our state and local courts.”
About what percentage of your normal court operations are continuing during the coronavirus crisis?
Less than 25 percent – 57.53%
26 to 50 percent – 20.64%
51 to 75 percen – 9.85%
More than 75 percent – 12.10%
We allow only initial misdemeanor hearings, bond hearings and in-custody hearings. All other matters are continued 45 days or more. As a response to the governor’s stay-at-home order and our mayor’s social distancing order, we are also assisting with the reduction of our county jail population by offering community service/alcohol and drug counseling in lieu of bond.”
Which online platform have you been using most often to conduct court operations remotely during the coronavirus crisis?
Zoom – 48.43%
WebEx – 25.21%
Other – 10.54%
Skype – 9.69%
Microsoft Teams – 9.12%
GoToMeeting – 6.13%
Google Hangouts – 3.85%
BlueJeans – 3.56%
CourtCall – 3.13%
None – 1.71%
Adobe Connect – .14%
Our system isn’t perfect and individual actors may harbor prejudices based on race. But those that do are vastly outnumbered by those who go about their work conscientiously and evenhandedly. I see no evidentiary basis for the contention that it is a systemic problem.”
Do you feel your court sufficiently addresses the security needs of you and your family?
A classic WW2 novel, a parody on modern rules and regulations within the military structure during the war. In this time of Covid-19, for any managing judge we all seem to be in the position of Yossarian (the main character), who is trying to choose between conflicting regulations, free will, and common sense in a hostile, dangerous world. Come to think of it, it’s a good parody on the daily struggles of every trial judge.”
One elected judge described a situation several years ago in which an elected official wanted that judge to dismiss a traffic ticket for a wealthy, influential person. The judge refused. “The family (of the person) had supported me for me years until then. The official and the family successfully campaigned against me in a subsequent election and I lost.”
As of today, and knowing what you do about the predicted state of the pandemic the rest of the year, how likely are you to register to attend an in-person judicial education course or conference in 2021?
Very Unlikely – 33.76%
Not likely – 23.64%
Unsure – 12.35%
Likely – 14.16%
Very Likely – 16.08%
Things change so rapidly and on a daily basis. I would make sure any hotel reservations and airline reservations were fully refundable.”
Which tactics do you think would be most effective for clearing the case backlog caused by the pandemic?
Relaunch jury trials with COVID-19 safeguards – 24.05%
Continue/increase virtual hearings – 23%
Increase # of judges – 22.78%
Offer hearings at non-traditional times – 8.44%
Our court has not experienced a backlog – 8.23%
Encourage more parties in civil cases to agree to arbitration or mediation – 6.96%
Adopt new or evolving technology – 6.54%
I’ve had a few defendants, and one trooper, try to Zoom when driving. Obviously, that was not permitted.”
What signs, quotes, totems, lucky charms, etc., do you keep on your bench for inspiration or as a reminder?
One judge told of keeping a sticky note from her daughter wishing her good luck in her new role as a judge. “It reminds me to stay true to why I do this work and to always act in a manner that will make my girls proud of me.”
Another judge said he wears the same robe his father wore on the bench for 30 years. “It reminds me, as he believed, that the dictates of the law are more important than the personal preferences of any individual, and that all judges should adhere to the law to the best of their ability.”
Has your thinking about the ‘reasonable person’ standard changed as you’ve learned more about disparities in society?
The guilty know they’re guilty and negotiate the best possible solution t the problem. It saves taxpayer money, saves court, juror and lawyer time and money, reduces stress on victims, and brings speedy conclusions to cases, thereby reducing backlogs.”
Do you think judicial education can help rid courts of implicit bias?
I have certainly begun to think more earnestly about leaving sooner than I otherwise would have. Without COVID, I would never have had a taste of how it feels to be retired and not ‘in demand on demand.’
How often have you had to make a ruling in line with a law you personally disagreed with?
A few times – 54.93%
More than a few times – 27.32%
Often – 12.39%
Never – 5.35%