Five years of Question of the Month

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.



February

Do you think that the public’s esteem for judges has risen, declined or stayed the same over the last 10 years?

Declined – 63.4%
Risen – 7.6%
Stayed the same – 29%

Read the original article
The public now sees judges as politicians in black robes.”

February 16,

2017

March

Do you like wearing a judicial robe (if you wear one in your court/hearing room)?

Yes – 83%
No – 17%

Read the original article
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.”

March 16,

2017

April

In terms of your professional life, do you fear for your safety more so than in the past?

Yes – 58.19%
No – 41.81%

Read the original article
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.”

April 20,

2017

May

Do you consider yourself adequately prepared to handle issues related to the opioid crisis in your courtroom?

Yes – 40.83%
No – 59.17%

Read the original article
I am prepared, but our system is not. The jails do not have sufficient medical support, nor are there adequate resources in the community to provide treatment.”

May 15,

2017

June

Should judges be elected or appointed?

Elected – 37.37
Appointed – 62.63

Read the original article
[Election campaigns] take time away from what we are paid to do – be fair and impartial judges, rule on cases in a timely manner, and not be swayed by public opinion.”

“[Judicial appointments] are too easily controlled by the political whims of the appointing entity.”

June 17,

2017

July

Are you opposed to legalizing recreational use of marijuana?

Yes – 38.21
No – 61.79

Read the original article
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.”

July 20,

2017

August

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%

Read the original article
[RBG] possesses all the qualities I believe a good judge should have: a keen intellect, a strong sense of fairness and compassion, and a commitment to seeing justice prevail.”

August 28,

2017

September

Do you carry a gun?

Yes – 26.39%
No – 73.61%

Read the original article
I have a canister of bear repellent in the courtroom as a defense of last resort, but after reading about how the judge in Ohio defended himself, I am considering carrying a gun.”

September 21,

2017

October

Have you suffered secondary traumatic stress from being a judge?

Yes – 44.96%
No – 55.04%

Read the original article
Unfortunately, we are not able to unhear or unsee the things we see and hear in the courtroom. There is no button to turn off the effects of this when you go to bed at night.”

October 20,

2017

November

Should the money-based bail system be abolished?

Yes – 30.60%
No – 69.40%

Read the original article
Money talks, and it gets people to court.”

November 15,

2017

December

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

Read the original article
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.”

December 15,

2017


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January

Did you receive formal judicial education before you heard your first case?

Yes – 32.12%
No – 67.88%

Read the original article
[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.”

January 18,

2018

February

Do you believe that, in practice, the judiciary is a “coequal” branch of the government, as the Constitution envisions?

Yes – 23.26%
No – 76.74%

Read the original article
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.”

February 21,

2018

March

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.”

Read the original article
[I wouldn’t change] one thing. It is the greatest job in the world and remains that even after 17 years.”

March 20,

2018

April

Do you think civility has improved, declined or stayed the same in your courtroom in the past five years?

Improved – 9.78%
Declined – 44.57%
Stayed the same – 45.65%

Read the original article
There are times when I feel more like a kindergarten teacher than a judge. I have to remind people of all ages to adhere to basic manners.”

April 23,

2018

May

Do you believe the Supreme Court should allow its oral arguments, but not deliberations, to be broadcast live?

Yes – 69.22%
No – 30.78%

Read the original article
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.”

May 21,

2018

June

Do you do anything to alert jurors to unconscious or implicit bias before rendering a verdict?

Yes – 28.45%
No – 71.55%

Read the original article
[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.”

June 25,

2018

July

Should jurors be allowed to question witnesses?

Yes – 47.51%
No – 52.49%

Read the original article
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.”

July 09,

2018

August

Do you think civil jury trials are headed for extinction?

Yes – 28.45%
No – 71.55%

Read the original article
There will always be the cases where one party will say, ‘It’s the principle.’

August 16,

2018

September

How many years of trial experience should an attorney be required to have before taking the bench?

0-2 years – 6.99%
3-5 years – 13.55%
6-9 years – 30.47%
10 or more years – 48.99%

Read the original article
“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.”

September 26,

2018

October

Do you feel that judicial independence is being threatened?

Yes – 90.38%
No – 9.62%

Read the original article
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.”

October 09,

2018

November

Have you ever regretted one of your rulings?

Yes – 79.35%
No – 20.65%

Read the original article
Anyone who says he/she hasn’t is not being completely honest with themselves.”

November 8,

2018

December

What do judges want to ask Nina Totenberg?

Read the original article
In the years you have covered the court, what one decision or dissent most surprised you and why?”

“What is the biggest threat to the judiciary?”

December 10,

2018


Back to top


January

Would you recommend judging as a profession today?

Yes – 89.06%
No – 10.94%

Read the original article
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.”

January 8,

2019

February

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%

Read the original article
My training budget doesn’t usually cover the cost of one NJC course plus travel. I have managed to go to two grant-funded (no cost to the participant) courses, which were fantastic.”

February 8,

2019

March

Does religion ever come up in your courtroom?

Yes – 54.18%
No – 45.82%

Read the original article
Here in the Bible Belt, asking if religion comes up in court is like asking if the law comes up in court. The answer is absolutely.”

March 11,

2019

April

Do you use summary jury trials?

Yes – 13.28%
No – 86.72%

Read the original article
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.”

April 16,

2019

May

Should judges speak out against attacks on judicial independence?

Yes – 85.88%
No – 14.12%

Read the original article
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.”

May 13,

2019

June

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%

Read the original article
“When you hear the voice of a dozen people speak in unison, it is rare that they get it wrong.”

June 4,

2019

July

Who do you consider to be the most consequential U.S. Supreme Court chief justice? 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%

Read the original article
It is sometimes hard for me to fathom the scope of the advancement of civil liberties during [Earl Warren’s] leadership.”

July 16,

2019

August

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%

Read the original article
There is no judge for whom mental health problems have not been an issue. It only takes one case of this type to realize you’re not as well equipped to handle it as you’d like.”

August 26,

2019

September

Do you think it’s right for a journalist to point out which president or governor appointed a judge?

Yes – 79.91%
No – 19.63%

Read the original article
Public officials must be accountable to the public. That includes being transparent about judicial appointments.”

September 9,

2019

October

Should there be a maximum age for judges, even those with lifetime appointments?

Yes – 51.90%
No – 48.10%

Read the original article
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.”

October 14,

2019

November

Do you order perpetrators to pay restitution in every case where the law allows it?

Yes – 73.52%
No – 26.48%

Read the original article
(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.”

November 4,

2019

December

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.”

Read the original article
(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.”

December 20,

2019


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January

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?

Yes – 35.56%
No – 64.44%

Read the original article
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.”

January 22,

2020

February

Do you know what the common plea-bargain practice known as “masking” is?

Yes – 43.94%
No – 56.28%

Read the original article
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.”

February 21,

2020

March

Do you feel adequately prepared to make judicial decisions involving the coronavirus or a similar public health emergency?

Yes – 41.32%
No – 58.68%

Read the original article
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.”

March 13,

2020

April

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%

Read the original article
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.”

April 14,

2020

May

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%

Read the original article
(About Zoom): “It has worked very well, and we will likely utilize this platform for motion dockets and other hearings long after the social distancing requirements have been lifted.”

May 13,

2020

June

Are you seeing fewer no-shows in virtual hearings compared with conventional in-person hearings?

Improvement – 46.99%
Stayed the same/gotten worse – 53.01%

Read the original article
In residential eviction actions, we have gone from a 90 percent no-show rate for tenants to an 80 percent rate of appearances because they can appear by telephone.”

June 18,

2020

July

Do you believe that systemic racism exists in the criminal justice system?

Yes – 65.24%
No – 34.76%

Read the original article
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.”

July 14,

2020

August

Do you feel your court sufficiently addresses the security needs of you and your family?

Your Security
Yes – 26.54%
No – 73.46%

Your Family’s Security
Yes – 16.31%
No – 83.69%

Read the original article
After more than two decades on the bench and living at the same address, I was disturbed to find that local police and sheriff’s officers were not even aware of where I reside.”

August 14,

2020

September

Would you allow a professionally trained facility dog in the courtroom during a trial to assist a victim or vulnerable witness while giving testimony?

Yes – 89.21%
No – 10.79%

Read the original article
If this measure gives a victim or witness the ability to testify, we will have provided for a just proceeding.”

September 8,

2020

October, Part I

What percentage of voters know enough about candidates for judicial office to make an informed decision?

Less than 10 percent – 55.51%
11 to 30 percent – 29.4%
31 to 50 percent – 10.25%
More than 50 percent – 4.84%

Without the ballot in front of them, a large majority of voters could not even name the judicial candidates in the usual election.”

October 21,

2020

October, Part II

Do you believe in publishing judicial performance reviews to help voters make more informed choices?

Yes – 57.76%
No – 42.24%

Read the original article
Performance reviews are too much like Yelp reviews.”

October 21,

2020

November

Do you think any judges should be appointed for life?

Yes – 39.66%
No – 60.34%

Read the original article
(T)he independence that comes from a lifetime appointment empowers judges to make unpopular but just decisions.”

November 11,

2020

December

What book would you recommend as a gift to a judge?

Most frequently recommended books:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bible

Read the original article
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.”

Comment about Catch-22,

Joseph Heller;

December 12, 2020


Back to top


January

Have you ever felt political pressure in connection with one of your decisions?

Yes – 54.04%
No – 45.96%

Read the original article
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.”

January 21,

2021

February

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%

Read the original article
Things change so rapidly and on a daily basis. I would make sure any hotel reservations and airline reservations were fully refundable.”

February 9,

2021

March

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%

Read the original article
I’ve had a few defendants, and one trooper, try to Zoom when driving. Obviously, that was not permitted.”

March 10,

2021

April

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.”

Read the original article
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.”

April 13,

2021

May

Has your thinking about the ‘reasonable person’ standard changed as you’ve learned more about disparities in society?

Yes – 36.39%
No – 63.61%

Read the original article
The question really is whether judges … will expressly … or implicitly impose their own standards despite the cultural differences of the persons who appear before them.”

May 11,

2021

June

Do you think plea bargains advance justice?

Yes – 89.67%
No – 10.33%

Read the original article
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.”

June 14,

2021

July

Do you think judicial education can help rid courts of implicit bias?

Yes – 68.30%
No – 31.70%

Read the original article
Without judicial education, many of us would be unaware of our implicit biases and, therefore, unequipped to combat them.”

July 16,

2021

August

Do you plan on leaving the bench within the next year as a result of changed thinking or anything else related to the pandemic?

Yes – 19.67%
No – 80.33%

Read the original article
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.’

August 9,

2021

September

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%

Read the original article
It does not matter how I feel concerning the matter before me. My job is to interpret the law as put in place by the legislature, whether I agree with it or not.”

September 20,

2021

October

Should there be term limits for Supreme Court justices, and if so, for how long?

10 years or less – 10.28%
11-19 years – 33.39%
20 years or longer – 17.72%
No term limits – 38.61%

Read the original article
A justice appointed in their 50s should be able to hold that position for 20 years or longer. Forcing them to retire before they are ready isn’t fair or in line with the Constitution.”

October 8,

2021

November

Are you seeing an increase in verbal attacks, insulting remarks or hate speech made toward you in the courtroom?

Yes – 35.20%
No – 64.80%


What is your typical response?

Hold in contempt – 2.81%
Warn the person they’re risking being held in contempt – 36.5%
Ignore it – 11.23%
Other – 49.46%

Read the original article
If the offending conduct persisted, then I would warn the individual that they are at risk of being held in contempt.”

November 18,

2021

December

Which of these would you most enjoy receiving this holiday season?

New gavel – 4.61%
New robe – 22.15%
New chair – 23.68%
New attorneys – 13.38%
New something else – 36.18%

Read the original article
One judge said wished he could go back in time to 1990 when he was first appointed to the bench. “I could experience again all of the fun, ups and downs I have had since then as a judge.”

December 13,

2021


2022

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January

Do you agree with Chief Justice Roberts’ recent statement that the judiciary can police itself and the other branches should not get involved?

Yes – 21.23%
No – 78.77%

Read the original article
Getting other branches involved violates the separation of powers doctrine and, further, makes EVERYTHING we do political. Not good.”

January 11,

2022

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