Judges say verbal attacks on them in court aren’t up, but something else is

We asked judges if they are seeing an increase in verbal attacks on them in the courtroom, and a clear majority (65 percent) of the 571 NJC alumni who responded said they are not.

Judges apparently are also showing abundant restraint when they do receive such attacks. Only 3 percent said they immediately hold such offenders in contempt.

Those results come from the NJC’s Question of the Month for November, which was actually two questions: Are you seeing an increase in verbal attacks, insulting remarks or hate speech made toward you in the courtroom? And, what is your typical response? The choices for response were: hold in contempt, warn the person that they are risking being held in contempt, ignore it, or “Other.”

“If the offending conduct persisted, then I would warn the individual that they are at risk of being held in contempt,” wrote Judge Deborah A. Dowling of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division.

Of the 463 judges who disclosed how they typically respond to verbal attacks, the top choice was “Other,” followed by warning of potential contempt (37 percent), and ignoring the remark (11 percent). Most of the “Other” voters, however, explained that their typical response is something akin to a warning.

Although most judges said they haven’t seen an increase in verbal attacks, many said they have seen an increase in unprofessional behavior. Many attributed this to court hearings moving online during the pandemic and people not feeling like they are really “in court.”

“(A)ppearing by video has emboldened some defendants,” wrote one anonymous judge. Another wrote: “I need to frequently remind people to not smoke or to put on a shirt while Zooming in to court.”

* Each month the College emails an informal, non-scientific one-question survey to its more than 12,000 judicial alumni in the United States and abroad. The results, summarized in the NJC’s Judicial Edge Today, are not intended to be characterized as conclusive research findings.

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