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Indiana Judges Association: What you need to know about state judges

David J. Dreyer
January 29, 2014
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IJA-Dreyer-DavidCherry Hill is an authority in the field of horsekeeping and horse training. Having not ridden a horse since the pony rides of pre-adolescence, I am nevertheless struck by Hill’s keen insights into the art of judging. In 2005, she published an online article called “The Profession of Judging” in which she discusses what makes a good judge – for horse shows. For example:

1. Must be a keen observer and make sound decisions

2. Able to work long hours

3. Must be punctual, have a good sense of time and be organized

4. Must thoroughly know the rule book

5. A judge should be stable, not moody. It is probably best for a judge to be somewhat reserved yet pleasant. Excess formality or “good-old-boy” casualness can be misinterpreted and counterproductive.

6. The judge dictates the mood, so personal feelings must be put aside.

7. All selections and decisions must be based on fair play. Problems will be minimal, questions can be answered straight-forward, and there will be no restless conscience.

8. A good judge is alert, knowledgeable, confident and ethical.

While there may (or may not) be a big difference between horses and humans, there may not be any difference between horse judging and human judging. After all, judging is a fundamental objective endeavor. It is always instructive to compare “judging” with “judgmental,” that is, a conclusory perspective borne from bias, stereotype or narrow subjective information. Columnist Cal Thomas once wrote that “judgment” is “holding people accountable to a standard we did not create,” and “judgmentalism” is “thinking ourselves morally superior because we haven’t committed the acts of others.” So for more than 17 years, I have been a judge, not a judgmentalist. And the same goes for practically every judge I know.

My non-lawyer friends spend almost all their time at social events with me asking about judging and judgmentalism. This is what I want them to know:

Judges work hard.

Last year, we state judges alone worked on more than 100 million cases, according to the National Center on State Courts. In Indiana, our Division of State Court Administration reports about 1.2 million cases last year. Our mortgage foreclosures are up 11.9 percent and Indiana murders up by 21.6 percent. No judge gets extra pay for working extra time. The judges do what the job demands, year in and year out.

Judges rule against people they like, and in favor of people they don’t like.

As our horse-judging list shows above, personal feelings must be put aside, or else the judge is not judging. As a normal person, I see people every day that are on my good list or my bad list. The essential quality of judging is to see one’s judgmentalism present all the time, and be perfectly fine with setting it aside. Lawyers do it with clients, businesses do it with customers, and neighbors do it with neighbors. I certainly like some lawyers much better than others – but I can honestly attest that it doesn’t make a bit of difference. It is this level of professionalism that is the currency of a judge’s daily practice.

Judges don’t have publicists.

Can you remember the last time you saw a judge on the cover of a news magazine (when we still had news magazines)? Have you ever seen a judge interviewed after a big trial? In fact, can anyone remember ever reading a quote from a judge not taken from a written legal opinion or from the bench? There are exceptions, fortunately, but judges, more than other branches of government, have to let their actions speak for themselves. They don’t take polls, have town meetings or hold press conferences. That is not the nature of judging. Our legal system is too important to risk losing public confidence by doing anything other than calling balls and strikes – and taking the boos and catcalls if they come.

Judges are connected to people and their problems.

What other job involves making everyday decisions about people with real problems like an estate, theft, mortgage, unpaid bills, business transactions, medical malpractice, bankruptcy, divorce, environmental cleanup, drunken driving, employment, child custody, insurance coverage, juvenile delinquency, or just plain old-fashioned murder? It may be safe to say that no elected officials solve more daily problems for people face-to-face than state trial judges. Beyond that, the community sees judges regularly involved in activities outside the courtroom. According to Indiana Judicial Center data, about 90 percent of all Indiana judges are involved in extra-judicial activities in bar associations, not-for-profit charities or judicial committees. You just can’t say we don’t care.

Judges are stewards of the law.

All of us are stewards of the legal profession. But only judges are stewards of the law. Inevitably, those of us who take the oath become a different sort of advocate. Our ability, ethics and fidelity are directed toward applying, interpreting and distinguishing. The human balance that unquestionably enters every human endeavor does not spare judges. But every judge knows he or she must seek to develop a keen instinct to recognize if, how, or when to let that balance enter any particular decision. This judicial discretion is the heart of the law and only a judge practices it.

Even the Pope now says “Who I am to judge?” when faced with the prospect of being a judgmentalist. So the next time you find yourself doing some horse-trading in the courthouse, chances are you can have a good judge who will help – even with a horse show.•

__________

Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

  2. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. AT the time the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was enacted all major pharmaceutical companies in the US sold marijuana products. 11 Presidents of the US have smoked marijuana. Smoking it does not increase the likelihood that you will get lung cancer. There are numerous reports of canabis oil killing many kinds of incurable cancer. (See Rick Simpson's Oil on the internet or facebook).

  3. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Far too many people are sentenced for far too many years in prison. Many of the federal prisoners are sentenced for marijuana violations. Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

  4. My daughter was married less than a week and her new hubbys picture was on tv for drugs and now I havent't seen my granddaughters since st patricks day. when my daughter left her marriage from her childrens Father she lived with me with my grand daughters and that was ok but I called her on the new hubby who is in jail and said didn't want this around my grandkids not unreasonable request and I get shut out for her mistake

  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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