My court financial officer, Prudence Darknight, called me recently, and it went something like this:
Prudence: Judge Dreyer?
Me: Who wants to know?
Prudence: The computer says your budget has run out of money for supplies.
Me: What supplies?
Prudence: Things like copy paper, copy ink, copy toner, etc.
Me: We’ll just stop making copies. We’re in a paperless society now.
Prudence: Even cyberspace still needs a hard-copy backup, judge.
Me: So can’t we just move money from some other budget area?
Prudence: Only if you do not want your Indiana Lawyer subscription anymore.
This, of course, was where I drew the line. So we are thinking of operating without any copy paper or rubber bands until further notice.
But then I went home, sat down and watched the Olympics. I grew weary of water polo intricacies and switched channels to some sort of prurient reality show about a kid named Honey Boo. So I switched again and got a rerun of Judge Judy. Stabbing the “mute” button, I sat in silence – and then it hit me. The world loves reality TV – or at least advertisers think they do – like the Olympics and judges acting out.
Why not sell some sort of “Judicial Olympics” to Madison Avenue? This can only be a win-win. People can watch real judges in real competition while beer companies market the latest adult beverages. Personally, I see no ethical issue if the state trial judges form their own LLC to produce “The Judicial Olympics” program and sell commercial time to W.H. Harrison Governor’s Reserve Whiskey (an actual Indiana product). As long as the proceeds are used to supplement court budgets, and the contestants wear robes while competing, it can’t go wrong. And we judges would need very little time to practice or train. Consider, for example, a basic pentathlon of events:
Wrestling pleading titles
Contestant judges compete in time trials to untangle and determine the identity of a moving party from challenging pleading titles, such as “Second Motion for Extension of Time to File A Response To Reply in Opposition to Respondents’ Motion To Reconsider Court’s Denial of Defendant’s Fourth Enlargement of Time Within Which to Respond to Plaintiff’s Third Counterclaim.” Contestants must compete until an accurate determination is achieved, despite darkness.
Working from a randomly assigned posture (standing at desk, driving, sitting on the bench, etc.), contestant judges would develop creative vitriolic euphemisms from a random scenario, such as “A lawyer’s cell phone goes off during opponent’s closing statement to a jury. You call him a ___________.” Points are assigned by creativity, speed and artistic reference, i.e. “scurvy knave” from Shakespeare.
Without a computer, email or even a dictionary, contestant judges must write a letter with a competent and professional point of view on assigned topics to three different hypothetical persons: a) an employee who is being fired; b) a news media reporter who wants to know how much copy paper you use; and c) the Judicial Qualifications Commission in response to a pro se litigant’s complaint. Points are assigned for the following: speed, tone, consistency and number of words that are likely not understood by the hypothetical recipient (such as ubiquitous, tardy, precipitous and “no.”)
After a starting shot, contestant judges must run to the bar and develop spoken arguments to prove a randomly given point without using any of the following:
• It is what it is
• So I’m like . . .
• in terms of . .
This is a pure speed race: all sentences must be complete, grammatically correct and still make sense. Use of “uh” results in penalty.
Spellchecking without a net
This finale might be the most intense event of the competition. Contestant judges must review randomly drawn draft briefs to find spelling and grammatical errors using only their own eyes and a pencil. Not only would this allow color commentary and replays of slashing red pencils, it might also qualify for CLE for any lawyer watching.
Overall, the quality of a court system is the dedication and devotion of its judges. That will never be a problem because our judges continually re-commit themselves to operating courts with competence, diligence, promptness, patience, courtesy and respect. Despite challenges to government resources everywhere, our courts will be on the job even if we run out of copy paper. •
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.