As we complete a long, complicated year, my great judge journey leads me to a wish list. While wish lists are not uncommon for gift-giving season, or the start of a new year, this one is intended for regular rumination.
What do people think about judges? And what do judges think about them? In the nonstop information age, whatever the public thinks about the courts, it may not matter if nobody, including judges, can actually notice and think about it for any meaningful length of time.
In 2010, three Columbia University researchers worked with the Israeli justice system and looked at over 1,000 rulings made in the courtroom, over almost a year, about probation and parole. The results showed, as blogger Alex Mayyasi wrote on the website Priceonomics, that “the judges’ decision-making ability was as lousy as a kindergartener’s focus right before a snack break.”
Every trial judge must balance the letter of the law with the conscience of the community. A judge must be able to put any case in a full social and human context before applying the technical rules of the law. To do otherwise is to lose the most important and powerful tool upon which every judge must rely: the ability to feel.
All of us lawyers live two lives. One is the world of daily work endeavors — cases, clients, decisions, deadlines and problem-solving. The other life of lawyers and judges is the non-legal real world, away from smartphones and computers, outside our office, and outside the courtroom where experiences of family, friends, and private interests fill our personal time.