Court Watch

Hawai'i trial attorneys and appellate court attorneys


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Good Judges/Bad Judges

The American Bar Association once published an article called Good Trial Judges in which it discussed the difference in the qualities of a good judge and a bad judge and noted that practicing before a "good judge is a real pleasure," and "practicing before a bad judge is misery." Litigation, V9No. 3 at 8 (1983). The article goes on to list what is considers the attributes of a "bad" judge. These include:

  • Bias. This is the biggest red flag of a bad judge. A biased judge is one that doesn't seek to achieve the right result but rather seeks to serve his or her own personal likes and dislikes that have nothing to do with the legal issues before the judge. Secret bias is hard to uncover, but often bias is not difficult to uncover and is often flaunted by a judge and used to prove how powerful he or she is. She can reward her friends, (usually lawyers in the case) that hold the same beliefs or punish people she doesn't like (also usually lawyers in the case). The secret exercise of power over others for extrajudicial reasons is actually not pleasing to the biased judge unless those affected know that it is happening. So it is done openly enough to be perceived, but not enough to be sanctioned.
  • Laziness. Yes, there are lazy judges--very lazy judges. They don't read and don't want to do any real work. Some are drawn to be judges because the position is that of a high status civil servant. Avoiding trials is the biggest way of avoiding work. When one finds a trial judge always trying to muscle their way out of trials, that may be a lazy judge.
  • Incompetence. The sign of an incompetent judge is a judge that avoids reasoned decisions. Nothing exposes an incompetent judge more than the judge "working in secret and mysterious ways." What is an incompetent judge supposed to do, give reasoned decisions that expose his incompetence to the public?

Now the failure to render decisions in a timely fashion could be a sign of either bias (if a non-decision helps one of the parties), laziness (doesn't want to do the work) or incompetence (doesn't want to disclose one's incompetence), or possibly being overworked (this has been known to happen when not enough judges are appointed). Often, all three attributes are wrapped up in one judge. Incompetence breeds laziness (nothing the judge does is going to help accomplish justice, so why try to do anything) and breeds bias (since the judge has no confidence that he or she will do the just thing, why not satisfy some inner need to please or punish someone on the grounds of personal whims). This type of judge is at the lowest level of legal hell for the trial attorney. However, one shouldn't have too high an expectation for judges. The same ABA article includes a list of judicial virtues as minimal standards for a judge: honesty, integrity, courage, dignity and compassion. One observer is quoted as saying, "Why, that man was crucified 2,000 years ago."


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