January 27, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver
We often hear, “Justice is Blind.” The saying refers to the way judges and juries are required to make decisions based only on the information presented to them, rather than on personal experiences, or who they like most.
This expression also means that justice is impartial and objective, and often accompanying this statement is an image of the Greek statue for justice, wearing a blindfold so as not to treat friends differently from strangers, or wealthy people better than the poor.
“Judges aren’t computers into which you pour data and out pops a decision,” observes retired California Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr, author of “Every Other Weekend – Coming of Age with Two Different Dads,” coming Feb. 14.
“Justice is delivered by people whose entire lives impact the way they see the world,” he underscores, adding, “Justice isn’t completely blind, it is human. And, wouldn’t it be helpful to have insight into those aspects of the judge who will be trying your case?
That question leads us to another: What are the factors that go into making a good jurist? What hints should lead a lawyer to disqualify a judge?”
Judge Mohr then set out a by-the-numbers list of what lawyers and clients should do before they step into the courtroom – how to learn as much as possible about that person who could have a major impact on your business, and on your life:
(1) Research the judge to discover their negative aspects.
Google is your best friend. Plug in their name and this should bring up articles written about or by them. Be wary of angry of lawyers who lost. They will say nasty things about the judge because they lost even though they should have lost!
(2) Ask around – your friends who might have appeared before the judge or other lawyers for their opinion.
Call the Bar Association and asks if the judge has a reputation for a good judicial temperament. Is the judge considered to be intelligent? Is the judge lazy and doesn’t keep up with news events?
(3) Does the judge have a bias and a reputation for ruling in favor of one side over the other on a consistent basis?
Does the judge dislike women? Latinos, people of color?
(3) Go on Lexus-Nexus or Westlaw to research written opinions and rulings by the judge. Read them. Do they make sense? Is the writing snarky? Does the judge belittle the parties without apparent justification? Do the cases stand for what the judge claims they do?
The Central Pillars of Being a Judge
Mohr was quick to point out that in California and many other states, the Judicial Council articulates those qualities that a good judge must possess. In California, they are known as the Eight Pillars of Being a Judge.
(1) Being mindful of who you are – that you are a judge.
You are a judge wherever you are 24/7. This means that your behavior must be respectful at all times. Mohr puts it this way, “You can’t walk into a restaurant and say, ‘Give me my table now I’m a judge!’”
(2) Exercise mindfulness in the courtroom and pay attention!
You need to be aware at all times what is happening in the courtroom. Is a lawyer signaling a witness with hand gestures? Are spectators acting up?
“You must address these issues immediately. For example, when I’ve suspected that a juror has fallen asleep, I will drop a book to make noise which usually wakes them up without embarrassment.”
(3) Follow the law. Don’t make up the rules as you go along.
If you are in doubt about what the statute says, open up the appropriate book which should be within arm’s reach and look it up! Don’t assume when you have reason to be unsure.
(4) Be aware of your biases or prejudices which we all have to some extent.
Keep an open mind and never hesitate to disqualify yourself if you know deep down that you just can’t be fair in the case before you.
For example, in criminal case, do not allow the defendant’s appearance to influence your rulings.
(5) Do not get involved in the case.
Do not take things personally. Your only job is to administer justice fairly. So, if you don’t like a particular lawyer or party, stop yourself from acting in an unfair manner. Do not aim for a particular result!
(6) Realize that part of your job is to maintain the public’s belief and trust in the legal system. You’ve got to be polite to all parties and as patient as possible.
If the correct decision in the case you are handling will make you unpopular, still, you have a legal and moral duty to make that decision.
As an example, several years ago in a desegregation case, a Los Angeles judge ordered busing to desegregate the city’s schools. This was an important step in furthering civil rights, resulting in the judge being challenged in an election and losing.
But he did the right thing. Our system of justice depends on judges having the courage to do the right things and not succumb to political pressure.
(8) Accept the fact that you will make mistakes and be overruled, your decisions reversed.
But you have to go along with the higher court’s decision.
Exquisitely Aware of Suffering
I could not put judge Mohr’s book down. (I received an advanced copy). It conveys the feelings of someone who has been witness to highly unique emotional experiences that made him exquisitely aware of suffering, unfairness and a desire as a jurist to handle them head-on.
Judge’s Mohr memoir should be required reading of every law student taking a course in Family Law. It provides a unique insight into those factors that have shaped a jurist’s view of the world and why healthy and stable family life is so critical to that adult who, years down the road will put on a black robe and be addressed as “Your Honor.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.