Tag Archives: judges

How to survive the tyrant Judge (part 2 of 3)

Part 2, The dangerous disease of power

I have long held to the proposition that the expressed motivation attracting judges to the bench is suspect.

I do not take as universally true the easy, self-serving assurance of many judges that he or she simply wants to do good. I am leery of do-gooders. I have believed, and I still do, that judges, like all persons, have needs that fuel their choices. Their need, in a money society, is certainly not money, for judges are notoriously underpaid. The greatest attraction to the bench is simply power. In a given case the judge has more power over the litigants before him than any other human being on the face of the earth.

I have sometimes encountered tyrant judges who lord it over the poor rabble struggling below them, who seem to enjoy observing a particular lawyer helplessly twisting and turning in the winds of their whims. I have suspected that some such judges furtively rejoice in their power over lawyers who have been more successful than they, and over litigants who for unobvious reasons the judges may despise. I have seen judges who eagerly await the opportunity to dump a load of scorn on those who have made unfortunate choices in their lives. Yes, some want to do harm. And I am saddened that I find myself writing these lines.

I recognize that judges, like doctors who daily face the injured and dying, and lawyers who are routinely relating to clients who are maimed or hated or who are guilty of horrendous crimes, may become calloused in order to maintain some semblance of mental health. But as for judges, how does a human being wrench screaming children from their parents, turn one’s back on the pathetically injured for no better reason than they fail to fit some fictional legal model, send men to the death house or to long terms in the torture chambers of prison unless the judge has grown a certain protective coating around the hide of the heart? Still even the most gentle judge, the rare one who exudes a caring nature, is often one who I am not likely to trust, not at first. I have discovered that too often an outward benevolence covers a merciless heart.

But if I am fair I must acknowledge that judges are not too different than I. I, too, claim I want to do good. I claim that I have devoted my life to help the forgotten, the lost, the voiceless, and the damned. It all sounds good. The idea of it feeds my soul. I have a need to be useful, to feel worthy, to engage in just causes, to fight just fights. I wish to be seen as a warrior for the people. If my own sense of self stands for justice on behalf of ordinary people, justice against the powerful, against the corporate overlord and the tyranny of government why can’t I grant such an honorable motive to judges? After all, we have encountered many humans who genuinely care. And judges who were once lawyers surely know the dismal plight of those who seek justice and who so rarely obtain it. Yes, rarely.

Still, these days too many judges ascend to the bench bearing a fealty pledged to the people’s masters. We can understand the phenomenon. Today, most judges are selected by a power saturated with the interests of business, and a majority of the judges appointed were once prosecutors or corporate lawyers. In their former lives these lawyers took on the cause of power. As prosecutors they were daily drowned in the dreary decadence of criminals crowding the jails. As civil defense lawyers they experienced the excesses of trial lawyers representing those who claimed to be injured or who, even though injured, sought to take advantage of their injuries. The politicians seek judges who reflect their own philosophical leanings. The tree grows bent in the direction of the prevailing wind and in the calm can never fully right itself.

“The tree grows bent in the direction of the prevailing wind and in the calm can never fully right itself.”

Unfortunately, my view of the bench is supported by a majority of trial lawyers who represent ordinary people. At the Trial Lawyers College, where we teach lawyers how to successful fight for people against corporate and government power, the attitude of the attendees who have spent many years in the trenches before countless judges is nearly uniform. Rarely do I find a lawyer who believes most judges are mostly fair, mostly caring, and mostly driven to accomplish good ends. Sadly, many see judges as their enemies, as opponents in the courtroom even more powerful and adverse to the lawyer than the opposing lawyer.

They see judges more concerned with their dockets, with moving their cases forward, with controlling the courtroom and the lawyers, with making decisions that will be acceptable to their constituents and that will not be badly reported by the media. True, most often lawyers do not see judges as overtly dishonest or even consciously in the pocket of power. But they see them as the possessors of power who too often exercise it wrongly, insensitively, in forwarding their own agendas, and ultimately functioning to the detriment of the litigants. This is not to say that there are no caring, fair, even loving judges in this country. Many, but not enough, do great honor to the bench. In the end, a majority of judges are seen by most people’s lawyers as a power source of harm.

As for me it is harmful to look up to a judge who has ignored the poor and bowed to the rich, to show such a judge respect when he is not worthy of respect, to show such a judge deference when he reveals an underlying indifference to the human condition, to give such a judge honor when he has lived a life on the other side protecting power and money. Yet I am troubled by these judgments.

COMING SOON, Part 3 of 3: “The judge. Who is this tyrant?”

How to survive the tyrant Judge (part 1 of 3)

PART 1: Understanding the self

I preach endlessly that it all begins with you.

We’re afraid of judges because they’re power-persons, which harkens back to our experiences with our first power-persons – usually a parent. Most often we don’t understand that psychic connection while we stand miserable and quaking before His Honor. Instead of a judge the psychic eye sees a raging father or a scolding mother. The psychic memory has not forgotten the child’s helplessness before such a power-person. Nor has the survival instinct let the psychic mind forget that should the child be cast out, the child will face the ultimate horror—death. And what if the judge should reject us?

We are introduced at an early age to the relationship between power and helplessness.  Beyond the fear of the parent power-person we are taught to fear the ever-watching God—the ultimate power. Why do judges peer down on us from on high? Why do the remnants of ancient belief systems still have us “praying” to his Honor? From the earliest times we learn the art of beseeching that is often gilded with resentment—the deaf, unresponsive God of Job. And always we long for our own power.

At a recent seminar conducted at Trial Lawyers College, participants were asked to complete any unfinished business they might have with a parent, living or dead—one participant taking on the role of the child, another the parent and the two reversing roles as necessary to permit the full story to emerge. The results of such exercises are universally astounding. The participants are touched in deep places, some to weeping, some to silence and others to anger. But none leave the exercise unmoved. Why, I have wondered, is there such a high quotient of parent-child conflict?

My own supposition, formed empirically over the years, is that more children than we suspect have been abused. I am defining abuse from the child’s perspective of powerlessness. To the child, abuse feels like the inexorable, assertion of raw, undeserved power. It may include perceived unjust punishment, deprivation or a sense of abandonment directed to a child who is unable to fight back or to protect himself or herself. It is the painful exercise of power by often innocent parents that imposes injury.

Parents are not equipped to judge their conduct through the eyes of the child. No courses are offered for Parenting 101. Often abuse grows out of the parent’s own experienced abuse as a child—so the biblical admonition that “the sins of the father are visited upon the child.” Some parents who feel powerless themselves are the first to exercise unwarranted power over their children. The abused child, as I have defined him or her will become the lawyer most likely to be abused by the judge.

“The abused child, as I have defined him or her will become the lawyer most likely to be abused by the judge.”

At the above mentioned seminar I was drawn to a young woman, a beginning lawyer, who presented herself as childlike. She had a small, sad, perpetual smile on her face, and if I shut my eyes and listened, her voice sounded like that of a five or six-year-old. Physically she looked like a little girl with a chubby body and a round doll-like face. Naturally she was adored and protected by the other participants at the seminar. She had had limited experience in the courtroom. But the few cases she’d tried before several judges left her with the impression that judges were kind and helpful. I thought, yes, who but a sadist bent on injuring children could possibly treat such a child with anything but kindness. I found myself wanting to protect her, and this lawyer, still as child, was taken under the wings of the judge, the same judge, I discovered, who had been the judge from hell for another participant in the same seminar.

My own parents were often bewildered as to how to deal with their rambunctious, raucous, rebellious offspring. I was never spanked nor sent to a corner. I do not remember any particular punishment at all. When those mutinous adolescent years came along my parents simply threw up their hands in surrender, and I left home at sixteen to conquer the world, which I viewed as a probability. I rebelled against the strict, religious teaching of my mother and absorbed the anger of my father against the “upper crust,” the moneyed class, who, were represented by the callus authority of his employers. I loved my father and hated the boss, that malevolence on high who could abuse that good, brave man. Early on I saw authority as the enemy and vowed never to be captured by power, and, of course, that included the power of the judge. My life with judges has not always been easy.

I have never heard a judge admonish a lawyer, “I am not your father, Mr. Jones. I am the judge.” Nor have I met a lawyer who has walked into the courtroom saying, “Remember, this man is not my father or my mother, this is not my father’s boss nor some heartless, demanding teacher. The relationship of judge and lawyer rolls on, year after year, the judge as the power-person, the lawyer as child, the lawyer struggling in the courtroom against the power of the judge and neither understanding much about the seeds of their relationship.

COMING SOON, Part 2 of 3: “The Dangerous Disease of Power”