There are two general categories of American law: Civil Law (statutes and other written rules), and Common Law (case decisions or judge-made law). Civil law normally comes from a legislative body such as Congress and is published in the form of statues. Common Law is derived from precedent, that is, deciding a current legal controversy by referring to how similar controversies have been resolved by judges in the past. Another way of looking at Common Law is thinking about how we all learn things from our parents, in other words, benefitting from their good and bad experiences which they share with us.
If you should be among that select few who regularly read this column you may recall a couple of weeks ago we were considering the Common Law/Common Sense guidance set forth by some of my fellow alumni and alumnae of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. I find I have learned more from the wisdom of my fellow judges than any classroom. You probably feel the same way about how you have relied on the good and bad experiences of others to help you repeat or avoid similar situations.
Following are a few more “Common Laws” taken from an article in Case In Point, the NJC 2017-2018 publication concerning, Things Judges Wish They Had Known BEFORE They Took The Bench:
“Part of a judge’s developed skill, especially a rural judge, is having a feel for whether or not a particular case will actually go to trial. This helps immensely with case scheduling, jury summoning and with the possibility of a judge getting a good night’s sleep almost every night. I finally concluded that a lesson could be learned from the occupation of circus ringmaster.”
Hon. Jess B. Clanton, Jr. (Ret.), 12th Judicial District, Oklahoma;
“How much this job would change how I view the world. I had spent 30 years as a police officer prior to being appointed, and I thought I had a good view of the world. This job made me step back and really look at everything-everything I did, everything I posted, everything I said to friends and how I acted in public and around my family. I really wanted people to look at me and respect me for the job I was doing. In doing so, I had to step up and make sure I was worthy.”
Hon. Kevin L Wilson, Justice of the Peace Court, Kent County, Delaware;
“How hard it is to be firm and uphold the values and rules when the person in front of you has been so beaten down by life that it makes it feel like you are kicking a poor wounded animal. … Somewhere in the middle you have to find justice.”
Hon. Jeanette L. Umphress, Municipal Court of Yuma County, Arizona;
“You are only as good as your worst hearing.”
Hon. Samuel A. Thumma, Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One; and,
“Never, NEVER go on the bench with a full bladder!”
Hon. Peter H. Wolf, Superior Court, District of Columbia