The National Judicial College teaches thousands of judges. As a faculty member for 22 years I have learned a great deal more than I have taught. The student judges’ collective experience and wisdom have often been what I have looked to when I was not sure where else to turn with a difficult situation.
For instance, when I feel myself getting angry at someone in front of me, say a recalcitrant spouse in a divorce, an unfeeling defendant in a child molesting case or an attorney whose style is of the button-pushing genre, I remind myself of what Socrates said:
“A judge’s duty is to do justice, not make a present of it.”
In other words, the power I can wield is not Jim Redwine’s power; it belongs to the people.
And when a problem such as lack of resources or a need for courthouse renovation becomes so severe people are denied justice I remind myself of what Robert Kennedy said:
“Some look at things and ask ‘Why?’, I dream of what things could be and ask, ‘Why not?’”
Or more prosaically, my quote the National Judicial College just published in their magazine, Case In Point, page 35:
“It’s better to go ahead and do good than to fear the lack of authority.”
The NJC collected such guidelines from 50 judges from all over America for the most recent edition. I find several of their thoughts helpful both for judges and those who may need a judge. The college asked us for brief statements of, “What we wish we had known before we became judges”. I will set forth a few.
“That I was giving up my individual identity. Your personal opinions and views are restricted in context at all times. Pretty soon you can begin to forget who you are.”
Judge Jan Satterfield, 13th district Court, KS
“The job doesn’t pay enough to be a jerk! Mistakes in applying law or reviewing facts are expected. Arrogance from the bench is inexcusable. Litigants will often decide how all judges act from their contact with you. Don’t get us a bad review.”
Judge Gregory D. Smith, Municipal Court, TN
“That folks would really believe that my court would be just like Judge Judy’s show.”
Judge Cynthia L. Brewer, Chancery Court, MS
“How dangerous it is to walk down stairs in a robe!”
Judge Stephen D. Hill, Kansas Court of Appeals
Perhaps we can look at some other gems of judicial learning later.