INJUSTICE FOR ALL: THE ONGOING OFFENSIVENESS OF JUDGE JUDYISM
While getting ready to head into the office last week I had the misfortune of seeing the Biography Channel's bio on "Judge Judy". What should have been an example of the 1960s feminist struggle to rise in a male dominated field devolved quickly into the glorification of intemperance, intolerance and injudicious behavior. Of course I knew the end of the story going in, but watching it unfold where that behavior and rise in fame was rewarded and encouraged, was frankly revolting. While there were some voices of reason from the legal community interviewed who decried her insulting manner, the Judge Judy way of administering "justice" is lauded by too many as "tough but fair". My response: "Don't make me sick".
So why this post on "Judge Judy"? After all, it is just a TV show, mere "entertainment", another in a series of courtroom "reality" shows. Way too simple. We know that in many areas of life and in the entertainment world, boorish is not only acceptable, it is highly rated and prized for its ability to draw in the public-- like a car crash. I frankly don't care about that aspect of it. We all have our predilections and tastes, our “guilty pleasures”, if you will. (Yes, back in the day I might have watched the first few seasons of “The Real World”, and we do watch “Project Runway” in our house—naturally only when I have finished with the DVR of “Jeopardy” and the latest episodes of “Nova” and “Charlie Rose”). I am, however, of the "if you don't like it, change the channel" ilk. As an attorney, however, I am disgusted by the perception that what is spewed across the airwaves by Judge Judy is fair, just, acceptable or normal judicial behavior. For many of the public who regularly watch Judy Judy's antics and are amused by her or accept this drivel as typical, it shames my profession. It degrades the legal system. It falsely tells the public that this is ok and that she is a shining example of judicial conduct.
Most unfortunately, in the last few years I have seen in the real courtrooms of law too many Judy-like outbursts from some judges. Yelling; remarks designed to embarrass and humiliate; improper interference with the conduct of trials; general incivility; references on the bench to the lack of a judicial pay-raise, and the like. Perhaps Judge Judy’s rise to fame and fortune is a twisted inspiration to some or that society’s acceptance of this behavior has simply spread to a portion of the real judiciary. Judges are not alone in this. The conduct of some lawyers equals if not exceeds some of the judicial intemperance. Recently, for example, my office called an attorney to offer him the courtesy of advising him that we had the day before responded to his cross motion—which was jurisdictionally and procedurally defective by the way—and offered him time to respond even though we did not have to. His reaction was to rudely tell my paralegal and then me that we were basically annoying him and that he hadn’t seen our papers so he didn’t know if he wanted to respond. When we offered to fax an extra copy we were told he was leaving early so it didn’t matter and wouldn’t see them anyway so don’t bother—he’ll “see us in court” as it were. The next day in court he actually told the judge that we never served him and that we didn’t give him the courtesy of giving him an adjournment! Fortunately, I had briefed my associate about the conversation which took place the previous day and he recanted—sort of. He did so, however, without any shame.
The people who come into my office and the offices of other family law practitioners are often facing the most traumatic event or at least one of the most traumatic they have ever experienced. Most have never been in a courtroom before. They are uncertain of the future and where this chapter of their lives when closed, will land them. Do they deserve a Judge Judy? Do they deserve to have their dignity torn away? Even where a spouse engages in contemptuous action, does debasement do justice in place of clear, unequivocal sanction administered by a judge who commands respect through intellect and strength of judicial purpose? I think not.
There are too many good lawyers and good judges out there to have our profession sullied by these few, but loud “Judyish” exceptions to the rule. The public should know that the vast majority of judges (and lawyers) really care about what they are doing and the consequences of their actions. The court system has been clamping down far more than I can recall in the past on judges whose behavior does not meet the acceptable standards of judicial conduct. That should leave us going forward with a Bench which is legally, professionally and temperamentally ready, willing and able to do fairness and justice for all—again, the overwhelming majority of our sitting judges. For the very small minority who nevertheless wish to bully their way around the courtroom and tarnish the work of their brethren and sistren, maybe call NBC-- they need some help in prime time-- better to play a judge than be one. Either way...even Judge Judy will one day have her show cancelled—hopefully sooner rather than later.