The judges among us — revisited

Yesterday, Judge Raymond Myles was shot and killed outside his home in Chicago’s Far South Side.  Police are still searching for a suspect and a motive, although it appears that his death may have simply been the result of attempted robbery.

We are attuned to stories of judges being threatened or attacked because of their profession.  And such threats, whether explicit or otherwise, are taken very seriously.  But this story, where it appears the victim just happened to be a judge, reminds us that members of the judiciary live among us.  When they take off their robes and leave the courthouse for the day, they are ordinary members of society with the same needs for food, clothing, security, and happiness as the rest of us.

Six years ago, after Judge John Roll was killed in the same Arizona shooting that terribly injured Gabby Giffords, I shared some similar thoughts.

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Judge Myles.

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Four things to watch under Justice Gorsuch

With his confirmation by the Senate last Friday, Judge Neil Gorsuch will  be sworn in and take his place on the Supreme Court today.  Many pixels have been spilled in an effort to analyze Gorsuch’s nomination, confirmation, and anticipated jurisprudence. But his addition also changes the internal dynamics of the Supreme Court, with downstream effects on other aspects of the federal court system.  Here are a few things I will be watching for in the coming months: Continue reading “Four things to watch under Justice Gorsuch”

Iowa considers closing courthouses

Facing a budget crunch, both court administrators and state legislators in Iowa are admitting the possibility that they might close or consolidate courthouses in the future, leaving some of Iowa’s counties without any courthouse at all.  Technological advances might make some closings more palatable, as materials can be filed and hearings conducted electronically.

There is no plan in the works to consolidate court services, said State Court Administrator David Boyd, who is set to retire in September after four decades of working for Iowa’s court system. And there are state laws barring certain moves, such as creating regional litigation centers or moving clerk offices out of county seats.

But Boyd admits there may come a time when offering court services in all 99 counties could be reconsidered.

“I really do hope at some point we are in fact considered to be a separate and equal branch of government and properly funded,” he said. “That’s not to say that we have to continue to do things in a particular way just because we’ve always done it that way.”

 

 

Should you correct a judge’s mispronunciation?

Professor James Duane has a very short and interesting article up on SSRN about the potential perils of correcting a judge’s mispronunciation during oral argument. He focuses on one recent case where an excellent young lawyer twice corrected a Supreme Court Justice’s mangled pronunciation of “antecedent” simply by later pronouncing it correctly. Duane thinks this was the wrong approach, and counsels lawyers to either mispronounce the word in the same way going forward, or avoid using the mispronounced word altogether for the remainder of the argument.

That seems like odd advice to me. Judges are human beings, and they are not immune from basic mistakes any more than the rest of us.* Were I in the situation of that young advocate, I would be inclined just to use the word correctly the next time. Mimicking the error would seem to call even greater attention to it.

What do readers think?  Feel free to weigh in.

* Some judges are more comfortable admitting mild linguistic ignorance (Chief Justice Roberts’ interruption a few years back to ask about the meaning of “orthogonal” comes to mind).  But accepting that you mispronounced a word, and that it’s no big deal, seems to me a basic example of judicial humility.

Update on state legislation affecting the courts

State legislatures continue to propose and advance bills that will impact their respective court systems.  Here are some of the latest developments:

  • Indiana’s proposal to convert Marion County (Indianapolis) to a merit selection system is heading to conference committee.  The latest version of the bill calls for a 14-member nominating committee to choose three final candidates for the governor’s selection; four of the committee members would be chosen from voters.  Previous coverage of the Indiana bill and its history is here.
  • In Arkansas, a new bill would change the way state judges are elected in Cumberland County Superior Court.  The current election system grants seats on the bench to the top two vote-getters among all candidates.  The bill would require candidates to declare which of the two judicial seats they are seeking.
  • The Florida House of Representatives has passed an amendment to the state constitution that would impose term limits on state appellate judges, including supreme court justices.  This is a terrible idea, but happily it is still in its infancy.  The state senate would also have to approve the move, and then voters would have to approve it in 2018.  Similar efforts in others states have been defeated in recent years after they were exposed for the transparent political proposals that they were.
  • Nebraska’s unicameral legislature has advanced a bill to raise judicial pay in the state.

 

A refreshingly honest take on courtroom cameras

Judge Dale Harris has an op-ed discussing his first experience with cameras in his courtroom, stemming from Minnesota’s pilot project to allow recording of certain sentencing proceedings.  It’s a usefully honest take:

There is not much of a question in my mind that the cameras had some effect on the participants. I could tell I was measuring my words more carefully than usual, and I am pretty sure the attorneys were as well. Although most court proceedings are open to the public, human beings just tend to act differently when they know they are on camera. It is also hard to pull out a couple short clips that accurately depict a complex hearing. Those are the primary reasons I was not a fan of the pilot program.

For those of us who work in the courthouse every day, however, it is probably too easy to take familiarity of the judicial process for granted. Many people never see the inside of a courtroom, so having this type of access through the media might provide some insight that those people would not otherwise get. The media is merely responding to that perceived need.

As a government entity, the court system always has to strive for greater transparency. The question in the near future, as the pilot project is evaluated, is whether these benefits amount to a net gain. If the answer is “yes,” then I fully would expect the pilot program to be expanded to more types of court hearings. Stay tuned.

Cameras probably do have some effect on participants, just as a live audience would.  But if the end result is a sentencing characterized by more measured words and a careful tone, the cameras pilot should indeed be considered a success.

U.S. Courts unveils updated FJC website

The Federal Judicial Center, the research arm of the federal courts, has updated its website.  It’s terrific — clean, easy to search, and filled with important and interesting studies commissioned by the Judicial Conference and its various committees over the years.  A must for researchers or any individuals interested in the workings of the federal courts.