Marathon

The requirement in the code of judicial conduct that a judge be “patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others” can be violated in a wide variety of ways, from angry outbursts, to sarcasm, to frequent interruptions, to name calling, to body language, to racial slurs, to gender stereotypes, to threats, and more.  As several discipline cases illustrate, a “marathon” court session also demonstrates a lack of the judicial temperament crucial to public confidence in judicial decisions.

The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for holding a court session until 4:00 a.m.  Public Admonition of Schildknecht and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct May 11, 2015).  (The admonishment was also for describing the district attorney as a “New York Jew,” expelling him from her courtroom on a separate occasion, and telling a prosecutor his beard made him look like a “Muslim.”)  On July 2, 2014, the judge began hearing probation revocation cases at 1:00 p.m.; the court session did not end until 4:00 a.m. on July 3.  The judge did not provide any formal breaks for litigants, attorneys, witnesses, or other court personnel to eat or use the restroom.  The defendant whose case was the final matter heard in the early morning of July 3rd appealed her conviction, arguing that “fair consideration could not have possibly been given at 4 a.m. after a 19 hour day.”  In her written responses to the Commission’s inquiry, the judge acknowledged holding court from 1:00 p.m. on July 2nd until 4:00 a.m. on July 3rd without providing formal breaks, explaining this was necessary to prevent jail over-crowding and that, in her opinion, there had been enough “downtime” for anyone to eat or use the restroom and return in time to conduct court business.  The Commission concluded that the judge “failed to treat litigants, attorneys and others with patience, dignity and courtesy . . . when she held a ‘marathon’ court session lasting until 4 a.m. the following morning without allowing formal breaks.”

Similarly, based on a stipulation, in 2013, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge who, to accommodate her personal schedule and other reasons, required the jury, the attorneys, and staff to conduct proceedings in a murder trial continuously from 1:12 p.m. on December 16, 2010, until the jury returned a verdict at 6:47 a.m. on December 17.  In the Matter of Vega, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 29, 2013).  The judge had recessed court in the early afternoon on 6 days during the trial so that she could attend her daughter’s high school soccer games.

One thought on “Marathon

  1. Pingback: Courtesy, communication, and consideration | Judicial ethics and discipline

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