Judgement and the Judge

and the

I’m astonished at how slow some folks have been to take the judicial position seriously. I’ve noticed that people I speak with who’ve been before a judge tend to "get it" right away that we need to be very smart about picking the next judge.

One reason, it seems, some people are apathetic is that they feel unable to make a considered choice. Involvement with law for a lot of us is just something that happens, like a lump on an internal organ. We are generally powerless to do anything except spend money on an expert. The whole issue of law is, not by accident, clothed in Latin and buried like ancient curses in stacks of arcane books. If people in court had to make sense when they spoke and observe the normal laws of behavior, we might have a chance, but we don’t.

As a result, it’s hard to know who to pick for judge. If we go by the only things we know to go by, we’ll pick the person who most looks and acts like what we think a judge should be. In that sense, we are voting for an actor, someone who most looks the part. That works great for a centerfold bunny, but what a judge looks like has little to do with the logic and insight they bring to the bench.

Or, we could vote for the person who spun the most judge-like talk. Someone who could rattle off legal blah blah, and leave us convinced, if confused. In that instance, we are voting for the best liar, and as attorneys are the stable we’re choosing from, the bar is set pretty high for such measures.

Best, though, would be to judge the judge as we want them to judge us. Ignore the suits and snooty bearing, if this was someone asking to marry your son or daughter, what would you judge them by? A decision like that is too important to make based on how clean someone is, or how nice he or she talks to you. Those are things they can change about themselves pretty easily. You have to look past that and weigh the person’s character. What are their values?

When considering a judge, we have to ask our selves, how much do they know about just folks, plain everyday people who try hard but sometimes make mistakes? Someone who loves the law above all else is no judge for me. The law is a convoluted labyrinth. It might be intended to find the truth in a matter, but like all human endeavors, the more we work on something the more it becomes about us and the less it resembles the real world. The law is like the Bible, what it means depends on what preacher you hear.

The judge I vote for will be familiar with the law, but will be rooted in people. A judge doesn’t hear "cases," she or he hears people. Some people are just bad, but not a lot. Many people find themselves before a judge just because they are feckless, not real smart or maybe just unlucky. Many people find themselves before a judge because, like it or not, life didn’t give them very good choices.

We have a strange and terrifying belief that justice comes from law, from procedure; it doesn’t. Simply having done something doesn’t make a person guilty. Under the strict interpretation of the law, yes, they’re guilty, but if that is all there is to a judge, to determine what happened under the law, then let’s stop wasting money on these overpaid aristocrats. Likewise a person can be guilty but completely legal. Let’s just get a computer program and a data entry person, and you give them the facts and they’ll tell you how many years you get and how many thousands you owe.

The truth is, we need a human judge to protect us from the law. The law is there to take you from your family, to cut your contribution to them off, to stick you in a hole and essentially take your life for a period of time. The law is there to take your children and send them away where they’ll forget you, your family traditions, maybe even your God. Only the judge can save you; the judge decides what is evidence and what is not, what is objectionable and what is not. In the game of words that is law, only the District Attorney is more important; the words these people use about us determine the outcome of our lives.

A lot of us don’t imagine we’ll end up before the judge. If you think the judge is only for other people, well, sure, vote for the most ignorant, egoistic, draconian judge you can find. All of us know someone in the community and we wonder, "why isn’t that S.O.B. in jail? The laws are too easy, the judges are all social workers."

In truth, though, we put more people in prison than any other developed nation. A prison record is a good start on homelessness. In this society, your debt is never paid, and when you get out you have a good chance of continuing to be a prisoner, because it is harder to get a job, and every cop knows your name, and anything that happens will come down harder on you because you already have a permanent record. Some convictions restrict where you can live and who you can associate with. None of them give you a living wage or the nice fat retirement the judge is going to enjoy.

I know that everyone who reads the Prospect will vote, if they haven’t already lost their civil rights. Our readers are discriminating and smart enough to know that, while voting for president might be an exercise in futility, voting for local candidates is important. The judicial position is the most important in the ballot. Talk to the candidates, weigh them like they might one-day weigh you.

We have March, April and May to decide who is going to judge us for the next six years.


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