What do Hammurabi, Solomon, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. have in common? They all presided as judges, relying on a precise understanding of the law to mete out justice. Today’s judges, too, have a significant opportunity to intelligently resolve disputes and artfully change lives, but they also face many other daily challenges. Unfortunately, there is no real handbook for a practicing judge—or there wasn’t, until now.
Written by Judge James P. Gray, Wearing the Robe explores the day-to-day realities of being a judge, from faithfully applying the law in court to sharing knowledge outside the courthouse. The author addresses a range of important topics, examining how judges can obtain and refine their skills, preside effectively over judicial calendars, healthfully manage the restrictions placed on their private lives, and more. Throughout, personal insights and practical tips add to the firm foundation of knowledge.
James P. Gray received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and his law degree from USC. Judge Gray began as a staff judge advocate and criminal defense attorney in the US Navy JAG Corps. He then spent several years as a federal prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, and private practice in civil litigation. He has been a trial court judge in Orange County, California, since 1983, and has received numerous awards for his legal and civic activities.
Part I: Getting to Know the Judge’s World—From Our Founding Fathers to Our Current Court Systems
1. The History and Continuing Evolution of Our Judicial System
Historic Benchmarks Build a Background
America Customizes Its Own System of Justice
The Judicial System Continues to Evolve
2. The Criminal Court System
Traffic Court Calendars
Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse Court Calendars
Alcohol-Related Offense Court Calendars
Drug Court Calendars
Co-Occurring Disorders, Homeless Outreach, and Community Court Calendars
The Art of Sentencing in a Criminal Case
3. The Civil Court System
General Unlimited Civil Courts
Limited Civil Courts
Small Claims Courts
4. “Relationship” Calendars
The Basics of Juvenile Court Calendars
The Delinquency Calendar
The Dependency Calendar
5. Additional Important Judicial Calendars
Mental Health Court
6. Trials, from Start to Finish
Case Management/Trial-Setting Conferences
Law and Motion Proceedings
The Management of Possible Problems
In Limine Motions
Jury Voir Dire
Preparation of the Jury for Trial
Presentation of the Evidence
Instructions for the Jury
Return of the Verdict
Closing of the Trial
Signing of the Judgment
Powers of Contempt of Court
Trial Tips and Treasures
The Trial Judge’s Final Duties
The Appellate Court System
7. Skills and Strategies for Settlement Conferences and Sentence Negotiations Resolving Civil Disputes
Pitfalls to Avoid
Proactive Settlement Approaches That Work
Effective Phrases to Use
Deciding How Involved to Be in Criminal Sentencing Negotiations
Arguments for and Against the Judge’s Involvement
Reasons to Be Extra Prudent in Negotiating Sentences
Part II: Living the Life of an Effective Judge—From Obtaining the Title to Handling the Attention and Responsibilities
8. How to Become a Judge, and Why You Would Want to Under the Ethical Restrictions
The Benefits of Being a Judge
The Drawbacks of Being a Judge
Important Steps to Take Toward Becoming a Judge
A Discussion of Judicial Ethics
9. The Attributes of Good and Effective Judges
Basic Responsibilities the Best Judges Bear in Mind
Admirable Traits the Best Judges Display
Strategies the Best Judges Employ
10. The Public Life of a Judge
Additional Judicial Work
American Inns of Court
Judges’ Associations, Judicial Councils, and Bench/Bar Committees
Peer Court or Teen Court
Volunteers in Parole (VIP) and Child Mentoring Programs
Stay in School Programs
Official Welcoming Programs for New Jurors
Police Academy Classes
The Media Relations Dilemma
Healthy Communication Among Judges and Journalists
Establishment of Rules for the Media
Education of the Media
Conclusion—Where the Judicial System Goes From Here
The Concept of Restorative Justice
Dignity for All
Earned Respect for the Judiciary
A Final Note
1. Sample Trial Note-Taking Contractions and Symbols
2. Chart of State Requirements for Becoming a Judge
3. Sample Wedding Ceremony
About the Author
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
--from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Judges are in the service business. And like other businesspeople, judges have clients--the parties involved in courtroom cases and, to a lesser extent, the attorneys who represent those parties. From the start, there are challenges involved when dealing with these clients. First, most of them are under considerable stress when they come through the courtroom doors. Judges must be those “quieter voices” that create an atmosphere of clarity and fairness. Second, the number of clients and cases that judges deal with each day is frequently large. So judges must maintain focused energy and responsible calm throughout the day. Yet because judges are service-oriented, they must embrace and effectively meet these challenges. After all, it is a judge’s responsibility to resolve cases as best as possible under the facts and the applicable law, and to leave those involved with two well-founded beliefs: that they had a fair hearing, and that they have received justice. Another way of saying this is that justice is a process as well as a result.
Judges are the ultimate generalists. Disputes and the laws applied to resolving them are amazingly varied, but judges are called upon to address each situation knowledgeably, effectively, and promptly. Of course, it is simply not possible for any judge to know all of the law, to be familiar with the inner workings of all segments of society, or even to be able to make the “right” decision immediately every time. But someone must address and attempt to resolve various failed relationships and problems among human beings, corporations, institutions, political bodies, etc., and no one is in a better position to do that than a well-trained, ethical, and dedicated judge.
There are additional challenges to being a judge. Consider that judges really do live in fishbowls. Their finances and personal lives, and those of their spouses, are subject to public disclosure and scrutiny. A judge’s effectiveness and even career can be directly, publicly, and permanently threatened by actions and reactions for which others might never be so harshly scrutinized: a loss of patience, much less a display of temper; a misdeed in one’s public or personal life; an inappropriate or off-color remark; overuse of alcohol or, worse yet, an illicit substance; or a transgression of just one of the many ethical obligations.
Nevertheless, even though the impact and importance of judges’ decisions continue to increase, in some ways judges are decreasingly appreciated. While the decisions judges are called upon to make are getting more complicated and more highly litigated, resources continue to decrease for an expanding population, and judicial positions are becoming ever more politicized.. As a result, judges are on the “line of scrimmage” in addressing disputes in our society--and just like in a game of football, the line of scrimmage can be a vicious place. So when litigants emerge from our courts with what they see as an unfavorable outcome, the judge is the most convenient target for their bitterness and wrath. Threats to the physical safety of judges and their families--and occasions in which these threats are actually carried out--are alarmingly on the rise, in spite of increasing efforts to protect judges and their staffs, as well as the litigants and their counsel.
So it seems a legitimate question to ask, “Why would someone want to be a judge?” In my view, the short answer to the question is that it can be an immensely gratifying and interesting job. In fact, I remember a few years ago waking up on a Saturday morning and thinking to myself, “Oh, nuts, I don’t get to go to work today.” Then I smiled and figured that I could somehow make it through the weekend. But I knew then--and I know now--that being a judge is a great and important opportunity. In fact, for most of my time as a judge I have kept a hand-printed sign on my bench that reads, “There can be no peace in a land without justice.” This serves to remind me that every decision I make is important to someone, and that it can contribute to or detract from the reservoir of good will that people have for their government. Therefore, every decision should be made with as much care, concern, and wisdom as I am able to offer.
As Chief Justice John Roberts once confided to a friend, judging is “much harder than I thought it would be. The questions are much harder and closer than I thought.” Yes, the job can be difficult, but the gratification of being a judge can be enormous. To quote a hackneyed phrase, you really can “make a difference” in almost countless ways to many people throughout the spectrum of life. As a judge you are in a position visibly to eschew mediocrity and pursue excellence in yourself and in others. You can help to mentor our nation’s children and many other people in need. You can use your wisdom and experience in helping to determine what is—and what is not--a just result under the facts and the law. You can speak for society in holding people rightly accountable for their actions, but you can also be understanding, patient, and helpful to people at times when they are most vulnerable. You can be an artist and apply the law not only fairly but also with passion and compassion. In other words, you can be a person who helps to bring justice to our land, and thereby you will be a force for peace in the world. It is hard to ask for more than that.
What is it like to be a judge? What do judges actually do? What are the benefits and the drawbacks? How does one obtain the position? Wearing the Robe will answer these questions. Part I of this book will provide the background you need to understand more deeply the processes of the judicial world: how our independent judiciary developed and is continuing to evolve in order to make proceedings fairer, more understandable, and less costly; how various courts are organized and administered; how trials are managed; and what settlement strategies are effective. To say that there is a broad lack of understanding in our country about the makeup and functions of our courts would be misleading because, for the most part, there is no understanding at all. Therefore, Part I includes a comprehensive discussion of judicial “calendars” or assignments. When many people think of our courts, they think only of criminal trials and criminal sentencing. However, there are many other types of calendars or assignments, including Civil, Juvenile, Family, Probate, Mental Health, and Adoptions. And there are many subdivisions thereunder. So Part I offers a wealth of information about these judicial roles, and it also gives me an opportunity to offer my professional advice and opinions about them along the way.
Part II provides a study of the benefits and drawbacks of being a judge and the necessary steps in making that career move if you decide to try to do so. It also tackles judicial ethics and even gives numbers of pointers on how to handle the basic difficulties that come along with the position. There is a chapter that studies the acknowledged responsibilities, winning attributes, and productive professional habits of effective judges so that you can learn what makes the best judges be the best judges. Part II also addresses such challenging subjects as how judges can use their free time optimally to contribute to the betterment of the community, and how judges should deal with the media. Therefore, it not only teaches you how to become a judge, but also how to be an effective judge! Finally, the Conclusion details my own visions for improvements in the judicial system.
Throughout the book you will find my own “pearls of wisdom” that I have gathered after serving as a judge for many years. The audience for whom I intend these helpful hints is varied. I believe Wearing the Robe will be valuable to those who are considering becoming a judge and those who are new judges just “learning the ropes.” It will help the reader to focus more fully upon what the profession is, what the public expects of us, and how we judges can live up to their expectations and trust by carrying out our obligations more effectively. Yet Wearing the Robe is also appropriate for veteran judges, because the book exposes them to some different approaches. One of the problems with the job is that judges are mostly sheltered from the opportunity to see how someone else acts upon the bench. I hope these pages will help to break down that barrier, at least to some degree.
This book is further intended to assist attorneys in understanding and appreciating what judges do, or at least what they should be doing, for two separate and distinct reasons.First, maybe it will spur their interest in someday becoming a judge. Second, although it sounds counterintuitive, one really must learn to be a judge before one can learn to be an effective trial attorney. It is the goal of attorneys either to persuade judges (if the attorneys are in litigation for their clients) or to predict how judges will rule (if the attorneys are advising their clients about what actions to take in certain situations). The best way both can be done is to understand how judges go about making decisions. And finally, Wearing the Robe will be equally as helpful for those who simply would like to learn more about the judicial system itself.
After reading Wearing the Robe, I believe that you--as a judge, future judge, attorney, or general member of society--will be even more impressed with our judicial system and understand more fully how it functions and has progressed. So thank you for joining me on this study of the Third Branch of Government, because this branch affects society just as much as the other two branches—the Legislative and Executive Branches. As George Washington once said, “The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of Government,” and I welcome you in learning about it, discussing it, and participating in it.