By BROOKE DERATANY GOLDFARB
When people go to court, they are naturally nervous, angry, upset or afraid. Much usually hangs in the balance. Cases are almost always complicated and must be resolved as judiciously as possible. Individuals are rarely all good or all bad or all right or all wrong, but the one thing they all have in common is that they want to be treated fairly. The judge’s robe and iconic blind over the eyes of Lady Justice are meant to symbolize the closing off of the judge from bias, prejudice and political influence.
Judges should make decisions based solely on the unique facts of the case before them and the applicable law and do so with honor, dignity, wisdom, respect and justice for all.
One man’s frivolous case is another man’s dying cause, but what are the facts of the case and what law applies? These are the questions for a judge to consider.
A judge’s most important consideration (because lawyers and litigants often don’t agree on the facts or the law) is to remember that all people before the court—regardless of why they are there or what they have done—are human beings, and as human beings they are worthy of respect. We can respect all people and still hold them accountable for their actions, by preserving due process and following proper legal procedure.
A judge should maintain order in the courtroom while promoting an atmosphere in which professionalism, courtesy, civility and justice prevail for all. A judge should be compassionate, have life experience and be able to see the big picture, doing her best to make visitors to her courtroom feel comfortable and safe. A judge is uniquely placed to require professionalism and respect for humanity in her courtroom.
I will be that calming courtroom presence so that all people who come before me feel like they have been heard and respected, even if the ruling doesn’t end up going their way. As a lawyer and as a litigant, I’ve seen it from all angles. I’ve felt what it’s like to perform for the judge and jury on behalf of my client. I know the anxiety of the witness on the stand. I’ve seen lawyers be rude and insulting. I’ve seen lawyers conduct themselves with professionalism and respect. I’ve also examined the courtroom from the point of view of the mediator, the arbitrator, the law professor, the child advocate, the mentor of aspiring law students and younger lawyers. As a judge, I will continue to mentor young attorneys and gently remind them that professionalism, courtesy and civility are always some of the most effective tools in a lawyer’s toolbox.