Advertisement

It's A Gray Area: What's it like to be a judge?

August 16, 2013|By James P. Gray

We all know that we have three branches of government, but where do judges really fit within that system, and what is it like to be a judge? These are questions that I as a trial court judge have been asked frequently.

As to the first question, it is important to understand that the Judicial Branch of government is the only one that does not so directly rely upon the majority of voters to obtain or hold office. Obviously, the Executive and Legislative branches are elected by the majority, and so they have a natural inclination to cater to that base. As a result, it is frequently left to the Judicial Branch to enforce minority rights as set forth in the Bill of Rights.

That includes protecting us from our own government, including from such things as the National Security Agency's now notorious PRISM program, the use of drones for domestic surveillance and the New York "stop and frisk" program.

Advertisement

As Carla Howell, the executive director of the Libertarian Party, recently said, "The abuse of power isn't the problem. The problem is the power to abuse." And keeping that power to abuse in check is an extremely important function of the judiciary.

So what is it like to be a judge? In a humorous vein, there is an old saying that to be an effective judge one needs to have three traits. One is wrinkles to show experience; the second is gray hair to show wisdom; and the third is hemorrhoids to show that look of concern.

But more realistically, it is an important position in our society that brings many challenges and responsibilities. Thus, as a result of those demands, judges mostly live in a fishbowl. We try to dress more professionally, even when going to the hardware store on a Saturday, because we always represent the judiciary.

Similarly, if we are even charged with any violations of law or breaches of ethics, we are required to self-report those charges to an ethics commission.

In addition, we judges (rightfully) give up many of our First Amendment rights of speech, because it is a violation of our canons of ethics to comment publicly about issues that either are or even could come before us. We also cannot solicit money for any causes whatsoever, except for judicial elections. That also is appropriate, because we must not use the dignity of our office to raise money.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles
|
|
|