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Hubris and Then Some!

by | Dec 10, 2019 | Judges

How do we make decisions? How do we come to our judgments? Do we gather evidence? Do we actively attempt to be aware of and hopefully free from bias? Do we use analysis? Do we use reason? Do we weigh all the options, evaluate the probabilities? Is our goal to be accurate, to render a true judgment? Or is our goal to just be right, because, after all, we are always right?

And, whenever possible, do we temper our judgment with mercy?

In divorce and child custody law, as family law attorneys we make judgments all the time. We have to in order to accurately evaluate a case. Further, we ask learned people to put on their black robes and actually judge people. Because of that, in order to accurately evaluate a case, it is essential to be able to fairly accurately evaluate the judge, to judge them before you ask them to judge your family law client.

I guess it is a calling of sorts to be a judge. Why else would you want to do that? It would seem that judges are all powerful but truly, once you are a judge you lose your autonomy, you join a well oiled, highly restricted enclave of persons with unfortunately similar dispositions. As a judge, obviously you get to judge others, you are required to judge others, but the toll it takes in judging is immeasurable. To sit in judgment on your fellow man is no easy or karma-free exercise. I suspect that it works on you like the Picture of Dorian Gray. Somewhere inside of you is the true picture of just what judging has done to you. Like the axe-wielding executioner, it is perhaps a necessary job, but not one you can ever clock out of at the end of the day. Perhaps you only clock out of it at the end of your life.

Most judges I know take their jobs very seriously. They hold truth and accuracy in high regard. That noble end is what they strive for. I don’t know to what extent they make conscious efforts to learn about themselves to make their acquired biases less likely to impact their perceptions, but they value honesty and integrity all the same. That’s what they want. That’s certainly what the system needs.

But some judges are flat out – out there. I used to know one that I swore used a Ouija Board to render decisions. Several wore their biases on their sleeve. “I never saw a calf follow a bull,” was a favorite expression of a judge who absolutely under no circumstance would ever award custody of children to a father. Another judge, early in the days of internet banking, decided that a fellow had to be a drug dealer because only drug dealers would ever do their banking on-line. I don’t have to tell you about that fellow’s skin pigment, do I? Bias, anyone?

I know some judges who so firmly believe in their omniscience that they can’t hear anyone else. There is no mental space for anyone else’s evidence or opinions to find a purchase, to receive consideration. Even court appointed experts could provide the evidence and opinion that the judge had requested, but the judge, always being the smartest guy in the room, goes his own way, facts and expertise be damned.

Judges are obviously critical to our system of resolving disputes. We need judges. I’m thankful for them. I wouldn’t want to do what they do. My soul would never survive it. But if they are going to don that black robe and sit in judgment of their fellow man, there ought to be some measure of their ability to check their biases at the door. There ought to be some fairly certain method of helping them, requiring them, to table their hubris when they take the bench.

Would that it were always so.

-Michael Manely