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Out of Order!

by | Mar 27, 2024 | Family Law, Judges

Recently, I passed by a bathroom with a prominent sign on the door, “OUT OF ORDER.” I know what that means. The toilet isn’t working. It isn’t successfully removing the effluent like it is supposed to. This means that the room doesn’t function as it is supposed to. It is presently a worthless room and perhaps even worse.

In my line of work we use that same phrase somewhat differently. Whenever a party or a witness or even an attorney gets sufficiently off the mark, out of line, strays from the efficient process that can make our elaborate system actually work, a judge might pound his or her gavel and proclaim, “OUT OF ORDER!” There is an order of things expected, required, both in decorum and in process. There is an order of things required to allow this elaborate system to actually work. When a witness or a party or even an attorney strays too far from that decorum or that process they are indeed out of order and they are to be called on it.

But that’s not the only time my line of work that something can be out of order. Sometimes judges can be out of order, too.

Judges have a job to do. In the State system they are elected servants. (In the Federal system they are appointed for life.) They are elected to do a specific job. Their job is to administer justice which means a number of things. It means playing referee at trials. It means making just decisions. It means keeping their dockets (their assigned cases) moving along at a reasonable clip, to their conclusion. It also means rendering decisions within a reasonable time after the conclusion of the hearing or the trial.

Judges must make reasoned decisions within a reasonable period of time after the conclusion of the hearing or the trial. The better judges realize that trials are a big deal to the parties (who are often their constituents) and that the resolution to those cases cannot come until the judge enters his or her ruling telling the parties what the judge found to be true and not true and how the parties’ lives will continue after the trial. The better judges realize that, until an order is issued, the parties don’t know what will happen, don’t know the outcome. Their anxiety ramps up day by day. The probability of something bad happening between the parties in this interim purgatory is high. The better judges care about the parties (who are often their constituents) and work diligently on the court’s order so that the parties can have closure and direction sooner rather than later.

The less than better judges don’t. They leave the parties twisting in the wind until the time the judge finally decides to reveal their decision. The less than better judges aren’t concerned about the stress the parties go through as they await the decision, week by week, month by month (or month by month by month by month, ad infinitum). The less than better judges aren’t concerned with the damage that pending in purgatory, a lack of closure, does to the parties, their children, their families, their community.

Once upon a time (a decade or more ago) the Fulton Daily Reporter disclosed how many cases each given judge had on their docket and how old the oldest cases were. If the judge were of the sort who needed this kind of persuasion, the public humiliation of having old cases on the docket was enough to keep them pressing toward resolving cases. That outside pressure doesn’t exist now. The judges that are less than better have no one to tell them to speed it up, get it done, end the suffering. And so sometimes they don’t.

There is a legal mechanism to press for a decision. It is called a Writ of Mandamus. It’s basically a Motion to tell a judge to do their job. You can imagine how well that goes over when a party files such a motion. You can imagine how objective a less than better judge is when confronted with such a motion. Because of this, you can imagine how often a Writ of Mandamus is used. It’s kind of like saying, “Shoot me now! Get it over with.”

Please understand that most judges don’t conduct their affairs, ignore their responsibilities, like this. Most judges get their orders out and published in a fairly timely manner. The judges that do ignore their responsibilities stick out, not like sore thumbs but like toxic waste dumps, the damage of their lack of order spilling out across the land, polluting all that would be justice.

In that way, these courtrooms are like the toilet that is out of order. In this case, the courtroom doesn’t function as it is supposed to. It is a worthless room and definitely worse.

Judges have a lot on their plate and they are often underfunded. They often have too few and not particularly paid well staff. Also, there are too few judges to handle the population. Such is the current political climate of trying to make government dysfunctional. It is hard to be an efficient and compassionate judge under these circumstances.

I’m not ranting about those judges. I’m ranting about the ones who leave parties hanging for what seems like an eternity. I’m ranting about judges who seem to abide by no internal deadline of decency.

I’m ranting. I’m upset. I admit it. But there are parties that are hurting. There are judges who need to do their jobs. The parties (who are often the judges’ constituents) deserve it. Decency requires it. Justice lives by it.

Michael Manely