Judges have to put up with a lot. I always thought all the bickering and moaning and complaining and nonsensical arguments were pretty awful but until last week I’d never considered what may the be the worst part of the job: boredom.
I realized this after reading the news stories about a federal judge in New York asking if he could climb onto the Statue of Liberty.
Why would he do that?
Well, the news reports seemed to imply he wanted to get up there to help him decide on a sentence for a protester who climbed there by herself and waved a protest T-shirt. The protester didn’t hurt anyone and she didn’t hurt herself. Some tourists were stopped from looking around but that was the really the fault of the Park Service freaking out. Nobody was in any real danger and there was plenty of news video of the incident.
So it’s pretty obvious this judge was seriously bored and looking for an excuse for a field trip.
I certainly have no quarrel with that. You’ve seen how cranky some judges get. We need to consider their mental health.
Not every case, of course, is going to offer the possibility of a thrilling climb up a national monument, so you’re going to have to be imaginative when it comes to rationalizing field trips or other activities for judicial sanity maintenance. I have a few suggestions. These can be used by either litigants who need their judges to stay awake or judges themselves who feel themselves fantasizing on the bench.
Inspect the crime scene.Who doesn’t want to be Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? This is a great chance for a judge to use a magnifying glass and exercise the little gray cells. The police could have missed something.
Mobility.Judges have to sit in one place for a long time and there’s really no reason for that. We should encourage them to move around the courtroom at will. Just because someone is pacing doesn’t mean he’s not paying attention. A mind is more likely to wander if a body is not wandering.
If your judge decides to sit in the back of the courtroom, you get to turn around. Everyone gets some exercise.
Snacks.I know I’ve brought this up before, but in-court snacks will keep everyone’s interest and energy level up. This is useful for both judges and counsel. Just be sure that if you bring a treat to court you bring enough to share with the entire class — er, court.
Video.I know there’s a judicial bias against cameras in court and there are reasonable (and unreasonable) arguments on both sides of the issue. But consider this: No one, aside from the judge, has to see what’s being filmed.
Invite professional or aspiring filmmakers into the courtroom to create small masterpieces for the later enjoyment of the judge in chambers or at parties. The judge will be encouraged to pay attention and look his or her best and the directors will get experience and maybe some contacts depending on who’s on trial.
Judge Judy is televised all the time. Do you think she’s bored or not paying attention?
Creative contempt.If you’re a judge, you’re in charge. Why let that power go to waste? Coming up with imaginative punishments for people you don’t like can be a very enjoyable hobby.
This sort of exercise, by the way, need not be limited to litigants. Say you spot a hot mess in the back row. Order a makeover. You can claim you’re maintaining courtroom decorum.
Emotions running high during an intense hearing? Order a half hour of meditation for everyone in the room. You might even get some settlements when everyone is calm.
Or just throw random people in jail. The looks of surprise will make your day.