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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Career Advice

Can judges have fun outside the courtroom?

Inside the courtroom is not a problem. You can hold random people in contempt, you can sentence people to dunk tanks or force them to wear clown suits. You can even draw cartoons to illustrate your rulings.

There are endless creative outlets for judges on the job.

But is the rest of a judge's life ruined?

I wondered about this last week after a question was posed on Reddit: "What are the 'difficult' or 'unpleasant' aspects of serving as judge?"

The questioner seemed to think that being a judge would be a lot easier and a lot less work than being a trial lawyer.

Before we consider this person's question, let's consider this person. Here we have someone with an aversion to hard work and complexity, who thinks he may be able to avoid those things by quitting his lawyering job and signing up to be a judge.

Set aside the issue of whether we want lazy, simple people on the bench. Maybe we do. It would speed things up.

What I'm having trouble with is the concept that you can simply decide to go into judging. Maybe buy a robe and set up a judging shop on a street corner.

Independent street justice could relieve the burden on our court system, but there probably would be too many guns involved and then you'd end up in the real courts anyway.

The only other explanation I could come up with for this question is that the questioner has a brother or sister who happens to be a governor. Then he or she has options.

Surprise number two on this Reddit page was that people responded with serious answers. I guess these are people in favor of lazy, simple judges.

Be that as it may, one of the downsides that sparked comment was the question: "What do you do for fun?"

After all, judges, at least theoretically, according to the commenters, have to limit their social contacts to avoid conflicts of interest. Apparently this is because they live among gangsters and/or absolutely everyone they know will end up in court.

Again, I'm perplexed. Why is this a problem? There are always video games and porn.

And if they really want to hang out with actual people, all they have to do is what they already do in court: conduct voir dire to find friends completely unfamiliar with the legal system who are willing to promise to be open-minded and never participate in a court proceeding.

Spouses of judges, naturally, will be allowed peremptory challenges to potential friends.

Reading recommendation: If you're bored or need something to do, I highly recommend reading a ruling issued last week by the U.S. Supreme Court in Yates v. United States.

It has everything I look for in an appellate opinion: a completely divided court coming up with three different opinions, a case that's dragged through the court system for six years for no readily apparent reason, and a terrific central question: Whether a fish is a tangible object.

I won't spoil it for you by giving away all the details but here are a couple of excerpts taken completely out of context:

"How does one make a false entry in a fish?"

I've tried imagining that. I don't recommend following my example.

"A 'tangible object' is an object that's tangible."

If you think that's obvious, consider that the quote is from the dissent.

"A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish."

Never say that judges are not well-read.

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