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Judging Judges

December 14, 2020

You might think that judges would know a thing or two about resolving disputes amicably and avoiding litigation. You would, of course, be wrong about that.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Who judges the judges?

Other judges, of course. Or maybe justices.

I bring this up in light of my favorite ruling of the past week — a Supreme Court of Ohio case called Fiser v. Kolesar in which two lower court judges sued each other.

You might think that judges would know a thing or two about resolving disputes amicably and avoiding litigation. You would, of course, be wrong about that.

You might think a spat between judges that has to be decided by a state supreme court might be over politics or corruption or harassment. You would, of course, be wrong about that too.

It seems that one judge decided to give a probation officer a $1-an-hour raise and a part-time probation officer a 50-cent-an-hour raise. This so offended the administrative judge of the county that he issued an order vacating the raises and announcing that “any violation of the (vacating entry) may be enforced through the court’s power of contempt.”

Yes, one judge was threatening to hold another judge in contempt.

This brings up an interesting philosophical and practical question: What happens if two judges find each other in contempt? Do they explode? Do they have to share a cell? Will this cause some kind of rift in the space-time continuum?

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. They just sued each other, thereby, I guess, demonstrating their commitment to the judicial system.

The judge giving the raises won, but I’m guessing the two probation officers are now trying to be as inconspicuous as possible around the courthouse.

Literary criticism. Should judges be funny?

I have an obvious professional bias on this issue, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. What I find interesting, though, is how controversial this is. The nation is divided in so many ways.

I bring this up after spotting a tweet last week from a Bloomberg reporter named Jacklyn Wille that pointed out a passage from an Alabama federal judge’s ruling that opened with this exhaustive/exhausting explanation:

“In 2019, Netflix released a television series featuring Marie Kondo1 , a Japanese home organization professional and bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In the series based on her bestseller, Kondo shows her acclaimed organizational method in action and provides viewers with tips on how to implement it in their homes and lives. And the series spawned a new viral verb phrase: ‘spark joy.’ As the cornerstone of Kondo's method, the phrase helps viewers and readers decide whether to keep an object in their lives. If, when a person picks up the object, it does not ‘spark joy’ in the person, the person should discard the object.

“The current organization of this case — with its two operative complaints, two motions to dismiss, a motion to abstain, a motion to strike, and a motion to stay discovery — does not ‘spark joy’ or clarity of legal issues.”

Kondo is now common law.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the above quote is charming or disgraceful. What interested me was the message thread that followed the tweet. The nation is either delighted or disgusted by a judge attempting to be witty.

There was even a middle ground on the issue: “This is the kind of bullshit that makes me want to go to law school.”

So it was both bullshit and inspirational.

I won’t tell you how to feel about this issue, but I will give you my professional humorist’s opinion: The idea was good but the execution was awful.

If you have to explain the joke, it’s not funny. You’ve got to get to the punchline faster than that.

Categories / Op-Ed

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