A couple of weeks ago I noted that there was a federal judge in Georgia whose own lawyers claimed he remained on the job for a decade despite brain damage and bipolar disorder.
Now comes the news that a 103-year-old federal judge in Kansas is lightening his caseload just a little bit because the sessions with his oxygen tank were taking up too much time.
OK, I can see the point of lifetime appointments. You provide some job security and remove political pressure.
But mentally ill and extremely ancient persons in positions of power do offer some drawbacks. Consider that Muammar Gaddafi thinks of himself as a lifetime appointee.
Most judges do a perfectly fine job but I can think of a few federal judges that I've observed in the past who seemed batshit crazy. I bet you can think of a few too.
No need to name names. I'm not the crazy one. (Or at least not the self-destructive crazy one.)
For litigators, this presents two fascinating and important questions.
How can you tell if your judge is senile or mentally ill?
And if your judge is loony or not entirely there, what should you do about it?
The first question is a difficult one since it's very possible that you, the lawyer, are the crazy or stupid one. If so, your ability to judge the judge is going to be impaired.
You must force yourself to be objective.
Here's a checklist for making the determination:
· Appearance. Is the judge naked or wearing a Zorro costume? It should be noted that nudity alone is not a sign of impairment if the judge is in good shape and can strike fear in the hearts of witnesses with a little flexing.
· Demeanor. Does the judge find everything you say hysterically funny? Has he/she been weeping throughout the trial? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, compare the judge's reactions to those of people who don't work for you.
· Gunplay. Has the judge shot anyone during arguments? Did they deserve to be shot?
· Hearing. Does it make a difference in court if you mouth your arguments without making a sound?
· Bathroom breaks. Do hearings last more than 10 minutes without a break?
· Courtroom personnel. Are there paramedics on standby? Don't be confused by persons in sexy nurse or doctor outfits. Those people are there to assist the judge in chambers.
· Rulings. Has the judge sentenced your client to life in prison even though he was the plaintiff in a products liability action? Did the judge give you a ten count before ruling you had lost? Were objections greeted with an odd high-pitched laugh and the phrase, "I know you are, but what am I?" Did the judge find both sides liable and then order that checks to be made out to her/him?
If, using the above criteria, you've determined your judge is insane or decrepit, take one of the following actions:
· Give up the practice of law. Continuing may not be worth it.
· Begin settlement negotiations immediately. But only do this if the judge seems to like the other side better.
· Humor the judge. This could require dancing naked while balancing a fruit basket on your head. Remember, you're required to zealously advance your client's interests. You client will appreciate your pluck and maybe some other parts of you.
· Or continue as if nothing is wrong. There's always an appeal - quite possibly to a loony appellate panel.
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