Just How Independent? Blogs, Judges, and Courtroom Behavior
posted by Deven Desai
When one encounters the local, local rules, the ones that a judge may put in place just for her court, or watches the withering comments a counsel receives or worse yet suffers under such reprimands, the image of judges as irrational or dictatorial law makers seems correct. Unfortunately that image probably undercuts the deference judges deserve if not the respect the bench requires. A New York case and a Florida-based blog present some light on the topic. The New York Law Journal reports that a city judge went into a two hour tirade to find one person whose cell phone went off in his court and then took 46, yes 46, people into custody. The Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended the judge’s removal from the bench. “‘In causing 46 individuals to be deprived of their liberty out of pique and frustration, respondent abandoned his role as a reasonable, fair jurist and instead became a petty tyrant, abusing his judicial power and placing himself above the law he was shown to administer’.” The judge in the case attributed his behavior to stress in his personal life, but only one commissioner thought the argument merited a sanction less than removal.
In Flordia the chief judge of the Broward County circuit court has stepped down in part because JAA Blog has documented the bad behaviors of judges under his supervision including “a judge arrested for smoking pot in a park, another judge making an off-color sexual remark and another judge allegedly taking a loan from a defense lawyer appearing before him.” The National Law Journal reports that several blogs in South Florida document the in courtroom and out of courtroom deeds of judges. Some argue that the blogs provide a spotlight on how the courts work and have effected change. Others note that some of the blogs allow anonymous posts “about judges routinely not showing up for work, judges and lawyers having affairs with each other and other salacious rumors.” Regardless, it appears that attorneys and judges are reading the blogs.
All of this attention on judges and courtrooms reminds me of the opening to Tarzan Lord of the Jungle the animated series by Filmation (click here for the audio file). It was a long intro but the key was “This is my domain, and I protect those who come here; for I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.” A judge’s independence is supposed to be part of protecting everyone who enters the court. The examples above show that judges are after all human, but we expect them to be a little better than the average person. The blogs offer more information about acts in which judges should not engage and that could improve the bench. Yet, society’s willingness to gossip and smear almost anyone could easily further politicize the bench and interfere with the independence judges require to protect all who enter a court. At a more abstract level the trend in having more information about judges online raises privacy and autonomy concerns. Several people including Dan and his recent work The Future of Reputation examine this idea. An excellent article about the need for privacy and its relationship to autonomy is Julie Cohen’s Examined Lives: Informational Privacy and the Subject as Object which appeared in the Stanford Law Review.
[Ed. note previously I had thought the voice over for Tarzan was from the Ron Ely version of the show. A comment noted that this recollection was incorrect. The text now reflects the proper source of the memory].