Monday, February 16, 2004

Judge School?

This is an article about an introductory seminar like program offered for newly appointed judges. It is somewhat of an interesting read, not overly relevant to fathers, though it does touch on custody cases briefly and pro se litigants. What I found most telling, and personally had a problem with can be found in the following:

"His first day on the bench, he presided over 30 protection-from-abuse matters and 10 child support contempt hearings -- a day of highly charged, emotional cases.

''As I look back on it, it was a good day to start because it was like jumping into the deep end of the pool and just swimming,'' Johnson said.

He remembered what he had been taught. Keep things moving. Make decisions quickly. Keep control of the courtroom, where 60 people at various times throughout the day were looking for answers.

''Somebody asked me, 'Were you nervous?' I didn't have time to be nervous,'' Johnson said. ''I just had to get to work.''

I realize, as I am sure we all do, family courts are clogged with cases and as such potentially the natural tendency would be to "keep things moving". However, to say that the responsibility of a judge who presiding over 30+ abuse cases and 10+ child support cases is to be almost instantly decisive, is appalling to me. These are cases that directly hinge on the welfare of a child and must be handled reverently and with due attention. To handle such matters quickly is only to rely on ingrained stereotypes and (in effect) cross your fingers.

I would have thought the recent attention given to Judge Harry Rapkin by Bill O'Reilly regarding the brutal murder of Carlie Brucia would compel judges nationwide to reconsider this drive through approach to the law. Apparently not. (Get the entire story behind Judge Rapkin through Bill O'Reilly's eyes at As an aside, Mr O'Reilly (who I believe vacillates between brilliant and utterly detestable and pugnacious) has offered for Judge Rapkin to come on his show, an offer that has been systematically declined. That did not stop Judge Rapkin for saying a few choice words about Mr O'Reilly to a Fox News staffer. I will refrain repeating what he said here as it is only from memory and I have been unable to find an exact transcript. I will say I found it to be in particularly bad taste as Judge Rapkin made his comments so personal, but even more so, I found the comments especially unbecoming of a Judge. (I must admit, however disgraceful I found Judge Rapkin, I cannot begin to explain why I continue to be surprised at how judges nationwide treat the public they are entrusted to serve, in actions as well as words.)

My other problem with this article can be found here:

"In State College, she got advice on civil disputes she eventually may have to handle. One of the issues judges discussed was whether they should question children in custody disputes.

One judge said he never asks a child who he wants to live with. Another said he usually gets around to that question because, ultimately, it is what a judge wants to know.

What Johnson found most valuable were the veteran judges' real-life stories -- ''things that only someone who has been doing it a long time can tell you,'' he said."

I know we all already know this, but this just documents the enormous amount of discretion given to family law courts. Should there not be some type of protocol in these case, to ensure that all parties (particularly the children) are given every opportunity to present a factual and accurate case. While I agree that a judge should not pull a 3 year old into chambers and ask if they prefer mommy or daddy, should there not be some definitive time when the desires of the children are requested and considered within the framework of the entire case. This statement about asking children where they prefer to live is only the tip of the iceberg, each judge can handle each divorce/custody case exactly to their own preferences. How on earth can a system that is admittedly so discretionary even be expected to be fair?

Read the entire article at

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