The Trouble with Judges and Judging Them

By Chuck Muth
Part five and final in a series
Wrapping up my critique of the fatally flawed “Judging the Judges” series, let’s now turn our attention to the anonymous “jury” of lawyers that voted in the anonymous email survey conducted by a liberal feminist political activist/university professor.
I’ve already noted in previous columns how polluted this jury pool is. We have no idea what area of law the participating attorneys specialize in, whether they really had any direct experience in the rated judges’ courtrooms or, for that matter, if they even live here.
But to fully demonstrate just how flawed this survey is, let’s take a look at some of the comments anonymously submitted by the anonymous jury of lawyers as “evidence” for why they voted on whether or not certain judges should be retained.
Many comments were very positive…
—“Very efficient at running a busy courtroom.”
—“Very courteous and professional.”
—“Smart and courteous judge.”
—“Tries his best to be fair. I have no problem with his personality.”
—“Yes he is tough. But his toughness is not reserved for those he doesn’t like. It’s for all.”
—“A hard-working, conscientious judge. He is always prepared.”
—“He appears diligent, well-prepared and fair.”
—“He moves things along and doesn’t waste time.”
—“He will absolutely make the ruling he believes is the right one regardless of external consequences.”
—“Good judge. Smart guy.”
—“Clearly does his homework.”
—“Excellent judge.”
Others were quite negative…
—“Lacks a judicial temperament.”
—“This man shouldn’t be a judge.”
—“He’s just not good on the law.”
—“He is straight-up crazy.”
—“He does not have the legal acumen to be a judge.”
—“Erratic and clearly biased against defendants.”
—“Does not have a strong grasp of the law.”
Now, here’s the thing about the comments above…
To some of the anonymous lawyers who participated in the anonymous email survey, the judge is a saint. To others, the exact same judge is the spawn of Satan.
How in the wide, wide world of sports can this be taken seriously?
To be sure, if you surveyed a fair cross-section of voters about President Trump, you’d get widely varied responses, as well. However, at least with those responses you can point to specific disagreements
on policies based on his position on readily identifiable issues.
If you like the fact that Trump is cutting taxes, reducing regulations, securing the border and killing terrorists, you’ll have good things to say about him. If you don’t, you won’t.
But when it comes to this anonymous email survey of anonymous lawyers, we’re not talking about how the judge actually rules on specific cases. Instead we’re talking about opinions, feelings, beliefs and
thoughts. Totally subjective.
Indeed, the non-definitive word “seem” seems to run rampant through many of the negative comments leveled at a variety of the judges. For example…
—“He does seem to pander to conservative or big business interests.”
—“It seems like she makes up her own rules.”
—“She doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of the law.”
—“He doesn’t seem to prepare well.”
—“Seems sort of tired and annoyed.”
—“Does not seem to understand the law.”
—“Does not seem to even like the work.”
—“Seems also to play favorites.”
—“It seems that he only cares about fines.”
—“He seemed to be temperamental and irrational.”
—“She seems to still have the mentality of a prosecutor.”
—“She does seem to know the law.”
—“Often seems unprepared for her calendars.”
—“Does not seem to want to engage about the law.”
Such subjective perceptions in rating a judge’s fitness for the bench seem unseemly to me.
And there are plenty of additional subjective opinions using various iterations of “seem,” such as…
—“I just don’t find him to be…”
—“You always feel like…”
—“Her perceived omniscience…”
—“Appears to be…”
—“I find…”
—“I think…”
—“Does not appear to…
Pure opinion. Essentially, hearsay evidence.
And many of the attorneys’ anonymous negative comments have to do with the judge’s perceived short-comings in the ol’ bedside manner department rather than whether or not the judge made the correct
For example…
—“Often speaks down to attorneys…”
—“Has poor rapport with any female attorneys…”
—“Her arrogance is off-putting…”
—“Is unfailingly rude…”
—“If she were a little more polite…”
—“She may not be prim and proper…”
Frankly, if I’m about to have emergency surgery after a car wreck I’m more interested in whether or not the doctor is going to kill me on the operating table than if he’s whispering sweet nothings in my ear
as I bleed out.
Similarly, I’m more concerned with whether or not a judge is going to reach the correct decision than whether or not he or she is arrogant, off-putting, rude or prim and proper.
To be fair, though, many of these “popularity contest” responses were thanks to Question #10 of the fatally flawed ratings survey itself:
“The judge consistently demonstrated courtesy and respect.”
When you pose a flawed personality-driven question, it’s not exactly a surprise that your get such personality-driven comments. But that doesn’t make it right. Or even relevant.
Again, I commend the Las Vegas Review-Journal for accurately diagnosing the serious problem of voters not having sufficient information about judicial candidates before casting their ballots.
Unfortunately, the remedy it provided via this flawed anonymous survey of anonymous lawyers conducted by a liberal/feminist research organization using seriously flawed evaluation criteria leaves a lot to be desired.
As the old saying goes, consider the source. Case dismissed. Court adjourned.

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