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Judges, feeling the pressure

judgeJudges who are fed up with crowded dockets, low pay and inexperienced lawyers or pro se litigants are taking their frustration out in court, according to a recent story in The National Law Journal.

The paper reports a Florida judge was disciplined for screaming at an attorney because of the lawyer’s alleged bad attitude and a West Virginia family court judge was punished for telling a litigant to “shut up” or face jail time.

While not defending a judge losing his or her cool, legal observers said the immense pressure judges face has made these types of outburts almost inevitable.

“A fair number of judges are sitting at a low boiling point,” said Michael Downey, a partner at Armstrong Teasdalein in St. Louis who specializes in legal ethics.

Because of the rough economy, Downey said more litigants are deciding to represent themselves, while others are hiring less expensive but more inexperienced attorneys.

“People are coming in unprepared or with borderline arguments, at best,” Downey said.

And when a judge loses it, social media outlets like Twitter and YouTube allow the world to instantly see the outburst.

Sanctions against judges for poor demeanor, however, are not the only reason for an increase in judicial discipline. In 2012, sanctions that range from public admonition to removal from the bench went up by 5.7 percent compared with 2011, according to numbers from the American Judicature Society Center for Judicial Ethics.

Maryland’s Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and imposes discipline when it finds that judges have acted improperly, has experienced a small increase in the number of complaints in recent years, according to their annual reports. The commission received 132 written complaints in 2012, in contrast to the 108 in 2006.

So what say you, On the Record readers? Have you seen a judge lose his or her cool or commit other acts of misconduct?

One comment

  1. In my opinion, a judge should never use his or her power on the bench to demean, and or degrade a litigant. Especially, those in pro se. It is highly unprofessional, and causes the public to see the judicial system as a system only for the wealthy.

    No one asked judges who sit on a bench to run for office, or accept a politically charged appointment to the bench. So, if a judge is frustrated, angry, stressed-out, etc., with the duties of being a judge, then they should step-down from the bench and do something else with their lives.