Does this title sound like preposterous, science fiction fantasy? The very idea of anyone bullying a stern, sober, black-robed judge, sitting high on the bench of a district court room sounds like one, huge stretch, but consider the dynamics. Judges by and large work continually with the same group of courthouse lawyers, and see them individually on a frequent, regular basis. Any judge is outnumbered by the collectivity of lawyers who regularly use his/her court. Every profession has its grape-vine, its politics, its activists. Add to this scenario the fact that the bar-bench relationship in any district is almost totally below the public radar. No one knows the group dynamics of this very closed legal system. What happens when a strongly political, very vocal, well-placed, local lawyer is unhappy with his/her handling by a judge – or wants special treatment or advantage? Conversations with friends, comparing notes, disenchantment, anger enhancement, and, EUREKA: an out of sight, bar-bench campaign in which any judge will be outnumbered, out-gunned. These putative dynamics are just part of a conceptual skeletal sketch of potential bar-bench dynamics. Obviously, there may be endless variations on the theme, ranging from mild group pressure, to lobbying for different issues, to polite disputes, to warfare and gang mind rape. To campaigns: GET RID OF THIS JUDGE – TOO INDEPENDENT! or …KEEP THIS JUDGE, HE/SHE IS OBSEQUIOUS TO OUR INTERESTS!
Lest anyone think we have gone off the deep end and lead a rich fantasy life, we have to admit that we were totally numb to the possibility of the above dynamics, until we heard stories from several “reliable sources” who have witnessed variations on this bar-bench power dynamic. It speaks to many concerns that we have witnessed. Why do local lawyers so frequently win over visiting lawyers? Why do local lawyers rarely get a reprimand from a presiding judge for bad courtroom behavior? Why do certain, very politically well connected lawyers so frequently get their way in court? We suspect that this bench-bar dynamic may be more pronounced in a small town setting where professional boundaries and friendships may render boundaries more difficult to maintain. It shed light on the ‘Pro se‘ situation too. ‘Pro se‘ versus local lawyer. No contest here for the most part. The dynamic favors lawyers
The bar-bench dynamic may explain some of the weird, off the wall judicial decisions that we, as consumers experience. Failure to listen to professional consultants, acceptance of fraudulent allegations of abuse that fly in the face of facts, tossing evidence out the window and operating on judicial opinion and using judicial discretion on “steroids”. When judges get bullied by members of a mafiaesque bar, justice suffers and consumers are victimized..
It is particularly troubling, therefore, to see calls for a “closer bar-bench” relationship in writings posted on the Judicial Branch web site. Some would say, if this relationship were any closer,in some cases it would result in mind-body fusion! Where are the degrees of separation? Boundaries? Impartiality? Discretion? One suspects that all of these principles get tested, prodded and (sometimes) hammered.
An audit of courts and ‘Pro se‘ might shed light on some of this. But then one needs to think about how to manage this unhealthy bar-bench system? Further study is obviously needed before prescribing any action. But there are concepts from other professional systems that might be considered. Rotation of judges from court to court to break up entrenched dynamics? R & R for judges stuck in these bar-bench trenches. A support system for judges to discuss local bar pressures and outright bullying. ‘Sua sponte‘ complaints to the overseers of the bar against lawyers who “bully”. Encouraging the public to attend bar-bench meetings and keep the process honest. Or … totally out of the box, what about an Overseers of the ‘Pro se‘, for the 74% majority who use family courts?
Sorry, on that last one, but we couldn’t resist!
The current process needs the light of day, the fresh air of public observation and opinion and a deconstruction of these “systems”.
MeGAL is a grassroots organization committed to bringing reform to our Family Courts and Guardians ad litem systems. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com of find us on Facebook.