Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lesson 2: Judging, judges, and judgment

I work with judges all day, every day, and since these men and women seem very elusive and mysterious to the general population (and lawyers at large), I thought I'd share some of the things I learned about judges and their careers at the bench.

Judging kind of sucks

Judging is hard. I think a lot of people (and I was one of them) thought it would be easy to be a judge - each side presents its argument, you decide which one is obviously correct, and you enter judgment accordingly. Unfortunately, fact situations can be heart-wrenchingly difficult to decide, especially when you know that one side is always going to walk out of your courtroom angry.

And it can be especially difficult to decide a case on review, as my judge and I do. The standards for over-turning an administrative law judge's rulings are high. And we also have a parade of pro se, confused people who were either churned out of the system like sausage, or who are habitual liars. It can be hard to tell who's who.

And lastly, it's hard to have real job security as a judge. You can be moved to a different courthouse or section on a whim, and not always to somewhere you want to go, and your job is dependent upon elections. I have seen judges lose their job or get kicked back to the circuit court after a short stint in the appellate court, such that celebration gets turned into resignation all too quickly.

Judges are real people, and some of them are very weird

Judges can seem intimidating. Just think of the judge in "My Cousin Vinny." Attorneys really only see the personal side of judges after they have been appearing in front of the judge for a very long time, or when you see the judge at a social event. (And doing so can remind you of the first time you saw a teacher at the super market - you think, "Oh my god, they don't just live at work?")

I see a different side of judges on a day-to-day basis. Judges are, for the most part, very, very kind. They have hilarious spouses, kids that frustrate and worry them, and former careers doing much the same as any other attorney. One of my judges loves my baked goods to a degree I never thought possible. Another judge in the Daley Center is semi-famous for his obsession with roller coasters. Judges tease each other, worry for each other, and celebrate with each other.

I think I always thought that judges' chambers were necessarily stuffy and formal, and I'm glad I've been able to see the other side.

Judges know everyone

When I started my job and began walking around the courthouse with my judge (after all, I am an "elbow" clerk!), it immediately became apparent to me that this man KNOWS EVERYONE. Everyone. We can't walk down the street without stopping to say hi or catch up with someone, and people are constantly calling his office to say hello. In fact, at my cousin's wedding two weekends ago, my judge knew one of the groomsmen from his time as village supervisor in the western suburbs. Who knew!

And almost all of my judges in the Housing Section knew the appellate justice that I'm going to work for next week, and they all dutifully called over to recommend me. I owe them so much and have no way of repaying them, except perhaps in baked goods!

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