In the past few weeks, we have again been reminded that events which happen in people’s personal lives become newsworthy when they happen to those in the public spotlight. This is particularly so when public occurrences happen in the lives of judges. Most of the public has little knowledge about our judiciary other than what they read in the newspaper or see on television news. Unless a person has interacted personally with a judge outside the courtroom, has been a juror, has had a problem resolved in court, or is a lawyer who appears in court, it is unlikely that he or she would have contact with a judge. As a result, his or her knowledge about judges comes from these public sources. This exposure is usually negative since negative events are more newsworthy than positive ones.
As attorneys our knowledge of our judges and their characters are very different. We know that there are ninety people who go to our courthouses every day, put on their robes, and work very hard to make sure that the citizens of Broward County receive justice in many different ways. We know that our judges are dedicated, caring, conscientious people. Outside the courtroom, most of them are involved in the community, their houses of worship, and charities.
We all receive calls from our friends and relatives before every judicial election asking our opinion about the candidates. We have a responsibility to use the respect those around us give us for our knowledge of the legal world to educate them not just about which judge to vote for but, even more so, to provide them with an understanding about how our court system and its judges provide the orderly resolution to the problems and disputes critical to the very existence of our democracy.
The next time someone asks you or you overhear someone speaking about a negative incident, use it as an opportunity to describe the positive things you see every day in the courthouse. When you are at a party, talk about something interesting and positive you saw in court. Ask to give a speech to your religious community or the civic organizations to which you attend about ways you participate in the legal system and the good things that our judges do in their courtrooms.
Our courts and judges are not without flaws, but we have the responsibility and the opportunity to influence the public awareness of the overwhelmingly greater positive attributes of our judicial system and its judges as individuals.