Introduction: Helping Judges in Distress

By Gray, Cynthia | Judicature, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Helping Judges in Distress


Gray, Cynthia, Judicature


Appointment or election to the bench and long, honorable service do not render judges immune to problems that can affect their judicial performance as well as their health and personal lives. This symposium issue of judicature is intended to advance the discussion of the problem and to inspire action. Perhaps most importantly, several current or former judges have very kindly agreed to share their personal stories about their struggles with alcoholism and their recovery. AJS greatly appreciates their candor, courage, and the message of hope their stories add to an often discouraging topic.

The first article in the symposium, by Dr. Isaiah Zimmerman, describes the range of problems we are talking about, making it clear that it is not just alcoholism and other addictions but mental disorders, stress, family issues, and the effects of aging. Based on his years of helping judges and teaching in court programs, Dr. Zimmerman makes specific recommendations that courts should consider for the kind of culture change and wellness initiative that will begin to offer solutions to the problems.

Some of the current efforts designed to assist judges were described at the American Judicature Society annual meeting in August 2005, "The Harder They Fall: A Hand Up for Impaired Judges." An edited transcript of the program is included in this symposium. One of the highlights of the meeting was a role play in which a judge describes his concerns about the increasingly unreliable behavior of a colleague and his dilemma about whether and how to confront him.

Following the role play, Richard Soden, chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs, led a panel discussion. In that discussion. Judge Warren Wolfson, who has been involved in the Illinois Lawyers' Assistance Program since its founding over 20 years ago, describes how judges are included and helped in that organization's work. Emphasizing the need for continuing outreach to judges, William Kane explains why and how the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program began a similar program specifically designed for judges. Seana Willing, of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, depicts the need the Commission saw in Texas and the problems it has encountered in trying to meet that need with its Amicus Curiae program. Richard Carlton describes the wellness initiative undertaken by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a unique and varied approach that includes addressing the issues raised by declining mental acuity in a population of judges that is aging. …

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