Practical Tips for Judges

By Rodgers, Frederic | Judicature, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview

Practical Tips for Judges


Rodgers, Frederic, Judicature


Practical tips for judges Wearing the Robe: The Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today's Courts, by James P. Gray. Square One Publishers, Inc. 326 pages. 2009. $28.95 ($19.95 paper).

At its February 2009 meeting in Boston the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates approved Resolution No. 113. As it did so, the House endorsed the creation of a "voluntary preselection/election program" for lawyers interested in serving as judges. The idea behind this program is to encourage local bar associations and the highest courts of the states to cooperate in providing training to give judicial aspirants a better appreciation of the role of the judiciary and assist them in making an informed decision about whether they ought to pursue a career on the bench. Any state that decides to sponsor prejudicial education under this newly created policy should consider assigning Judge James Gray's new book as mandatory reading.

Wearing the Robe will appeal primarily to an aspirant for a judgeship, although in a cover note the author promotes it both for sitting judges and those considering applying for the bench. Incumbents with limited experience in a particular area of law or judicial ethics may find portions of the book helpful, and an experienced reader will skip around the chapter headings. The book has a subtitle of "The Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today's Courts," and a promotion line of "A Guide to the Practices and Principles of a Judge." The book will fulfill most readers' expectations and the author's promise.

Early on, Gray sums up his project:

Part I [entitled "Getting to Know a Judge's World"] is a comprehensive discussion of judicial 'calendars' or assignments... including Criminal trials and sentencing, Civil, Juvenile, Family, Probate, Mental Health, and Adoptions. [It] offers a wealth of information about these judicial roles, and it also gives me the opportunity to offer my professional advice and opinions along the way.

Part I does fulfill this promise. Its chapters address (1) criminal felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases, with tips on how to sentence; (2) civil cases involving large, medium, and small claims; (3) "relationship cases" in juvenile dependency, delinquency, and family law, divorce, and child custody cases; and (4) mental health, adoptions, and court administration for a chief judge in a multijudge court. The substantive areas of law are addressed comprehensively, laced with tips and short-cuts, and are followed by two more chapters: one on how to conduct a trial from early motions to post trial matters, including assessing costs at trial's end; and another on judicial involvement in settlement negotiations in civil cases and, where permitted, in criminal sentencing.

Practical tips

Gray has served as a California municipal and superior court judge since 1983, and during his two dozen years on the bench (with two breaks in tenure to run for political office) he has filled all the assignments that are available; those various assignments supply the chapter headings. He is a good reporter of his experiences, and in his survey he offers a number of useful ideas relating to each calendar. His tips are practical for the most part, with a few digressions into the author's personal philosophy.

Judge Gray, a one-time Libertarian Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, reveals that in civil cases when he encounters plaintiffs who blame others for their problems, he will look them "squarely in the eye and remind them as adults, they are responsible for themselves and their actions, and they should pay their own way and stop making excuses... and get over whatever the problem is and get on with their lives." This may not be every judge's idea on how to use the power of judicial speech to heal, restore, or correct. However, most of Judge Gray's suggestions are less controversial and are based on practices that have proved workable during his time as ajudge. …

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