Judge Jeremy D. Fogel on Mindfulness

Jacob Gershman had an interesting story in The Wall Street Journal‘s Lawblog:

The “mindfulness” movement has made inroads in the legal industry, particularly drawing in lawyers who say the Zen-inspired blend of meditation, breathing exercises and focus techniques helps combat job stress.

But judges, too, could benefit from mindfulness, says U.S. District Judge Jeremy D. Fogel, director of the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C.

The center, the research and education arm of the federal judiciary, has posted online a paper he wrote encouraging fellow jurists to give the practice a shot.

“While much of the discussion of mindfulness in relation to judges so far has focused on health and wellness, mindfulness also has obvious implications for the actual work that judges do,” writes Judge Fogel, a Clinton appointee who heard case in San Jose before joining the center.

For example, he says, it can help trial-level judges summon more attention to the duller, more routine parts of their job, like hearing guilty pleas. He writes:

Mindfully taking a plea involves approaching each plea as a new and unique situation. The judge notices consciously things that otherwise might tend to be noticed only in passing, if at all: the defendant’s tone of voice and body language, the way the defendant and counsel appear to be communicating (or not communicating) with each other, the defendant’s physical appearance, whether friends or family members of the defendant (or victims) appear to be in the courtroom, and so on. None of these things necessarily changes the outcome of the process, yet taken as a whole they can help the judge learn more about the defendant and assess more fully whether the defendant is entering a knowing and voluntary plea. And perhaps just as importantly, the attentiveness shown by the judge is communicated to the defendant and everyone else who is present.     

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