Learning from Other Judges’ Mistakes

The video is brutal. Many readers have by now likely seen or heard about a Florida judge who, eight days ago, ranted and raged at an ailing defendant pushed into court in a wheelchair. Now the defendant is dead and the judge has resigned. MIAMI HERALD.

The judge had planned to retire anyway, but surely this is not the note one wants upon retirement. Regrettably, abusive behavior by judges happens. It gets reported like this one did and the rest of the judiciary says something to the effect of, “what was he or she thinking?” The fact is, these judges most often were not thinking. Very few judges are trained in how to deescalate a situation. We know that the police at least attempted in recent years to address deescalation strategies. Emergency room medical personnel are light years ahead of both the police and judges.

Judges need to understand how to manage other people’s emotions as well as their own. There are academics who study this aspect of judges, but we could use more study and–just as important–we need to ensure the academic study is read by judges. Anger, for example, is an emotion judges need to understand and saying you are never going to get angry may well be naive. But, contempt of people who appear in court is an emotion that is dangerous and can lead to the behavior seen in this video.

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