Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Bedside Manner of Judges: Why Are They So Mean?

Recently, when I gave testimony as an expert witness in a court of law, something crazy happened – I came across a nice judge. When I say “nice,” I don’t mean to suggest that upon sight of me, she stepped down from her precipice, kindly greeted me, and then poured me a coupe of Jasmine Pearls tea. What I mean to say is that she struck me as different from so many other judges I have encountered – ones who appeared harsh, dogmatic, and remarkably unsympathetic. My recent experience gave rise to my thoughts and questions about why so many judges simply seem so…mean.

Examination of the outward expressions of judges requires an examination of the overall context in which judges preside. The courtroom is designed in a way that establishes the judge as The Exulted One, replete with a wardrobe distinct from all the rest, protection by armed court officers, and a stage upon which the judge sits that is elevated above all else in the court. These factors serve to remind us of the judge’s importance in case – God forbid – we forget.

My recent experience in the courtroom was made more pleasant than it could have been because the judge I encountered was professional – she did her job, got the facts, and rendered an opinion. She did so in a way that did not require subjugation or intimidation of others. Her demeanor – or judicial bedside manner, if you will – set her apart from other judges I have witnessed in court and heard others describe, as well. I have personally watched other judges rudely cut people off mid-sentence, speak to others in a critical and patronizing tone, and utter interpretations that cast others in a naïve and unintelligent light.

It occurred to me that judges don’t have to be so mean. While I’m confident that there are some excellent and fair judges, I wonder why so many other judges buy into such a one-dimensional – almost cartoonish – presentation of themselves. If the nature of their work is truly complex, why do they let themselves fall victim to a one-note scripted role, as if portrayed in a bad, middle-of-the-night movie of the week? Please tell me their end goal is not to mimic the narcissistic tantrums of the judges with their own eponymous shows on television.

I have heard it said that men and women who yearn for power seek out professions in which they can exact power over others. I hope that this simplistic explanation doesn’t account for the reason why our robe-wearing arbiters of justice appear so hell-bent on intimidating and patronizing the subjects of their courts. At the end of the day, I want to believe that America’s judges are more complicated than that.

No comments: