Twelve Things TV Doesn’t Tell You about Judges — a guest blog by Judge Scott Schofield

There’s no new SVU episode tonight, but I’m excited to introduce the Honorable Scott Schofield as our guest blogger this week!  Judge Schofield is a Michigan judge who presides over a criminal docket ranging from littering to larceny.  He’s long been known for his thoughtful decisions and hard work ethic.  Now he’s  becoming one of the hottest legal bloggers in cyberspace, bringing humor and insights to the mysterious world behind the black robe. Judge Schofield writes the blogs Accepting Responsibility, about the need to be accountable for one’s choices, to avoid weak excuses and to make sincere apologies, and  Wearing Basic Black, a blog for other judges.  Check them out!  Meanwhile, enjoy his guest post here. – Allison

Twelve Things TV Doesn’t Tell You about Judges
— a guest blog by Judge Scott Schofield

1. It’s not easy to say “No.” Offenders almost always ask for leniency, for me to give them a break. Justice is too harsh if it’s not tempered with mercy, but more often it’s appropriate to impose the full consequences that an offender has earned. It would be easier to say “Yes” and make offenders and their families happy, but instead I say “No” a lot.

2. Judges are not as good-looking and articulate as they make us appear on TV. Although many of us think we are.

3. Hearing about horrible things takes a toll on me. I see and hear things that no one should have to see and hear. I’m not complaining; this is the job I’ve taken on. But although I don’t suffer anything like those who directly experience the violence I hear about in the courtroom, experiencing trauma second-hand day after day is damaging too. I ignore its effects at my peril.

4. Sometimes I trip on my robe as I walk up to the bench. Because I wear bifocals, it’s easy to trip on the way down too. And my female colleagues have to navigate those steps in high heels.

5. I get tired of making decisions. Making decisions is what I get paid to do. And every day I make a lot of decisions, big and small. When I trudge through my back door at the end of a hard day, I’m not in a mood to make any more decisions. I ask my wife to decide what will go on the pizza we’re ordering.

6. The courthouse is not a passion pit. If the lawyers who regularly appear in my courtroom are having torrid sex with one another like lawyers do on TV, I see no evidence of it whatsoever. They’re way too busy during the day, and they’re way too tired at the end of the day to rip off anyone’s clothes but their own.

7. I have a life outside the courthouse. It’s awkward to run into my “customers” while pushing a cart through the produce section of the grocery store. They’re shocked to see me there without a robe, apparently assuming that I dwell in some courthouse back room when I’m not on duty. And I’ve found that 7 AM is the best time to shop at WalMart without seeing anyone who’s recently been released from jail.

8. Trials are a small part of what I do. And trials are not the fast-paced, riveting courtroom dramas you see on TV. Most cases are resolved not by trial but by a plea agreement or dismissal. Then there are all the pre-trial proceedings like arraignments, preliminary examinations, and motion hearings. And did I mention the stacks of paper back in my chambers waiting for my signature?

9. I don’t have a gavel. No, I’ve never banged a gavel, not even once. If I can’t control my courtroom with a stern look or a few well-chosen words, I’m not much of a judge.

10. I don’t see the success stories. If someone behaves himself and never re-offends, I don’t see him again. I only see the offenders who come back into court after more poor choices. No one comes into my courtroom and says: “Judge, I just wanted to stop by and tell you things have been going great for me lately.”

11. Sometimes I talk in code. “I’m going to take a five-minute recess” is judge-speak for “I need to attend to an urgent call of nature.” I really don’t think any further comment is needed.

12. I’m not likely to get my own show. Unlike the judges on those syndicated afternoon TV shows, I am not allowed to belittle, abuse or disrespect the lawyers or litigants. That’s as it should be. Everyone who comes into my courtroom is entitled to courtesy and respect. So, there were no offers from Hollywood clogging up my inbox this morning.

About Allison Leotta

Comments

  1. Great post, Judge. Really like your comment about how hard it is to say no. While not on the scale of actions and consequences you deal with on the bench, I can relate, trying to raise two teenage daughters. It’s sometimes tough to do the right thing and hold the line.

    Thanks for the post.
    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny – a Grace deHaviland novel

  2. Thank you, David. If a judge takes spiteful joy in administering consequences, the judge has the wrong attitude and has no business being a judge. Properly administered, they are an act of love (“tough love” for sure!) meant to help the offender learn from his or her poor choice and make better choices in the future. The parent analogy is a good one. I sometimes see myself as “the parent of last resort”, teaching lessons that should have been taught long ago.

  3. Thanks, Your Honor, for this funny and interesting blog entry. But surely now someone needs to buy you a gavel!

  4. Those are insightful and sometimes poignant thoughts on being a judge. I am especially impressed with your commitment to not belittle or disrespect litigants and their lawyers, even if it would be understandable to do just that. Keep up the good work.

  5. I was a nurse for 40 years, worked in a variety of settings and it is uncanny how your comments as a judge could apply to my years in nursing. There were many times in company and at parties I was almost lonely because what I did all day no-one wanted to know or talk about. Thank you for your insights.

  6. Great guest column. Brings back good memories of my clerkship with the late Hon. E.S. Smith of the Federal Circuit. Biggest lesson learned: Judges are people, not computers. Judge Schofield, thank you for your important work and for reminding us of the everyday realities of the courtroom and your job as a judge.

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