View From The Bench by McKay Chauvin
Tell It to the Judge
It has been suggested that some judgesgrow when they take the bench while others just seem to … swell. It’s good to be the judge. People stand up when I walk in the room. They have to ask mypermission to sit or speak, and (whether out of respect or the fear of getting tazed)immediately come to me when I call them. Lawyers callme “Your Honor” and dutifully laugh at my witty banter both on and off the bench. (Note: The record should reflect that I was genuinely hilarious before I became a judge). If someone may have considered me to be“a littleslow” when I was a lawyer, they haveto refer to me as “deliberate” now that I’m a judge. “Mean” becomes “no nonsense”, and “goofy” become “eccentric”. However, the most intoxicating, and therefore the most dangerous,thing that happens when a lawyer becomes a judge is that people generally and lawyers particularly stop telling them “no”. In fact, they pretty much stop telling them anything. It is tempting to take it from their silence that they must whole-heartedly agree with what the judge is doingand how(s)he’s doing it. Whether or not that’s true, in the absence of anyone saying“no”, or “judge, that isaprofoundlystupid idea you’ve got there”, judges are constantly in peril of sliding down the slippery slope that goes fromasking lawyers what they want to do, to telling them to what to do, to demanding it be done, toberating them when whatever it was wasn’t done to the judge’s satisfaction. I know no lawyer wants to appear before that kind of judge. I also know that no judge, including me, wants to be that kind judge.
Being mostly human, I am well aware that I am not always right, nor do I have the great idea market cornered. The best I can do is the best I can do. However, you can help my best be better by letting me know when, and where and how I fall short of your expectations. The best, and most welcome, anti-inflammatory available to combat judicial swell is very honest and very specific feedback. The LBA-Judicial Evaluation provides the local bar one of the fewopportunities to provide that kind of feedback to the local bench. Unfortunately, and although it may be statistically valid, it is of very limited valuebecause so few lawyers take the time necessary to complete it. As a consequence, the common perception among judges is that it is something of an unpopularity contest subject to being skewed through the disproportional participation of a very small number of highly-agitated people. Moreover, and even though the instrument itself is highly regarded and a model for bar associations all across the country, neither the score nor the scoring givesmewhat I consider to beuseful insight into exactlywhyI got the grade I did. The comments, many of which are very very personal, are generally too general to be of any practical value. “You are a wonderful judge” and “you are an idiot” are equally unhelpful … although by no means equally unappreciated.
Having accepted the fact that I couldn’t make people do a better job telling me how to do a better job through the LBA-Judicial Evaluation, I was inspired to create the “Tell it to the Judge” page on my website ( The page was intended to providean additional opportunity for lawyers, litigants and anyone else who owns or has access to a computer, to freely and anonymously express that whichsocial mores and local legal custom might otherwise stifle. Verum Absque Injuria. The rules are simple: (1) Do not use the website to communicate about a pending case, (2) Try to be constructive (i.e. don’t just write “you suck”), and (3) If you can’t not write something mean, at least try to make it funny. My hope, and my experience since the site was first launched in 2012, is thatpeople can share their thoughts and feelings in a way that ensures that I will continue to take this job very seriously whilereminding me not to takemyself too seriously.