Thursday, August 03, 2006

Profile: The Bully

In the past 10 years I've handled cases in something like 20 counties, in traffic court, lower level criminal courts, higher level criminal courts, Family Court, Supreme Court (New York's main civil trial court, at least in the Albany area), the Appellate Division (Third Department), as well as federal courts in Manhattan, Albany and Syracuse.

I've practiced in front of quite a few judges -- well over 100, maybe as many as 500. Not all of them are pleasant, but The Bully may be the most unpleasant I've met.

Now to be clear, I'm not saying The Bully is without good qualities. For one thing, he is an excellent speaker. Like few others, he has a remarkable voice. If you are anywhere inside his courtroom, you will hear everything he says and you will be unable to claim you did not understand something he said. I'm not saying he yells. Not at all. Just a powerful, commanding, and well-controlled voice.

He also is intelligent, and knows the law rather well. Perhaps not as well as he thinks he does, but certainly better than the average judge. And at times he seems to have a heart.

But for his most distinguishing trait, we turn to the most important characteristic of a judge -- temperament. We spend much of our time in front of judges. With the pleasant ones, we enjoy being in their courtrooms. They are cordial, they respect the lawyers and allow us to do our jobs, stepping in only to resolve disputes. The best judges do not create additional disputes, nor do they abuse the lawyers.

The Bully demonstrates an utter lack of respect for the attorneys who appear before him. It's as if he's urinating on the courtroom floor to show it's his turf. This is particularly noticeable with attorneys who are unfamiliar with his court, or who are not within his circle. The Bully berates lawyers who make arguments he doesn't like. His manner turns from appropriate criticism of the arguments themselves to personal attacks on the attorney's character.

Now you have to understand something about being a lawyer. When there are two sides arguing, in the end, one of us has to be wrong. While there are many cases where it's a close call and both sides make a credible argument, there are also times where circumstances force us to argue a position that is very difficult to argue (i.e. even we think we're wrong). We do our best, but this is a very difficult position to be in. A simple example is when a client instructs us to take a position despite our firm advice against it. Good judges understand these situations, and do not abuse the lawyers who are stuck in them. The Bully takes these opportunities to belittle the lawyer.

There are certainly situations where a lawyer is unprepared, or simply clueless. Most judges let it pass. Some might even ask the offending lawyer into chambers to discuss the problem, educate the lawyer, or perhaps yell at him, but in the privacy of chambers. Abusing that lawyer in open court accomplishes little, but The Bully revels in the opportunity. It's like Mike Tyson beating up a third-grader.

The Bully also demonstrates his lack of respect for the lawyers in another way. He wastes our time. While many judges understand the demands on an attorney's time (and the fact that our clients are paying for it), The Bully conducts his courtroom in a manner which wastes attorney time. Thoughtful judges schedule appearances, so one group of lawyers might show up at 9 am, another group at 9:30, etc. The Bully has everyone show up at the same time. The insiders often (but not always) get their cases heard first, and they get out quick. But for the rest of us, what should take 15-30 minutes ends up taking 2-3 hours.

It should not surprise readers to hear that The Bully is not well liked. Even the insiders dislike him, as he will sometimes turn on them. We'll see if this matters when he comes up for reelection.

More profiles to come. A brief preview: The Fixer, The Meal Ticket, Snidely, The Slob .... Stay tuned. :-)
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