Every state employs a somewhat imperfect system in deciding who is the right candidate to be named a judge. Some permit judges to be appointed by local politicians. Others hold elections where voters decide who should sit on the bench. Some states have systems where political parties tend to dictate which judges will be elected or appointed and many have hybrids of the above. None of these systems perfectly emulate a model where the best candidates always are put in the position of being named a judge. That system may never present itself.
The focus of this brief piece is why people should care about who we place on the bench. Simply put: it matters to everyone.
Most folks when confronted with the issue of who should be elected or appointed as a judge act as if it is a decision that has little to no impact on their lives. They may also argue that they have no idea about who the judge is and what his or her qualifications are. On some level, they are right and that is what has to change. You see, when there is apathy about who is appointed or elected to the judiciary it leads to stories like the one below. The story below is about a judge who recently pled guilty to reducing a jury verdict by approximately $4 million because he was bribed by a party in the case. The judge, who we have no connection to or familiarity with, took an oath many years ago to faithfully uphold the law; to preside over his courtroom in an honest and fair minded way. Somewhere along the line he lost his way. But somewhere along the line society has lost their way too when it comes to deciding on our judges. We no longer place any value in scrutinizing candidates who may become judges. We no longer seek out information about the qualifications of potential judges. In fact, it is generally not information that the public has meaningful access to. Sure, lawyers who have relationships with and are familiar with the backgrounds of judicial candidates can weigh in intelligently.
But what about the citizen who is not connected to the legal system?
Where do they get their information? What are they basing their decisions on?
Same thing goes for the politician who appoints the judge. What is the criteria that they are truly employing to make a decision to appoint or not appoint a particular candidate? We don’t pretend to know the answers to all of these questions and we are not arrogant enough to suggest we have the precise solution to this problem. But make no mistake was a problem, it is a problem. The quality and integrity of our judicial system impacts the very fabric of our society. It impacts the rich and the poor, families and single folks, city dwellers and those who embrace country living, lawyers and non-lawyers. In short, it can impact every one of us.
A person may only experience the devastating force that a wrong judge can have on their lives when and if they’re involved in a legal dispute, criminal or civil. The impression it leaves is long-lasting. An unqualified or dishonest judge can change the trajectory of a person’s life or even several persons lives with one ill-fated decision. You may not care about this issue until a it is staring you in the face. That is why it is so very important for people to focus on making sure that the quality and integrity of our judiciary is paramount. People need to get out in front of this.
In New York, the consensus from our firm is that most judges are well-meaning and hard-working. Similarly, most judges are smart and honest. We take the job of making sure that the right judges are given the opportunity to make important decisions very serious. It is our belief that our work and the work of many New York lawyers has helped shape the quality and the integrity of our bench. We hope that this brief piece and the story below scare you straight and compel you to do the same. We all need a strong and independent judiciary.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting on behalf of seriously injured accident victims. We represent victims of construction accidents, trucking collisions, car crashes, premises cases and medical malpractice actions. The firm has generated more 7 figure verdicts and settlements than any other law firm in New York State over the last 3 years, according to the New York Law Journal. You may contact the lawyers at this firm at any time by calling 212-736-5300. You may also learn about these committed lawyers by looking at their firm website www.blockotoole.com.