The Judges and the Judged

If you are interested in learning a bit more about the dire relationship these days between judges and the people they judge then check out this blog offered by the Reno Gazette-Journal, the hometown newspaper in a place where an angry litigant a few weeks ago allegedly murdered his ex-wife and then shot the judge who was handling his divorce and custody case.

The judge, Chuck Weller, apparently has generated no small amount of anger among other parties before him during his years in family court. But many of the comments on the Reno Gazette-Journal's blog suggest a level of passion and hatred that is truly remarkable, coming as it does against a shooting victim whose conduct, whatever you think of it, has never generated any action by the state's Commission on Judicial Discipline. Just because the guy may be a jerk doesn't mean he deserved to get shot. Imagine how many deserved shootings we'd see in courthouses and legislatures all over the country!

To me, the story of Judge Weller ties in with those stories I wrote about a few weeks ago, the ones from the Los Angeles Times about the chaotic state of Nevada's judicial system. It's not just that the system reeks of the appearance of impropriety, if not outright scandal, as the Times reported so well and thoroughly. It's that too many people perceive improprieties whether they exist or not. There always will be thugs who will do what the suspect did to Judge Weller. But the remarkably unfortunate mixed reaction to the shooting, the lack of sympathy so many people have expressed toward Judge Weller, is what you get when too many people no longer respect the judiciary and no longer believe that judges are dispensing blind justice. Weller took the bullet but it's the state's judicial system that needs the medicine.

By Andrew Cohen |  June 20, 2006; 8:00 AM ET
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Andrew, I think your points are obviously correct, that there is a great dissonance in America's approach to the judiciary. One that is markedly different from British and European views of their government. But this has always been the case from the founding era of our country. The questions you raise about "judicial activism" or more properly judicial discovery through interpretation have existed from the start. The question and the right of judges to interpret the constitution was a central part of the debates on the judiciary and continued into the Federalist era.
It has to be considered in light of a royal appointed judges and governors that were seen suppressing the rights and interests of the local colonists and which has become a part of our character, annealed in the transformation of sovereignty from a King to the People. Eurpoeans have had a different relationship with their government and bureaucracy. Something more respectful and less hostile. The British have always accepted the right of their judges to apply the King's sovereignty in extending the law.
Americans have always respected the importance of the judiciary and the role of judges while suspecting their very power to act as judges. And Americans, by dint of their democratic rights, have always suspected the power of government and its agents. We have always seen conspiracy in the actions of judicial and police powers and felt free to disagree and assert a special privelege to act as we see fit, or so long as we do not see the harm to some other person for our striding down the center of the sidewalk.
I do not mean to trivialize the murder of a judge, but there are some things very American about this one that are worth considering. In the US the general pattern of violence against judges is for individuals who feel they have been wronged in court to act out. In other countries there are conspiracies to achieve a specific judicial result or to intimidate or undermine the political order: the mafia in Italy, the insurgents in Columbia.
Some nasty article in the paper may or may not change a judge's view of the world, but outside the United States people act truly to intimidate judges and undermine an independent judiciary. The point and purpose of an independent judiciary is to ensure fair and even justice, especially in criminal trials. So that punishment and decisions are fairly and evenly handed out, a very difficult thing in any notorious case whether of O.J. Simpson or the Duke lacrosse three.
And while I do not in any way sympathize with the opinions of the Reno journal, their views are not that far from your feelings (which I also do not sympathize with) toward the Customs agent who confiscated your pastrami. It would be nice if we were more respectful of the social order, but that is not our style. Without it we would not get good TV shows like L.A. Law or Boston Legal that completely misrepresent the role of judiciary in order to entertain and stimulate legal debate. I personally blame those TV shows more than the local paper.

Posted by: Constitutionalist | June 20, 2006 11:00 AM

Andrew,
The in-justices in Reno Family Court are not preceived.They are reality.My family has been in a battle before Scott Jordan for over 4 years seperating our Family numerous times without foundation.Finally both parties realized there was going to be no justice in the Family Court so we all gave up. Just today we recieved greeting from the D.A. Family support Division stating they have filed a Motion To Determine Arrearages with the Family Court on our behalf against the Obligor,So much for the past year of peace. Neither Party requested this action! But one thing for sure is that it's going to be received by the other party as a Decleration of War. The Firestorm is now underway so were going to call the attorney, open up the checkbook to give away some more of our saving for the kids school funds for what.The Children have been through enough. Although things were not perfect between the parties we were at peace for a moment in time.
Now were headed backwards again due to no fault of either party. We will be before Mr. Weller or Mr. Mc Gee what a choice. This is why people take matters into there own hands in Reno. There Family's are destroyed and disrespected for no reason and there is no way to reponde other then by being creative. The State Bar could care less. The Judiciary Misconduct review process is a joke. They suggest a Forum of litagation to correct the in-justice to be presided over by the same Judges. Welcome to the Biggest Little Town in the World.The town of the good ole boy's. If you move to Reno never expect justice!

Posted by: Robert Adrian | July 27, 2006 04:49 PM

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