Vincent Bugliosi on Judges

A word about judges.

The American public have an understandably negative view of politicians, public opinions show, and an equally negative view of lawyers. Conventional logic would seem to dictate that since a judge is normally both a politican and a lawyer, people would have a markedly low opinion of them. But on the contrary, the mere investiture of a twenty-five-dollar black cotton robe elevates the denigrated lawyer-politican to a position of considerable honor and respect in our society, as if the garment itself miraculously imbues the person with qualities not previously possessed. As an example, judges have, for the most part, remained off-limits to the creators of popular entertainment, being depicted on screens large and small as learned men and women of statue and solemnity who are as impartial as sunlight. This depiction ignores reality.

As to the political aspects of judges, the appointment of judgeships by govenors (or the President in federal courts) has always been part and parcel of the political spoils or patronage system. For example, 97 percent of President Reagan’s appointees to the federal branch were Republicans. Thus, in the overwhelming majority of cases there is an umbilical cord between the appointment and politics. Either the appointee has personally labored long and hard in the political vineyards, or he is a favored frined of one who has, oftentimes a generous financial supporter of the party in power. As Roy Mersky, professor at the University of Texas Law School, says, “To be appointed a judge, to a great extent is a result of one’s political activity.” Consequently, lawyers entering courtrooms are frequently confronted with the specter of a new judge they’ve never heard of and know absolutely nothing about. The judge may never have distinguished himself in the legal profession, but a cursory investigation almost invariably reveals a political connection. (Of course, just because there is a political connection does not mean that the judge is not otherwise competent and qualified to sit on the bench. Many times he is.) Incredibly, and unfortunately, the political connection holds true all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, for instance, the last three Chief Justices–Earl Warren, Warren E. Burger, and, to a lesser extent, William Rehnquist–like so many of their predecessors in history, have all been creatures of politics.

Although there are many exceptions, by and large the bench boasts undistinguished lawyers whose principal qualification for the most important position in our legal system is the all-important political connection. Rarely, for instance, will a governor seek out a reknown but apolitical legal scholar, such as a highly regarded law school professor, and proffer a judgeship.

It has been my experience and, I daresay, the experience of most veteran trial lawyers that the typical judge either has no or very scant trial experience as a lawyer, or is pompous and dictatorial on the bench, or worst of all, is clearly partial to one side or the other in a lawsuit. Sometimes the judge displays all three infirmities.

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