December 14, 2011 3:21:00 PM
My last week as Justice Court Judge invokes a mix of emotions. On one hand, I've thoroughly enjoyed my time as judge. More than anything, I've enjoyed getting to know all the people involved in our court system. From the deputy sheriffs and constables, to the clerks - the engine that keep the Court running - to my colleagues, Judge Hemphill and Judge Phillips, I've been lucky to have met great people and made new friends over the last nine months.
On the other hand, I won't miss making decisions. As a lawyer, you don't have to worry about what's right. Your duty is to advocate for your client to the best of your abilities and let the chips fall where they may. When a decision doesn't work out in your favor, you can direct the client's feelings toward the judge.
The judge, needless to say, doesn't have that luxury. With every decision, the losing party is upset and feels like the judge is biased or unjust. The parties always take the decision personally, always act like you let them down.
To counteract this, I tried to insulate myself from the decision as much as possible by constantly reminding myself to hear each case new and by explaining the rationale for each decision, so all parties have a clear understanding of the basis for my decision. In short, to keep my personal feelings out of it.
Despite this effort, though, my personal feelings lead me to two noteworthy observations. First, the attitude of some of the young males in court has bothered me. Too many have been disrespectful and angry. They talked over people, scowled, or acted like it was someone else's fault they were in trouble.
As I observed this, I couldn't help but think this behavior decreased the long-term potential of these young men. If they had a bad attitude with a judge, a person with the discretion to send them to jail, I couldn't imagine what their attitude was like to a teacher, employer or parent. Instead of simply imposing a fine or putting them on the community service program, I wish the court could find ways to address the root of the problem, like mandatory anger management classes or requirements for other types of counseling. This may decrease the risk of this behavior resulting in more serious crimes in the future.
The other observation is related to domestic violence. Almost every week, deputy sheriffs would be in the difficult position of trying to prosecute charges of domestic violence without the cooperation of the victim. The victim would call the police out to a scene and complain about abuse but refuse to appear on the day of the hearing or refuse to testify or change their story.
I know enough about domestic violence to know this is often a symptom of it. Men pressure women not to cooperate with the court through fear, promises of reconciliation or appeals to love. But the county has to find better ways of treating this symptom. Allowing so many women to bring charges and then effectively drop them, frustrates the deputy sheriffs and increases the risk of domestic violence by diminishing it. To fix this, I recommend the deputy sheriffs make the victims sign affidavits swearing to testify in court before bringing charges and alleged abusers should be prohibited from communication with the victim after an arrest.
Notwithstanding these observations, I'm grateful to have been appointed interim judge by the Board of Supervisors and thank them immensely. By happenstance, my last week coincided with the 28-year anniversary of the longest serving clerk at the Court, Mrs. Linda Erby, which is the best evidence that the Justice Court is in good hands.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
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