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D.C. Magistrate Judge Gretchen Rohr emphasizes compassion for all

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Four years ago, I met Gretchen Rohr at my first D.C. Contemplative Law Group gathering. At the time, I believe, she was project director of the D.C. Jail and Prison Advocacy Project for University Legal Services. (August 24, 2016: This month, Gretchen transitioned from being a judge, to working with the Open Society Foundation.)

Four months later, Gretchen Rohr was appointed a magistrate judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court. Anyone with power must tame that power, including judges, who need to remember that respect is a two-way street, and that they need to exercise sound judgment rather than doing knee-jerk judging. The recently-arrived September 2016 Lion’s Roar magazine (formerly Shambhala Sun, from the Shambhala movement founded by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche — self-described as “Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time” — includes Magistrate Judge Rohr’s article underlining the importance of such a path for judges. Among the more noteworthy passages in her article is this: “If Martin Luther King, Jr., is right, and ‘Justice is power correcting everything that stands against love,’ then every judge needs to acquire a set of personal power tools.”

Judge Rohr is one of many judges in the nation following a meditative or contemplative practice.In the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, I know of only four such judges: Magistrate Judge Rohr, Supreme Court Justice Breyer, Baltimore City Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon, and retired U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina.

Posted on May 2016, Judge Rohr spreads an important message to judges and everyone else to check in with themselves when they go into the courtroom and other potentially combative and tense arenas. She says that the Superior Courthouse has a regular meditation opportunity on Wednesdays (hear minute 5:00) — which she understands is unique in courthouses — for judicial employees, before she takes the bench.

Judge Rohr has helped inmates learn contemplative practice, and helps develop leaders to teach mindfulness in the community. She has helped people with restorative justice, including the the Justice in Balance process. She has been meditating since 1994, with former Black Panther leader Ericka Huggins having been her first teacher.

Through the process of Justice in Balance, Judge Rohr for instance talks of developing circles of people from very different backgrounds and putting people at the center of the conversation, including those who have felt marginalized.

May Judge Rohr’s example of compassion and mindfulness have a positive influence on her fellow judges throughout the nation.