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Does your judge or jury want to be in the courtroom? What can you do to change that?

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A colleague who has known many local judges since childhood and through the old boy/girl network recently told me that half the judges he knows in a particular county do the work out of a sense of public service, with numerous of the remainder dreading the grind of the daily docket.

The foregoing conversation popped in my head when I recently spoke with a colleague about a rather new judge. Before I finished even saying: "Isn’t this judge a breath of fresh air, who would be great to duplicate?", my colleague emphatically replied YES! This judge wants to be on the bench, treats all litigants with dignity, and is focused on doing justice. Justice as this judge defines it, but still justice, not merely administering from the bench, not chasing dockets, and certainly not being a prosecutor in robes.

Of course, my clients, witnesses and I contribute to whether the judge wants to be in the courtroom on the day we are there, whether the judge wants to do true justice that day, and whether the judge is put in a positive, apprehension-less, clear mood so that the judge will be able to, uncluttered to, and want to do justice.

As my teacher Steve Rench says, when he appears before even a judge with a terrible reputation among colleagues, he clears the judge’s reputation from his mind, in an effort to motivate the judge to be his or her best for Steve’s client.

Even the most tyrannical-seeming judges are still humans, with feelings, hopes and dreams. They have some level of desire to be spoken well of, but are less likely to depart from their tyrannical-seeming ways with people who do not give them the benefit of the doubt that they can and will change for the better. A criminal defense lawyer can be effective inside the courthouse without appearing to kowtow to nor accept the injustices therein. A great example of that is Steve Rench, who applies the basic and effective lessons of the magic mirror. If a judge knows s/he has a poor reputation with lawyers, that presents all the more reason for the lawyer to empty the mind of any such thoughts, and to give the judge a clean slate that day. Oversimplistically, it is like trying to find the thorn in the lion’s sole and to pull it out, rather than trying to slay the lion.

Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related, and it is an illusion and delusion to think otherwise. There is no them versus us in the final analysis. It is all we, including our perceived and actual opponents and enemies. Connectedness with each other is not some sort of touchy-feely approach to life, but a reality that, once recognized by more people, will reduce wars, violence upon others and trespasses against others, and will bring us towards a much better world where people will open their hearts to each other and share with each other of themselves and of their resources.

I know two former judges whom I never wanted in my clients’ cases. The first one took a liking to me from the beginning when I became a public defender lawyer. I saw him early on for the human he is, flaws and all. He was just a regular guy in so many ways, exercising extraordinary power, as his black robes reminded him. Before I knew how undesirable he was to have on the bench, I felt a human connection with him. With that respect and understanding that we had for each other, he was uncluttered in listening to my arguments at trial, and sometimes ruled in my favor when he might have done otherwise were he apprehensive about my going on the unnecessary attack on him rather than simply trying to persuade him.

Several years later, after having become my own boss, I appeared before a new judge in another county whom I saw as exhibiting little heart, little warmth, and insufficient judicial temperament, although I compliment him that he never raised his voice nor used nasty language nor a nasty tone of voice. I never wanted to appear before him. Some colleagues said how nice a man he was off the bench. I decided to give a shot at relating to this judge as human to human. I once emailed him on a point of commonality having nothing to do with the law nor the court; he happily replied with an invitation to talk about it over coffee. I wanted to take him up on that, but before I could, I soon experienced him acting too injudiciously or me to feel comfortable breaking bread or drinking coffee (okay, I drink tea instead) with him.

This same judge left the bench a few years later. I saw him eating lunch with colleagues at a table outside a food court. I felt satisfied with this picture confirming that he was indeed off  the bench, never to return. Part of me wanted to lash out at him and to tell him all the things I wanted to tell him when he was on the bench, but did not, lest I harm my client and me along the way. However, why wait until a judge is off the bench to take action on his or her unjust actions? Everyone was now out of harm’s way with this judge. My mind transitioned from surprise at seeing this former judge in this setting to dancing with glee in my mind that he was finally gone from harming people and their lives. By now, my glee has transitioned to a smile on my face that justice was done when he left the bench.  

Then, not too long after, I appeared before a different judge whom I do not want on the bench. If I cut a worm in half, I end up with two worms. If one unjust judge leaves the bench, who is to say that another unjust judge, perhaps even a worse judge, will not take his or her place?

At my best, before appearing before a judge whom I prefer to transition off the bench, I can to myself, or aloud when alone, sincerely wish the judge well. Here is a great metta blessing (thanks to my wife for encouraging me to bless all in the courtroom, and  to my teacher Sharon Salzberg for providing the following words) to say to myself and then to the judge, prosecutor, cop, or anyone else I am not enamored of:

First for me:

"May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be free from internal and external harm. May I be healthy and strong. May I find joy in the joy of others. May I live with ease. May I live in peace and with hope."

Then I can repeat the same blessing for others, working from my loved ones, to my friends, to my staff, to my clients, to my acquaintances, and to my perceived adversaries.

Now to bless the judge, with full compassion and insight:

"May Judge Pond be safe. May Judge Pond be happy. May Judge Pond be free from internal and external harm. May Judge Pond be healthy and strong. May Judge Pond find joy in the joy of others. May Judge Pond live with ease. May Judge Pond live in peace and with hope."

After saying this blessing to myself and the judge, I now have something bonding myself to the judge, which is for us both to have a day of happiness, limited struggles, no harm, strength, peace and hope. Now, if the judge barks at me, cuts me off, or slams my client, it is time for me to ask what I can do to return to being at one with the judge and to inspire the judge to do justice, in bringing the judge to my point of view and to my winning goal.

If I impulsively flip the bird at a driver who seems to have cut me off, I cannot simply run away from myself, and certainly I should not cut off my middle finger. Instead, I need to have compassion for myself and learn to change myself. When a judge similarly transgresses, I should have compassion for him or her, and perhaps that will make it easier for the judge in return to feel my positive and inspiring energy, and to have more compassion and benefit-of-the-doubt giving to me and my client.

The judge will not try to improve himself as much if I do not try to improve myself and do not present my best self. My dwelling on whether I am standing before a fascist or uncaring or IQ-less judge simply interferes with my working on myself and my working as a team with my client. This is the judge I have today, just as this is the weather I have today just as this is the body I have today. Fighting those truisms does not give me a different judge, better weather, or different body (and fortunately I like my body).

As I clear my mind, body and spirit of the gunk and dreck from dreading the judge assigned to my case, I am further unblocked from summoning all the magic I need to summon and apply for my client.

Everyone is my teacher, starting with my enemy — thanks, H.H. Dalai Lama — and with the judge I dread. As Bob Thurman aptly underlines, in an important sense the only real enemy we have is ourselves.

The more compassion I show the judge and everyone else, the more true I am to showing and being full compassion for me, my family, my friends, and my clients. How easy is it to turn on and off the lightswitch of happiness and dread? It is not. How can happiness and compassion co-exist where dread is? More starkly, Wayne Dyer aptly says that love and fear — which he says are the only two emotionscannot coexist. If so, when I dread the judge, I am moving away from compassion. I do not fear judges; I fear nobody, so I must not dread them.

May Judge Pond be safe. May Judge Pond be happy. May Judge Pond be free from internal and external harm. May Judge Pond be healthy and strong. May Judge Pond find joy in the joy of others. May Judge Pond live with ease. May Judge Pond live in peace and with hope. May Judge Pond deliver justice today.