What do you think about a judge who lies from the bench?
Or who intentionally misstates facts in a court order?
Most people I talk to think that’s outrageous conduct by a public-paid official.
Judges sit in ‘judgment’ of private people. Judges can and do demand from the bench that private people answer their questions, and answer them truthfully (upon penalty of sanctions). What would you think about our court system if you discovered that judges who perform that function have intentionally concocted a story, then fed it to you from the bench?
I supposed judges justify misrepresentation in various ways. Maybe they think the ‘image’ of the courts will be enhanced if they shade the truth. Maybe they think they are entitled to prevaricate to protect themselves (or protect other public employees they work with). Or perhaps they don’t consider dishonesty such a big deal. Maybe they started with little “white” lies. Then they moved on to the stronger stuff. Maybe they were used to deceiving people before they took the bench.
However they got there, it is reality that some judges are not sincere on the job. (Of course, many judges work hard to be upright.)
It has been my unfortunate experience to encounter a number of judges who have outright fabricated or intentionally misled customers of the court.
I’ve encountered it in verbal comments from the bench.
I’ve encountered it in court orders.
I’ve encountered it in judicial letters and emails.
And I’ve been able to prove it.
So what do we do about it?
Can we demand that judges tell the truth? I think we must.
Note that judges have a duty to report each other if there is substantial evidence that another judge is not telling the truth. (See verbiage at Minnesota Judicial Canon 2.15; link to those rules here).
Of course there are shades of gray. Some falsifications are more harmful than others.
And sometimes people make a mistake.
Yet consider that the justice system sells truth. Trials, hearings, much of what the courts do, is grounded in a search for truth. In this system, more than any other, we must demand it.
I remember when I got sober over 20 years ago, I had to give a lot of time and attention to being honest. I studied on what it means to be honest. It doesn’t happen over night. It’s a process.
We’ve all had our experiences with being less than honest. But if someone is going to accept the title of judge, they should give extra time and attention to this important issue.
What training is given to judges when they take the bench? Are they taught the importance of honesty? Tools for becoming more honest? Ways to monitor their honesty so they don’t cross the line?
I bet many members of the public would rather have their tax dollars go to training, than a lot of the other ‘activity’ in the courts.
In part 2 we’ll explore why honesty is the best “policy” and why we should demand that the courts fire all of their “PR” people.