I have very much enjoyed being a judge. Many litigants in Magistrate Court are pro se, meaning without attorney representation. I take particular pride in having litigants feel they’ve had a fair hearing. I start each hearing saying:
“ . . . . and near the end of the hearing I’m going to tell you how I’m thinking about your case – it’s not my final decision – but I want you to hear my thinking out loud so in case I got something wrong, or missed something important,we’ll come back to each of you one last time, okay?”
It works pretty well. Like one of the court clerks told me, “You let people know you’re listening to them.” And the Bailiffs say folks leaving my courtroom seem to be feeling okay about what happened. One Saturday, while I’m at the grocery store, this guy I don’t know comes up and says, “Let me introduce myself. I’m the guy who sits in the basement at the courthouse and video tapes all the magistrate hearings,” (we don’t use court reporters) “and I just want to say what a great job you do. Everybody gets heard. You keep everybody on point.” It’s nice to be recognized as a positive force.
At any rate, the Court of Appeals never had to reverse me, and the only time I ever had to have the Bailiff remove anyone from the courtroom – it was my own kids! I’d invited them to come see what their Dad does for a job. In advance I carefully explained courtroom decorum and etiquette, especially no sounds or outbursts from the audience. But they were only 10 and 8, and Nick couldn’t help laughing out loud at a whispered joke Jack told him, and, all of the sudden, they both couldn’t stop laughing, uncontrollably laughing, and I had to order the Bailiff to remove them from the courtroom. My own kids!