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May 01, 2017 Introduction

A Day in the Life of A Judge

By Judge John C. Allen IV
Every day throughout the United States, an incredible variety and number of trials and hearings are convened. The proceedings concern every type of right and responsibility held by American citizens. They include criminal trials; civil trials for damages; bankruptcy hearings; immigration hearings; administrative hearings concerning driver’s licenses, professional licenses, and the special education needs of children; and appellate proceedings concerning all of the above. They are held at the federal, state, and local levels in grand courtrooms adorned with gold leaf and marble and in uncomfortable and totally unsuitable portable classrooms. Presiding over these cases is likewise an incredibly diverse group: appellate justices, hearing officers, administrative law judges, state trial judges, and more. This issue of The Judges’ Journal offers a glimpse into the various worlds of these professional adjudicators. The concept is courtesy of Editorial Board Member Judge John C. Allen IV, and his thoughtful introduction follows.
—Judge Mary-Margaret Anderson
Co-chair, Judges’ Journal Editorial Board

It was some idle Tuesday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. when I ran across my friend, Judge Jordan, who was a judge for the Cook County, Illinois, Circuit Court. Judge Jordan and I talked briefly about programming smartphones and the previous weekend. He soon made his apologies and started to leave, explaining that he needed to get lunch and that he had a tough day ahead of him with all the work he needed to do before he went home for the day. I gave my usual courtesies to allow him to go on his way, but, secretly, I wondered what work he had left to do that needed to be done that night. I wish I could say that this occurred early in my career, but I can’t. I was close to my 20th year as a lawyer.

That confession is hard to make now. After several years as a chief administrative law judge, I realize that Judge Jordan’s workload as a state trial judge, with his seniority, work ethic, and skill, must have been tremendous. Even now, that realization is made through comparison, not through any sharing of “war stories” or personal experience. I’ve never heard, in detail, about the efforts that judges make to adjudicate staggering numbers of caseloads, while maintaining their integrity and respecting the dignity of the parties that come before them. Regardless of whether it is Judge Jordan or an appellate judge or a federal magistrate, judges bear these burdens silently and usually without complaint.

The consequence of that stoicism is that for the general public, myth, stereotypes, and humor define the judicial role. Even attorneys who work with judges on a daily basis don’t fully understand what it means to thoroughly prepare for every case. Whether due to a reluctance to appear as though they are complaining or to exercise caution against appearing too close to lawyers who practice before them, judges typically do not share the nuts and bolts of their daily professional lives.

In 1986, photojournalist Rick Smolan and editor David Cohen worked with over 200 photographers throughout America to capture one special moment on film across the country during one day—May 2, 1986. The result is A Day in the Life of America, a coffee-table book of poignant pictures, or glimpses into American life, that while interesting and beautiful individually, together reflect a stunning portrait of life in the United States. With a smaller scope and willingness to stray from the device of one particular day, this issue paints a similar portrait of the quiet majesty that is today’s American judiciary.

Although the theme is “A Day in the Life,” the articles do far more than provide a chronological recitation of a day’s events. They provide a glimpse into the thoughts, concerns, ideals, and character of sitting judges. They show the efforts judges undertake to handle constant, large dockets and the analytical skills needed to quickly and accurately apply complex legal principles to disputes. They show the efforts judges undertake to treat each person, however challenging, with courtesy and respect.

Every day, judges weigh the arguments of the parties that appear before them in order to reach a decision. There is a unique art and skill to making decisions. Each decision is founded in years of education, a lifetime of experiences, and a clear and constant dedication to core principles. Each decision must weigh and balance the presentation of two opposing points of view, make determinations based on intricate fields of law, and assess the credibility of witnesses who are very focused on making sure a certain outcome is achieved.

In these political times, understanding the judicial role and its importance to fundamental constitutional principles is more important than ever. The Editorial Board of The Judges’ Journal believes that the articles in this issue will increase understanding within the profession and the general public of what judges do and the contributions they make. Or, at least, they make a very good start.