One new program developed by the Lawyers Conference this year is to send short letters to the editor of local newspapers designed to address the serious issue of the safety of our judiciary and all those who work in and around courthouses. The goal of the program is to send the message far and wide that there is no place in our democracy for threats and violence against our judges for doing the important work of resolving our citizens’ disputes, both civil and criminal.
The program is currently in place and multiple letters have already been written to news outlets across the country. However, we are asking all of you who read this newsletter to participate in the program and to pen letters to the editor to your local news outlets condemning violence against the judiciary and the judicial process. To facilitate this, set forth below are two letters that can serve as a template or spark an idea for a letter of your own. If you participate in the program, we ask that you email the submitted letter to me ([email protected]) together with the date of submission, whether it was published, the name of the news outlet that published it, and the date of publication. At the end of the year, we hope to have many letters distributed.
Thank you in advance for your participation in this important program and for taking a moment to spread the word on the grass roots level that there is no place in our society for violence against the judiciary.
Our democracy depends upon respect not only for the rule of law, but also for members of the judiciary. There have been far too many incidents of violent attacks on judges when a decision is made that is disfavored by a party to the proceeding or members of the public. Such violence is never appropriate, undermines the independence of the judiciary, and threatens the constitutional rights the judiciary must apply and protect.
There are many non-violent methods for expressing dissatisfaction with a judicial decision. For a party, there is the right to appeal. In Ohio, because we elect judges, another option is to not vote for that judge. If dissatisfied with the law itself, one can express your view to her elected legislative representative, either individually or through collective peaceful action, seeking to have it changed.
Of course, respect for an independent judiciary requires our judges to act and rule with fairness and impartiality. Judges must apply the law as written and operate their courtrooms with decorum and respect for all who enter. Lawyers must respect the law, the judiciary, and opposing counsel while advocating on behalf of clients. When approached in this manner, the dignity and respect for our judiciary and the judicial process can and must be restored and violence against the judiciary eliminated.
Our independent judiciary is nothing to take for granted. The purpose of our courts is to provide a venue where disputes are resolved under the law, without regard for the wealth, stature, political persuasion, or power of either party. Rather than taking our disputes to the streets, we take them before an impartial judge, and before a jury that is a cross section of our community.
Courts derive their authority not from the power of the purse or military might – those belong to the other branches of government. Instead, the predictable and fair application of the law gives us confidence in the judiciary. But that authority is not inevitable. It can be weakened and eroded. When a judge is attacked on political grounds, accused of an improper motive or maligned as biased based on ethnicity, the court itself is undermined. Expectations about the fairness of the courts diminish. To preserve their own impartiality, judges may be less likely to respond publicly in their own defense, risking perpetuation of false information. Without the confidence of the public, the courts' decisions become difficult to enforce, and recourse suffers.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote to a friend, “wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” So, when you hear a partisan attack on a judge, act like a well-informed citizen. Ask yourself what motivates the attack. Ask what interest the attacker has in harming the court. And consider what happens if such attacks are blindly credited: we risk losing the beating heart of the administration of justice. We fail as trusted keepers of our own government and our civil society.