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September 09, 2019

How Courts Work

The Human Side of Being a Judge

The Human Element of Being a Judge
An Interactive, Informational Presentation to Community Groups, by Colorado Judge Linda Palmieri

We are ogres. We are bleeding hearts. We ignore public opinion. We kowtow to public opinion. We are lazy. We are slavedrivers. WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?

This presentation is a vehicle for instruction and enlightenment. I begin with an overhead. I put it up before I say one word. It is a statement made by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor a few years ago:

"The court is not the post office. It is the common thread that holds the social fabric of this country together."

Next I tell the group something personal about myself. (It helps if it's humorous. The whole purpose of the presentation is to expose a judge's humanity.)

I tell them they can interrupt at any time to ask questions (this makes it more their learning experience than my teaching credit) and then proceed to cover three categories:

  1. Challenges
  2. Demands
  3. Gifts



  • Who wants to be in court? (No one I know.)
  • Docket crunch
  • "Sound-bite" criticism in electronic media
  • Headline-grabbing cases
  • Frustration with certain kinds of cases because there is just so much a judge can do.


  • Erasure of bias (I don't talk about race or gender. I talk about people with green hair, pierced noses, cross-dressers, and about how important it is for them to get the same kind of justice more conventional-looking litigants do.)
  • Keeping up with the law
  • Creativity
  • Compassion/Toughness/Fairness All AT ONCE


  • They are innumerable
  • Status in the community
  • Education (If I had not become a judge would I ever have learned the proper and improper ways to:
    • Store bull semen?
    • Repair a roof?
    • Do a root canal?
  • Gratitude/Personal Growth -- (The perspective one achieves immediately after uttering the words "There, but for the grace of God.....")
  • Hope
  • Humor

We all have these stories. The unbelievable malaprops and non sequiturs that have caused us to literally bite our tongues to keep from guffawing. One of my favorites (from a pro se litigant):

Litigant: "Objection, Judge!"
The Court: "Grounds?"
Litigant: "It's superfluicious."

(He was right.)

Adapted from an activity developed by Linda Palmieri and published in A Guide to Educating the Public About the Courts Chicago, ABA, 1994.

>>The Human Element of Being a Judge
>>Justice in the Courtroom - But Compassion, Too
>>Enforcing the Law
>>The People Who Make Courts Work

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