Short take: Good Judge, Nice Judge

It starts with trying to make the place more user friendly. Remember when colleges had students review their professors, rating them as part of a scheme to make students happier? How long did it take for the tyranny to begin, the inmates to seize control of the asylum, before profs figured out that if they were hard on students, rigorous in their demands or failed to adhere to the language or concepts most beloved at any given moment, their rating would suck?

Tenure? Plum assignment? Popularity? Who doesn’t want to win the Miss Congeniality Award? And seeing how well that’s worked out in the campus setting, why not bring it to the courtroom?

At Manhattan Criminal Court, judges are being urged to watch their language —avoiding legal jargon, calling people by their name rather than “the defendant,” and greeting people when they enter.

Granted, some judges are lacking in “people skills.” These aren’t the skills one tends to develop as an assistant district attorney or judge’s law secretary. And now they’re going to be tested on it:

Defendants will be surveyed on their experience at court — and get a $15 Dunkin Donuts gift card for filling out the questionnaire.

If you don’t think they’ll have to give a third of that gift card to their lawyers, you know nothing about crim law. We love donuts. Okay, I love donuts. But why would anyone do this?

“If a litigant feels they’re being treated with respect, they have an idea what’s going on…they’re more likely to perceive the process as fair,” said Adam Mansky of the Center for Court Innovation, which is working on the program with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Office of Court Administration.

“They’re more likely to comply with their obligations, come back to court, pay their fine.”

Damn, that sounds so warm and fuzzy, show defendants some respect and they’ll be much more happy to do jail time. So what if the cops arrested them for mouthing off, or just being black when the Compstat numbers needed to be made? So what if they’re called “Mr. Smith” when bail is imposed on their one charge of resisting? So what if the only thing they’ve been given to eat is baloney on white with a slice of yellow stuff, or they got beaten in lockup while a guard watched and laughed?

No, judge. You can’t make them believe in the system by treating this guy with tats on his eyelids with respect. He’ll probably want to go to back to those junkies and apologize for selling them 97% cut when they were strung out. There’s no way he’ll forget when the court officer took him into the hallway to explain to him in kind but small words why he’s not allowed to wear his hat in the courtroom, brim forward or back.

Judges should treat defendants, not to mention lawyers, with courtesy. They should make sure that defendants understand what is happening, as if it’s their life being discussed and negotiated, rather than say, “fine, a 240.20 with an ACD. Next.”

Not because it will necessarily change a thing in a defendant’s life. I hate to be the one to say this to Mansky, but they’re just not that into judges. Rather, judges should be more courteous because they have a responsibility to perform their function as a branch of government that, despite all evidence to the contrary, exists to serve the public.

So how much is this going to cost, because Dunkin’ Donut gift cards don’t grow on trees?

The city is picking up the tab for the program, which totals $800,000.

That’s a lot of munchkins. And what does the taxpaying public get out of it?

In meetings with judges, court officers and clerks, the groups will encourage courtroom personnel to introduce themselves, say good morning, and ask if everyone can hear what’s going on.

So it’s, “Hi, my name is Dennis and I’ll be your bridge officer today. Can I get you a latte? Are you sure, it’s going to be a while. I’ll let the judge know you’re here.” Oh yeah, and “REMOVE ALL HATS!”

9 thoughts on “Short take: Good Judge, Nice Judge

  1. Richard Kopf


    This is a great idea!* I am going to start my own consumer satisfaction survey in criminal cases.

    Here is my initial draft:

    “On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is ‘very satisfied’ and 1 being ‘totally unsatisfied’ please rate your experience in Judge Kopf’s courtroom during your sentencing proceeding:

    *With your sentence of life in prison.
    *With the presentence report prepared for your case that included a description of the relevant conduct for your drug operation and the recitation that (a) you had your minions collect a drug debt by sodomizing, with motor oil, a 15-year old girl for failing to pay on time; (b) that you broke the knee of a fellow with a rusty monkey wrench because he, too, was late paying; and (c) the beating a third late payer with a baseball bat after dragging him out of his car.
    *With Judge Kopf’s description of you as a “monster” despite your claim that you were “the gentle drug dealer.”
    *With the fit and finish of the shackles.
    *With the incredibly hard work that the Assistant Federal Public Defender put in on your behalf despite your reference to her as a dumb bitch.
    *With Judge Kopf’s refusal to wilt when the wailing of your three baby mammas commenced.

    COMMENTS: Please add any comments that you believe will help Judge Kopf and other courtroom participants improve. Please print legibly. (If you need to know what “print” or “legibly” mean ask the courtroom deputy who will collect your survey.) To the extent possible don’t refer to Judge Kopf as a ‘cocksucker,’ unless, of course, that is necessary to an accurate description of your feelings and experiences.

    Thank you for completing this survey. On behalf of all us, have a good and productive life at FCI Leavenworth.”

    Scott, I wish to make clear that the foregoing is only a first draft. I welcome suggestions for improvement.

    All the best.


    * For present purposes, I decline to write about the insanity, inanity and irony of trying to compel judges and court official to conduct themselves with common decency.

    ** I pledge to work hard so that my new customer service policy will cost less than $800,000. After all, I have an obligation to protect the federal fisc. However, I reserve the right to use any savings to acquire my own gold-plated bathroom.

  2. JimEd

    “The surveys will be given out to people leaving arraignment and other pre-trial parts of court.”

    Pffft. Passing out a survey? What kind luddite dinosaurs are running this project? If this isn’t done with a cloud based mobile app why bother? Think of all the possibilities for embedding advertisements. Bail-bondsman, reputation repair services, laser tattoo removal… You could make this cash-flow positive and scale-able! Heck, expand the eligible participant base, collect demographics and you could peddle overpriced leather briefcases and sock suspenders to perfectly targeted audiences.

  3. sap

    “Looks like we have an extra $800,000 in the criminal justice budget this year. Let’s use it to make things fairer for the defendants. Any ideas?”

    “We could hire a couple more public defenders this year, or just one more and save the extra for a few years of paying that extra PD.”

    “I have an idea! Let’s do a survey of what defendants would like us to be doing differently and give out gift cards.”

    “Those are both great ideas but we’re going with the survey. That sounds like the most effective way to use this money.”

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