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!”