I am a student of the judiciary, and for some time, I have wanted to be a federal judge. I’m young and green, and I know it’s a long shot, but I’d make a kick-ass robe wearer some day. Come on! What court couldn’t use a strong woman with good judgment like me? Certain things about my resume prohibit me from feeling comfortable enough to admit this dream/goal, and if someone asked me, “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?,” I know it wouldn’t be the first thing I’d blurt out. But right now, in this anonymous forum, I’m admitting it.
Given who I’d like to be many tomorrows from now, I need to do my job well today to get there. If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain, right? Kiss some frogs? Dance like there’s nobody watching; love like you’ve never been hurt? Anyway, the last cliché I’ll throw out is this: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It always seems fitting for courtroom politics, I think.
As I study judges during my workday—their personalities, their behaviors, their trial methods—it’s obvious what a crapshoot the whole system tends to be. Obviously many of these moving parts are 90% of the thrill, but once you get walloped, all perspective is lost.
In my opinion, there are two principal archetypes:
- Sticklers for the rules.
- What I like to call “substantial justice” judges.
My first major assignment as a lawyer happened recently, and I was to oppose a motion to stay based on litigation in another forum. I worked my butt off, and a major portion of my arguments was supported by declarations from a German law expert and my German client. Their declarations were signed, “I declare under penalty of perjury the foregoing is true and correct, X.”
Well, in case you’re not aware, California law says that the declarations, if signed outside of California, must read, “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of California the foregoing is true and correct.” So the judge on that case threw out all of my evidence. And she couldn’t have been a bigger b-i-t-c-h about it, if you don’t mind me saying.
I had a winning argument! It’s totally not fair that my client now has to wait for this German case to conclude before he can sue his employer in California. But this particular judge is a totally typical type #1—she’s a rigid, frigid stickler for the rules. She reads ALL the briefs and does her OWN research. You won’t be surprised when I further mention that she’s a Yale Law grad and a former BigLaw lawyer. But that’s neither here nor there. Bottom line: She is way smarter than I am, and to her, the rules are the rules. No exceptions. She sees it no other way than by the book.
On the other hand, I’ve also appeared several times before a different judge who is a former DA. He’s all about fairness, and as he says, “Fair is fair.” So agreeable! Would you like to add factual arguments to a demurrer? Go right ahead! Oh, did you want to come in ex parte every day and bicker about discovery? You’re more than welcome!
In a perfect world, these two judges would’ve traded cases. In my quest of judge analysis, the former judge put an indomitable mark on my career. Could it keep me from one day occupying her very seat? I don’t know. But it feels like I’m a young, hopeful talk show host who says, “I want to be the next Oprah Winfrey,” only to have Oprah scream, “Bitch, sit down and dream on” in my face.
I’m up against a DA who is hearing a complex securities case and a typical stickler who is handling a messy employment case. Each of them would be much better suited for the other’s case. Why can’t life always be according to the way I’d like it?
So much for this “luck of the draw” thing, but I guess I’ll have to make it work…and try, try again.
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