Real courtrooms look nothing like TV. Not much seems to go on, and the pace can be glacially slow. But what's happening is profoundly serious. Judges can send people to death or long periods in prison, they can permanently deprive them of their children, and they can ruin them financially. I've done most of those things.
However scary and responsible, the work is also highly satisfying and can even be fun. It is, in my opinion, the best job in the law. I've made rulings that decided a horse race, and I've stopped a ferry. (After the jump is a photo of the author in full spate, stopping a ferry.) With my courtroom filled with 12-year-olds in baseball uniforms, I've determined whether a Pony League team could go on to the next step of tournament play. In joyous moments, I've performed marriages and adoptions.
In 2008 I retired from working full time, but I've been lucky enough to keep being a judge on an occasional basis in San Juan County, a much different place from the big up-and-coming Seattle-King County metro area.
the big city, I was one of more than fifty judges, all of whom were, as
we liked to point out, "independently elected public officials." By
that we meant that we were all peers, that we each had gotten to the
court independently of one another, and that we collectively ran the
judicial branch of the government in our county. Nobody was the boss of
us. We mostly thought of ourselves as generalists, whether or not we had
been specialists in our previous work as lawyers. My colleagues were
very smart and intellectually sophisticated, and among themselves could
be highly contentious.
Where I worked also doesn't look like Law and Order.
The primary courthouse for King County is in Seattle. It is old and
attractive, but also remarkably grubby and uncomfortable.
most of the time I was there, judges' chambers had no hot water.
Cleaning was sporadic and ineffectual. Almost none of the courtrooms and
other public areas were disability accessible; it was nearly impossible
for wheelchair-bound citizens to serve on juries. The constant roar of
heating and air conditioning in the courtrooms made listening an
exhausting chore. After the strong but mercifully deep earthquake of
2001, the county passed up the chance to replace this outmoded building,
so large parts of it were closed for almost two years for earthquake
retrofitting. Ancient, thick, and soundproof (but extremely dangerous)
walls were removed. The remodel made the building even less comfortable,
and it took away some of its charm.
When I was there, a typical day for a judge in King County started by 8:30 in the morning. when we heard short matters, such as an easy motion or a probation violation hearing. We then moved into trial time at around 9:00 a.m., hearing cases till 4:00 p.m., and finally did more motions and short matters until 4:30 or even later. After that we might have a meeting or a settlement conference that ran into the dinner hour. There were significantly more cases than judges, and it was important to keep moving -- sometimes it felt more like processing than judging.
Before and after the trial day and during lunch our time could be completely filled by meetings, since as judges, we governed the judicial branch. Theoretically, every judge was hearing something in the courtroom from 8:30 to 4:30, so preparation and deliberation time were off the clock. Each of us was responsible for hundreds of cases. The competition to be the most workaholic was keen, and judges frequently went out the door at the end of the day with huge armloads of files.
As superior court judges, we heard cases ranging from drug possession to murder and from simple slip-and-falls to huge contract or personal injury cases. Among the most difficult were matters involving children: hotly contested custody, abuse and neglect, or juvenile crimes. I did nothing but custody-type cases for three years.
To support all this work were scores of staff people, ranging from filers to clerks to social workers, and a lot of stuff, including furniture, computers, and many tons of paper.
The work was hard when I was there, and recent brutal budget cuts have made it even harder. Support staff have been cut repeatedly, and when I see my former colleagues they look exhausted.
Being a judge in a very small island community is both different and similar.
The first time I sat in Friday Harbor as a judge pro tem was almost half a year after I had left Seattle. Unlike the chambers I had inhabited in the city, the window behind me looked out on the harbor and the marina, with the big shoulder of Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island in the background beyond the water. I could see ferries come and go. The building and the room were clean.
I had brought away with me from Seattle the more worn of my two judicial robes, folded up since my last day of work. As I put it on, I found my hands automatically going through the remembered patterns of hooking the top fastener, then going down through the snaps. I smiled to myself about the familiarity, and went out into the courtroom.
Since that day I have learned the charms and awkwardnesses of being a judge in a very small place. As a judge pro tem in this community, I am a utility player. Except when our excellent regular judges (one Superior Court judge, one District Court judge) are away, I am not in the starting lineup, but I have learned to play field positions I never before filled. In the city, the Superior Court judges shunned the idea of doing traffic cases; in San Juan County I have learned to give them the same care and respect I would to a major felony.
Court resources were never abundant in San Juan County, even when times were better. For example, although there were staff social workers in King County who could investigate and report on kids' circumstances, here there is almost no county money for such services. Expensive technology has never been a priority, and many staff members do double duty in court jobs. The fact that this is a one-judge superior court can be a further drain on resources: if the judge is prevented by conflict rules from hearing a case, an expensive exchange with another county is sometimes needed.
One of the great dreads for rural judges is having to hear a high-profile case, especially a long one, for they are very, very expensive. It might have been interesting to try the Barefoot Bandit here, but it would have broken the budget.
Where a rural court can shine is in its humanity. The court in San Juan County is distinguished for me by the emphasis it places on taking care of its own. All the players involved have a common goal, namely, dispensing real justice: justice for the community and for the individuals involved in every case. The courtroom prosecutor, for instance, does not subordinate integrity -- either his own or that of the system -- to chalking up convictions. Some of that stems from knowing the people involved in a prosecution: the defendant, his or her family, the victims and their families, and the neighbors and friends who can shore up a sinking family. When a young person gets in trouble and the family can't or won't help, someone else is likely to step up to the plate, because the community cares deeply about its kids. Indeed, when I sit as a juvenile court judge in Friday Harbor, I am struck by the fact that these kids can still be turned around.
Small communities, though, can also reject their own. In January, I dealt with a young man who had committed a particularly ugly crime ten years ago and had recently violated his probation. It was apparent, when I invited him to address the court, that he had a profound distaste for his life and the way he lived now. He had never been able to get his life into shape, the way most of us did after our teens and early twenties. He had moved to the other side of the state, and he feared that if he went to jail, he would lose his rented house there. As he put it, if that happened he would have little choice but to come back home -- a place where, he said, nobody wanted him. The community had, indeed, never forgotten what he had done. His very presence seemed to raise the hackles of the people I work with. The atmosphere in the courtroom was like nothing I had encountered in the city.
Anonymity for a judge or anyone else involved in the court system is nearly impossible in a small community. A potential juror might have been bowling the previous week with the plaintiff who is claiming permanent injury. The guy who runs the deli in the market knows I work as a judge, as do most of the proprietors of the places I eat lunch. For a while one of the baggers in the market would huff at me about the extra 24 hours in jail I had given him. Even on the mainland I run into people who had appeared before me in Friday Harbor.
The rewards of working here are immense. I've had the opportunity to become a better judge than ever before. Part of it is having time to do the work properly -- when I preside over a settlement conference, I can take the time necessary to help the parties resolve their disputes, and when I hear a case, I know I can consider the facts and the law without a Chief Judge breathing down my neck to get on with it and take the next case. Mostly, though, it's knowing that I am part of a team with genuine concern for the community and the individuals who live in it.
Ultimately, judges in big and small communities serve an institution and a concept of justice we believe are central to our American ideals. I am proud to have been a part of the judiciary and I'm proud to be able to serve it still.
Glenna Hall, a retired superior court judge and mediator,
lives on San Juan Island, Washington.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
In Sunday’s referendum, voters firmly rejected Europe’s plan to bail out the country’s economy. What’s next?
Updated on July 5, 2015 4:57 pm
On Sunday, Greek citizens took to the polls in a controversial referendum asking them whether they support a plan calling for continued economic austerity in exchange for debt relief. Their answer—with more than 70 percent of the votes counted—was a resounding “no.”The outcome means that next steps for the nation, which has fallen into arrears with the IMF and imposed capital controls to prevent a run on the banks, is largely uncertain. According to reports from Reuters, the country may next attempt to secure financing by asking for more emergency funding from the European Central Bank.
The referendum—which had asked Greeks to vote “yes” or “no” on a proposal from Eurogroup leaders to extend financing to the deeply indebted country— was called for by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras amid meetings of Eurozone leaders trying to come up with a deal to allow the country to avoid default. The call for the referendum effectively ended those discussions.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
People put serious weight on judgments of character based on facial structure alone.
People whose faces are perceived to look more "competent" are more likely to be CEOs of large, successful companies. Having a face that people deem "dominant" is a predictor of rank advancement in the military. People are more likely to invest money with people who look "trustworthy." These sorts of findings go on and on in recent studies that claim people can accurately guess a variety of personality traits and behavioral tendencies from portraits alone. The findings seem to elucidate either canny human intuition or absurd, misguided bias.
There has been a recent boom in research on how people attribute social characteristics to others based on the appearance of faces—independent of cues about age, gender, race, or ethnicity. (At least, as independent as possible.) The results seem to offer some intriguing insight, claiming that people are generally pretty good at predicting who is, for example, trustworthy, competent, introverted or extroverted, based entirely on facial structure. There is strong agreement across studies as to what facial attributes mean what to people, as illustrated in renderings throughout this article. But it's, predictably, not at all so simple.
An attorney who helped players file a gender-discrimination lawsuit over artificial turf in the World Cup proposes a way forward for the sport.
On Sunday, players from the U.S. and Japan’s women’s soccer teams will step onto the field in Vancouver to compete for the sport’s greatest achievement: the World Cup. But perhaps the bigger battle—one that started well before the final match and will continue well after—isn’t about a trophy or national glory. Women’s soccer teams have long fought for recognition and respect not just from the public, but also from the male organizers of the sport, and it’s a struggle symbolized by the very fields they’ve been playing on.
The co-hosts of the World Cup—FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association—failed to stage this year’s tournament to be played on real grass like every other World Cup previously, mandating that it be played on artificial turf instead. This is despite the dangers and inconveniences plastic turf poses. The synthetic pitches bake in the sun, with surface temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees. Clouds of rubber pebbles fly into players’ eyes, and the turf makes it difficult for the women to gauge the way the ball will bounce.