Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unhappy Customers

One of my favorite cartoons when I was growing up was “Super Chicken”.  Super Chicken had a sidekick, a lion named Fred, who would often complain when they were put in a particularly tough situation.  When that happened, Super Chicken would exclaim, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred!”

Some days, I can relate to Fred.

It’s pretty certain that at some point during 99% of court proceedings, one side will be unhappy with the judge’s rulings.  I try to explain why I have ruled in a particular way, but, understandably, this does not always satisfy the party on the losing end.

Most people can and do accept the decision and get on with their lives.  Once in a very great while, folks are so unhappy with a judge’s decision that they want the world to know how badly they were treated.

One case I handled involved allegations of domestic abuse.  The father had his visitation rights with his daughter limited because of the threats.  He was very unhappy with me.

He was so unhappy that he paid for newspaper ads in three counties, criticizing me and asking other unhappy litigants to contact him (one other did).  Then, he copied the ads and hung them up in bars in the three counties.  He followed up by writing several letters to the editors of local papers. 

Ah, the good old days. 

Today, when a litigant is unhappy, he turns to… a blog!  For the cost of nothing, a blog can be set up to give folks a venue to criticize judges (or anyone else), sometimes in the most unfair and defamatory ways.  Several of my colleagues have become the subjects of such blog attacks.  They almost invariably involve a family law dispute concerning custody or parenting time of children. 

These electronic forums can help organize protests against a particular judge.  I was at a courthouse where such a protest was being held against one of my colleagues.  I know of another of my colleagues whose church was picketed on Sunday morning to protest his rulings.

And we judges pretty much have to sit and take it. Our rules of ethics prohibit us from commenting on pending cases, which these always are.  The aim, of course, is to intimidate the judge into changing his decision.  The result, of course, fails.

And we often wish that the litigants would put a fraction of the effort into maintaining their relations with their ex-spouse and children as they did attacking the judge.  I know they would be happier, in the short and long run.

But, then I remember, “You knew the job was difficult when you took it, Tom”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Next Week:  Second Drawer on the Right