Ready for Your Close-Up, Your
to assess judges'
National Law Journal
If golfers and football players use videotapes to improve their
why not judges?
That's the philosophy behind a pilot program in Massachusetts
several judges were recently videotaped so they could see
they act behind the bench.
While cameras have long been in the courtroom documenting
proceedings, this program is different in that the cameras zoom
the judges, looking for blunders or improper behavior.
"This doesn't mean that judges are not performing well; it just
we need to continue to perform well and, when necessary,
said Charles R. Johnson, chief justice of the Boston Municipal
Department, who is reviewing 30 videotapes of judges to see
potential weak spots are.
"I'm sure that the majority of the tapes will reveal that the
doing exactly what they should be doing. But it may very well
that there are judges who could improve their courtroom
said Johnson, stressing that the program is not punitive but a
measure to weed out potential misimpressions.
"You can see mistakes and say, 'Oh my God, did I do that?' or
'Did I say
that?' But unless you have the opportunity to look back
and observe your
performance, you might miss your mistakes because a lot of
point out our mistakes. They are reluctant to point it
out, and to a large
extent we operate in isolation," Johnson said.
OTHER TAPING STATES
According to the National Center for State Courts, just two
have similar programs. Minnesota has videotaped judges
since 2000, while
New Jersey has been taping for a decade. In recent years,
experimented with the idea. And some courts in California
videotaped court proceedings, but only if there's a complaint
Judge Geoffrey Neithercut of Michigan's 7th Judicial Circuit
Flint, whose courtroom has been videotaped over the last
videotapes as a useful tool that can help keep judges and
lawyers in line.
While the 7th Circuit initially implemented cameras to save
money on court
reporters, Neithercut noted that the program has helped judges
Specifically, he recalled a judge who was famous for using body
to try to influence the jury, but modified his behavior after
on tape doing so.
"He would sigh. He would roll his eyes. He would instruct the
say, 'Now the law says we presume the defendant to be
innocent,' and his
eyes would go to the back of his head," Neithercut said. "With
you could catch him in the act."
Neithercut applauded the Massachusetts program, saying, "I
think it's a
great idea." As for his own behavior in the courtroom, he said,
to say I try to do the right work with or without the [video]
Attorney Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial
Ethics for the
American Judicature Society, said videotapes could be a useful
judiciary review committees that have to investigate
cases of judicial
misconduct. She noted that misconduct cases saw a 29 percent
in the last year, from 114 in 2004 to 147 cases in 2005.
"I don't know if it would get rid of misconduct or not. But I
it's good for judges to look at themselves and for
commissions to have
good evidence to exonerate judges or help prove misconduct,"
In New Jersey, court officials note that videotapes help give
kind of feedback that lawyers or jurors are afraid to
"When we started doing evaluations with questionnaires, no one
to tell the judge what they honestly thought, and the
videotapes are pretty
good at giving them some clear-cut feedback," said
Richard Young, chief
of the judicial education and performance unit for the New
Administrative Office of the Courts.
David Givens, an anthropologist who researched and videotaped
behavior for the Washington state judiciary for seven
videotapes can show potential bias in a judge.
For example, he said, if judges compress their lips when a
talking, it sends a signal that they don't believe the defense.
Or when they
pay attention to the prosecutor, but scribble notes when the
speaks, that implies they favor the prosecution.
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