Views from the Bench

Publication year2014
Views from the Bench
Vol. 27 No. 1 Pg. 16
Utah Bar Journal
February, 2014.

January, 2014.


Carolyn E. Howard.

As a new sitting justice court judge, I have pondered the question of what makes a good judge. I am honored to serve as judge of the Saratoga Springs Justice Court. I was sworn in on January 28, 2013, by my father, the Honorable Fred D. Howard of the Fourth District Court. Given the importance of this special assignment, I have worked diligently during the past months to gather insight from other judges and lawyers through observation of court calendars and trials, in order to better understand the character and qualities of a good judge. Now with almost a year behind me, and as one of the youngest judges in the state (age 36), I have come to appreciate that the rules we learned in kindergarten, namely being nice to others, being kind and minding your manners, are the same relevant rules we are to live by in the practice of law.

In April 2013, 1 attended the Annual Justice Court Training in St. George, Utah, which included discussion of how the public views judges. Anonymous comments from the public included expectations of judges to listen to litigants, to maintain order in the courtroom, to treat everyone with respect, and to avoid talking down to lawyers and litigants. Win or lose, parties expected to be able to tell their story and have their day in court.

While there are perhaps many characteristics that suggest a positive judicial demeanor, I noted an article written by Justice Steven Wallace of the Orderville Justice Court in the Spring 2013 Newsletter for Justice Court Judges. Judge Wallace commented that judges must know the law, be able to separate the relevant from the irrelevant, maintain a good listening ear, and hold one's tongue. Such are the primary characteristics of good judicial demeanor.

Additionally, one of the public comments from the conference included the observation that a respectful judge is one who maintains direct eye contact with attorneys and litigants throughout legal proceedings.

The comments suggested that judges who are writing from the bench often make an attorney or litigant believe the judge is not listening or being attentive to the case. While the taking of notes can be of vital assistance to one's memory, this exercise should not eclipse direct eye contact with the attorney or litigant in order to assure him or her that the judge is following along and...

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