The Judge Knows All – Or Do They?

Posted on Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 by Marc Beyer and is filed under Courts,  Divorce.

Every Judge was first a lawyer.  In many cases, they are former litigators (meaning they regularly appeared in Court) although not always.  But even as litigators, they probably focused their practice on a particular area of law, as most lawyers do.  As with doctors and medicine, lawyers cannot specialize in every area of law.

When a lawyer becomes a Judge, though, they cannot necessarily pick and choose the types of cases that they will hear.  They may find themselves presiding over a case involving a particular legal issue in which they have no experience. In some counties, Judges rotate through different calendars.  One week they may be doing criminal arraignments, and the next week they are doing civil jury trials. In larger counties, like Hennepin and Ramsey, they may be assigned to a particular rotation for a couple to a few years at a time.

One such rotation is family court.  Quite often, when a new Judge first comes on the family court bench, they have no experience at all in family court.  Many Judges are former prosecutors, for example. Their realm was criminal court. They may have no experience in family court whatsoever from their days as a practicing attorney.

It is not uncommon at all, then, that the Judge has the least amount of family court experience as anyone.  They do not necessarily know all of the statutes and the case law to the extent that the lawyers do.

Many people have a perception that Judges reside in an Ivory Tower and know everything there is to know about the law.  (I did before I became a lawyer). Not true. As one Judge told me, the Wisdom Fairy did not sprinkle them with pixie dust the minute they were sworn in as a Judge.  Rather, they are people just like you and me. They put their shoes on one shoe at a time, too. They are not computers. They forget things. They don’t remember everything they read, and they are not experts on everything, either.  They make mistakes. In short, they are human.

Remember this as your case proceeds through family court.  When you settle a case short of a trial, you are taking the case out of the Judge’s hands.  You remove the element of human error, and the possibility that the Judge could mess things up entirely.  As with every profession, not all Judges are created equally. And you have very little control over which Judge is assigned to your case.  Quite often, you are better off reaching a settlement with your spouse, rather than leaving your fate entirely in the hands of a Judge.

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