A judge is an individual either elected or appointed as a judicial officer to preside over court proceedings. During both civil and legal proceedings, the judge makes decisions about questions of law, acts as a referee between the parties, rules on admissibility of testimony and evidence, and instructs the jury on how to deliberate the case. To explore this concept, consider the following judge definition.
Definition of Judge
- A public official with the authority to hear and decide cases in a court of law.
- A magistrate given the responsibility to administer justice.
1175-1225 Middle English juge
What are a Judge’s Duties in Court
A judge presides over each case that comes before the court. Because the judge is required to be an impartial evaluator in every case, he or she cannot give people advice about their cases, but are responsible for advising them what their rights in the matter are, and in criminal cases, what the possible penalties are if the individual is found guilty.
On the whole, it is the judge’s primary responsibility to ensure all of the parties, their representatives, and witnesses adhere to proper courtroom procedure. The judge is also responsible for making sure that each case goes through the legal process, and to trial, in a timely manner.
During the trial process, the judge rules on motions made by either party, makes important decisions about witness testimony and evidence to be presented, and either makes a final judgment on the case for which there is no jury, or instructs the jury about how to apply the law to the case they have heard.
What are a Judge’s Duties Outside the Courtroom
Outside the courtroom, in his or her office (called “chambers”), a judge spends a lot of time reviewing cases, and researching rules, regulations, and laws. High-level judges, often referred to as “presiding judges,” consider changing needs of the court and community, and establish or modify court rules and procedures to help the court run smoothly. Judges supervise court clerks, law clerks, and other court staff, and meet with attorneys to encourage settlement. In some jurisdictions, judges perform marriage ceremonies.
Skills and Qualities of a Judge
While most judges possess law degrees, and have acquired experience as attorneys before taking the bench, this is not required in all jurisdictions. It is important for a judge to have a good understanding of criminal and civil legal procedure, the court system in general, and the rules of the jurisdiction. Individuals with solid analytical, logical reasoning, and critical decision-making skills make the best judges, as they are required to render sound judgments on a wide variety of issues. Excellent research and writing skills enable a judge to write concise opinions, procedures, memoranda, and other legal documents.
Public Expectations of a Judge
A judge is a public official who has a responsibility to make sound judgments, both professionally, and in his or her personal life. Because of this, a judge must be careful to exhibit high standards of integrity in all facets of life. The public keeps a wary eye on those passing judgment over their communities, and generally expect irreproachable behavior from their judges.
The public expects a judge to be open-minded and fair in making sound decisions that will hold up to scrutiny. To do this, a judge must listen well, and be able to ask pertinent questions to determine the truth of an issue that is embroiled in the legal process. While some judges find it difficult to maintain a courteous demeanor in all cases, year after year, this is an important skill in maintaining a reputation of open-mindedness and professionalism. A judge should also, however, be able to take a firm hand to gain control over an ill-mannered or insolent litigant, a disrespectful spectator, or a rambling attorney.
Examples of Judicial Misconduct
Judges are expected to conduct themselves in a professional and orderly manner, adhering to the rules and moral guidelines of their office. The headlines are, unfortunately, ripe with examples of judges at all levels of the court system who have failed this task stunningly.
Low Moral Standards of Wade Harper McCree
Former Circuit Court judge in Wayne County, Michigan, Wade McCree exhibited poor judgement and lace of moral behavior when he sent a photograph of himself posing half nude to a court bailiff. That stunt earned him the nickname “shirtless judge.” Fifty-five year old McCree again showed poor judgment when he told inquiring press “there’s no shame in my game.”
Later, in 2013, a formal complaint was filed against McCree, claiming he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman, Geniene LaShay Mott, who was embroiled in a child support case against the father of her child. The complaint claims the pair engaged in sexual acts in a variety of locations, including the judge’s chambers.
The charges leveled against McCree by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission included his failure to recuse (remove) himself from Mott’s case, engaging in a sexual relationship with Mott while on the bench, in which Mott became pregnant, sending Mott indecent text messages while on the bench, and other incidents of improper conduct during the course of his relationship with Mott.
After a formal hearing was held, the Commission recommended to the Michigan Supreme Court that McCree be removed from the bench and that, if he was re-elected, he should be suspended without pay for six years. McCree was also ordered to pay court costs to the tune of nearly $12,000.
In rendering its decision, removing McCree from the bench, the Michigan Supreme Court stated:
“…there is not much, if anything, that is more prejudicial to the actual administration of justice than having a sexual relationship with a complaining witness without recusing oneself, … attempting to use the prosecutor’s office as leverage against this now ex-mistress by concocting charges of stalking and extortion against her, and then lying under oath about these matters.”
Domestic Violence Committed by Mark Fuller
On August 9, 2014, U.S. District Court judge Mark Fuller was arrested for domestic violence against his wife, who had sustained injuries when Fuller threw her to the ground, pulled her hair, and kicked her. This was, apparently, Fuller’s reaction to his wife’s confronting him about his having an affair with a law clerk. Fuller was charged only with misdemeanor battery, and spent one night in jail. Fuller had a prior record of domestic violence, however, as his divorce records from a prior marriage describe domestic violence, drug abuse, and extramarital affairs.
A month later, Fuller accepted a plea bargain in which, in exchange for his completion of a 24-week court program, his record would be expunged. Alabama’s congressional delegation did not look favorably on this outcome, and asked Fuller to resign his position.
Educational Requirements to be a Judge
With the exception of some local court jurisdictions, an individual seeking to become a judge must obtain a law degree, as well as quality experience working as an attorney. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common requirements to become a judge are a law degree (Juris Doctor), and a license to practice law.
To obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, the individual must first attend undergraduate school in whatever field of study they like. Most obtain degrees in history, political science, or business. He or she must then attend an American Bar Association (“ABA”) approved law school, which takes three years to complete. Some law schools have part time programs that allow individuals with work or family responsibilities to attend. Such a part time schedule commonly takes four years to complete.
After successful completion of law school, the individual must pass written tests provided by the local bar association, this is called a “bar exam.” The bar exam is an hours-long test that digs into each student’s knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of law, including contracts and tort law, criminal law, and ethics.
Judicial Career Statistics
As of 2014, a career as a judge promised a mean annual salary of $106,420. A mean salary is a salary at which half the workers in a given occupation earn less, and half earn more. The top earning judges in the U.S. earn upwards of $180,000 per year. That breaks down to an hourly wage of nearly $90 per hour. In addition to the federal court system, every state and local jurisdiction employs judges, making this a career path with possibilities for reliable employment in nearly any location.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states employing the most judges, in May 2014, include:
Per Thousand Jobs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states paying judges the highest wages, in May 2014, include:
Per Thousand Jobs
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- American Bar Association – A nationwide organization to which qualified attorneys belong voluntarily. More than 400,000 members make the ABA the largest voluntary professional organization in the world.
- Judge’s Chambers – The judge’s private office or room in which he or she conducts business of the court, meets with attorneys, and hears motions outside the courtroom.
- Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
- Presiding Judge – A judge in each jurisdiction who manages the court, making policy decisions, assigning judges to specialized courts, and overseeing the court’s calendar.
- Public Official – An individual in a position of authority conferred by the government, or elected by the people, such as judges, legislative officers, and administrative heads.