At the beginning of every year, the newly appointed judges in the state of New York get courthouse assignments, robe fitting, chambers and staff members.
In addition to these, the judges attend “Judge School”, which is a four-day judicial boot camp to help transform lawyers accustomed to using their legal expertise to defend clients into impartial judges.
The program is conducted typically in the first week of January at the New York State Judicial Institute at Pace University’s Law School in White Plains, N.Y, and has been offered by the state for over 30 years.
The state’s court system employs nearly 1,250 judges and also oversees 2,400 more town and village judges.
Shift In Perspective For New Judges
The new state court judges come from a variety of backgrounds, across the state.
Judge Robles, a former defense lawyer from Brooklyn newly assigned to Brooklyn Criminal Court noted that as a new judge, they need to “go from advocating for one side, to becoming an impartial party who now has to apply the law equally.”
Judge Juanita Bing Newton, the dean of the judicial institute, which is a full-time training & education center for judges as well as others employed by the New York State Unified Court System stated that the goal of the program is to equip the judges with the necessary tools to take full control of their courtroom quickly.
The course typically consists of several presentations mostly by senior state court judges, and covers a broad curriculum that ranges from general ethics and courtroom conduct to narrow points of decision writing, search and seizure rules, domestic violence issues and orders of protection.
Michael V. Coccoma, a deputy chief administrative judge in his lecture on the “Art of Judging,” warned against getting affected by the “black robe disease,” where the new judges “think they can do no wrong.” He reminded them remain humble, pointing out that “no crown comes with that black robe.”
Judge Coccoma said stated that for a judge needs to remember that, “your reputation will be formed by your first year on the bench.”
He also assured the attendees that making an error while ruling is to be expected and ideally it must be corrected without delay from the bench. He recommended using the phrase “Upon further consideration,” to avoid having to see a judgement questioned in The New York Law Journal, or be reversed later on appeal.
Behaviour Scrutinized More Than Decisions
Judge Coccoma also warned against conflicts of interest, accepting gifts and interacting casually with lawyers arguing cases in their courtroom. He advised them to tackle the emotional strain from trial work with healthy outlets like music, meditation, power naps, exercise while avoiding drugs or alcohol.
Judge Bing Newton reminded the new judges must be careful holding people in contempt, and also warned that their behaviour was “ more subject to criticism than your decisions.”
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George J. Silver advised the judges to process their cases quickly and to start their sessions promptly each day at 9:30 a.m to avoid getting an unfavourable reputation.
In his lecture, “Evidence Essentials For Trial Judges,” Michael J. Hutter, a professor at Albany Law School, highlighted that clear-cut answers are not always available particularly when contextual information is lacking.
Additionally, as the criteria for criminal, civil, family and other courts varies, a judge’s curiosity, wisdom and interpretive skills becomes highly important.