Fair for all

Issue January 2005 By Kathleen M. O'Donnell

Marylin Beck, a past MBA president and a terrific lawyer, recently commented that everything lawyers do and strive to do can be summarized by one word: Fairness. She is right. When I look at the themes of past MBA presidents and when I look at my agenda for this year, the word "fairness" sums everything up. All lawyers want for themselves and for their clients is to be treated fairly. Likewise, members of our judiciary want to be treated fairly.

A recent investigative report by a local television station did not meet that standard. During this expose on the judiciary in Massachusetts, the work habits of three judges in one court in one county in our state were examined. The footage of these judges shown to viewers was not pretty. It also was not fair. The major point of the report was that the judges filmed did not work a full day. The reporter did not tell his audience that one judge was filmed at 7 a.m. because that is the time she always arrives at the courthouse. While clearly attempting to show the public the poor work ethic of judges in Massachusetts, the reporter did not ever attempt to look at the work habits of any other judges.

We are blessed in Massachusetts with a very high-quality, hard-working judiciary. As lawyers, we know that only a fraction of what most judges do is done from the bench. Many more hours are spent meeting with lawyers in chambers, researching legal issues and writing decisions. Most of our judges also work in dilapidated courthouses with little or no help. Many judges, who move from court to court, virtually work out of their cars. The third branch of our government has always been underfunded. The judiciary has no clear constituency to fight its financial battles on Beacon Hill. Often courthouses are only repaired when the health and safety of the public dictates long-overdue renovations. Most judges work more than 40 hours each week, because they often have to work evenings and weekends to decide time-sensitive issues. Our judges are professionals and they should be treated appropriately. They should be thanked for their public service because, for most judges, deciding to go on the bench is not a financially sound decision.

As in any profession, there are and always will be a few judges who do not work as hard as they could, who do not treat people as fairly as they should and who do not have the appropriate judicial demeanor. Fortunately, such judges are few and far between in our state.

As we begin a New Year, I wish you all success and happiness in 2005. More importantly, I hope you and your clients are treated fairly and that you treat others you encounter in the same way.