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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Judicial Reports: When Judges Get the Blues

When Judges Get the Blues

The Institute for Judicial Studies by Jason Boog
jasonboog@judicialstudies.com - July 2, 2008

Judges are expected to be fair but firm, empathetic but efficient. But with a crushing workload and an often ungrateful public, what happens when a member of the bench reaches the breaking point? A special report on the mental health of the judiciary.

Thirty years ago, Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Loren N. Brown made a decision that still haunts him in retirement.

In 1977, the then-County Court Judge was assigned to a Family Court case to help ease docket congestion. It became what he calls the “most difficult case” of his career.

County officials had removed eight-year-old Joseph Hofbauer from his parents’ care, initiating a tempestuous custody case. The boy had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, but his father wouldn’t allow him to receive the surgery and chemotherapy regimen that doctors recommended — a medical decision that County authorities called child neglect.

According to the judge, experts testified that conventional therapies for the boy’s illness had an 85-percent survival rate. Nevertheless, the father had opted for controversial Laetrile treatments for cancer, an unorthodox technique that had been outlawed in New York State.

“I determined that the father had the right to make the decision,” the judge recounted in a recent interview by phone. He is now of counsel to the Saratoga Springs firm, Snyder, Kiley, Toohey, Corbett & Cox. “It was very unpleasant. I’d get calls at home, but when a case is pending you can’t discuss it. It developed a media frenzy.”

In the wake of national press attention, the boy’s family moved to the Bahamas to continue the unconventional treatments. In two years, the boy died — and the coroner ruled that Hodgkin’s disease was the cause.

Despite the tragic outcome, the retired jurist said he feels he made the right decision. Two appellate courts upheld his ruling, and the case is still cited in family law opinions.

“You accept the responsibility, you have to do it. To be a good judge, you have to be decisive,” he said. “You have to be reflective, but there’s a tendency in some to be over-reflective. [Still] it hasn’t left me yet. I still reflect on it, I still dwell on it.”

In an interview, Brown explained that he never sought professional counseling during his career. “I lived with the stress. It didn’t have any long-term effects. You take on these jobs, and people live with the stress. I didn’t need any counseling.”

The haunting memory of the case illustrates one of the unique anxieties of the judiciary: a judge can make the correct legal decision in a Family Court or Criminal Court, but people close to the case can still suffer, or even die.

In addition, judges cope with a mix of public visibility and expectation that is unique to their roles in society. When judges face the same problems that plague other individuals — like serious chemical imbalances, say, or marital problems — those problems are amplified by the mutually exclusive imperatives of being deliberative and fair, on the one hand, and maintaining order and efficiency, on the other.

And hard as that is, the inherent isolation of the position — plus a jurist’s knowledge that he or she is often under public siege or physical threat — can make them yet more brittle.

Judicial Reports spoke with a number of state judges and administrators, cataloguing the singular problems that judges endure. They mentioned judicial workload pressures, family problems, financial burdens from the ongoing pay-raise debacle, and press scrutiny. All of which raises the question — when judges get the blues, where can they go for help?

EXPECTATIONS BREED REMORSE

Dr. Isaiah M. Zimmerman, a psychiatrist who works at the Washington School of Psychiatry, a non-profit institute in Washington, D.C., has been studying problems specific to jurists for 30 years. He pinpointed Judge Brown’s dilemma in an interview, limning the psychological fault lines of the judiciary.

“There are two sides to [being a judge]. One is the personal side — being conscientious people that they are witness to a tragedy — a human life gone awry. They have compassion and empathy even though they are following the law,” said the psychiatrist.

“[The other] is the public side. The public, through the press, ‘judges’ whether the sentence or judgment was fair. There is a lot of reaction and pressure that judges need to get used to for cases that are sensationalized and publicized.”

Where Judge Brown was able to endure his psychological watershed on his own, another judge wasn’t so lucky. The State’s most infamous case of judicial breakdown illustrates how hard one prominent judge worked to hide his struggles with mental illness.

In 1992, federal authorities caught then-Chief Judge Sol Wachtler making anonymous threats against his former girlfriend’s family.

The disgraced judge was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and pled guilty to a federal felony of one count of kidnap threat — spending one year in jail for the act. The former judge was recently granted his law license again, and now teaches law at Touro Law Center. He is currently out of the country, and was not available to be interviewed for this story.

But Wachtler recounted his harrowing breakdown in a 1997 Psychology Today interview, revealing how he hid his troubles from his colleagues and the public:

“[M]y vanity was one of the reasons I didn't seek help for my illness. Here I was, a manic depressive. I would check into a hotel room under an assumed name and stay there crying for two days without ever pulling the shade up. My wife, who is a clinical social worker, begged me to get help and told me I was destroying myself. But rather than see a psychiatrist, I got prescriptions for Tenuate [a diet pill], Halcion [a sleeping pill], and Pamelor [an anti-depressant] — all from different doctors. I took more than 1,400 Tenuate and 280 Halcion in a four-month period.”

WORKLOAD AND ISOLATION

Public perception might be destructive, but a number of judges and experts cited a another age-old problem that plagues judges — the perpetually overcrowded and understaffed bench.

While many professions suffer from crowded schedules, judges are bound by a double-standard: they are supposed to come to reasoned, calm decisions, but at the same time, expected to cope with overloaded dockets.

In 2007, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removed Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert M. Restaino from his post because the judge jailed 46 people in his courtroom after a cellphone interrupted proceedings — a breakdown that a number of experts attributed to overwork.

The judge was represented by Joel Daniels, a Buffalo attorney. While Daniels did not return phone calls for this article, in a previous interview the attorney blamed overwork and marital problems for Restaino’s breakdown.

Click here to read Judicial Reports’s analysis of that case.

The Commission’s decision noted that one Administrative Judge had described Restaino’s Domestic Violence Court docket as “crushing,” raising the theory that the judge “snapped” under these pressures that many judges face. Raul Felder, the former Chair, wrote the lone dissent in the Commission’s decision to remove the judge.

Felder characterized the incident as “two hours of viral lunacy” in a strong judicial career, theorizing that the Commission had downplayed the mental health explanation for the outburst:

“I am constrained to comment on Commission counsel’s attempt to belittle respondent’s explanation that he 'snapped' because of personal stresses in his life. Although Commission counsel argues that such an explanation is not believable because no single triggering event in his personal life had occurred that morning and that prolonged stress cannot explain a temporary loss of reason, I believe that simple human experience has shown that that is simply untrue.”

Despite that plea for clemency, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s finding, keeping Judge Restaino off the bench.

FAMILY DRAMA

Supreme Court Justice Sharon S. Townsend will never forget working grueling month-long stints in Erie County Family Court’s intake courtroom that saw between 75 and 100 cases on the average bad day in the early 1990’s.

“By the fourth week you were spent and exhausted, not just physically, but emotionally,” she recalled in an interview.

Justice Townsend spent more than 10 years in Family Court, and now serves as Administrative Judge for the Eighth Judicial District. In her opinion, Family Court is still one of the most stressful jobs in the judiciary.

“Basically, after constantly dealing with these traumatic events involving violence, especially with children, you begin to internalize that trauma,” she said in an interview, categorizing that overwhelming emotional identification as “vicarious trauma.”

“You need to recognize it and deal with it — exercise, talking to people, or dealing with it in some other healthy way. You’re bombarded with case after case of horrific experiences that you are hearing about and reading about,” she concluded.

Legal psychiatrist Zimmerman explained that some judges keep these traumas secret, struggling to maintain a public image of temperance and control.

“[Judges] have a feeling that they have to live up to a public image of how much is expected of them and keep up with a caseload no matter how much emotional pressure. When they come to me, they’ve already had a long period of suffering before they got help,” said Zimmerman.

He’s been counseling judges since the 1970’s, writing a number of foundational papers on the unique psychiatric problems of the judiciary.

“The response rate is very low because of this reluctance to be seen — [judges] pass judgment on people’s behavior but they themselves are expected to be invulnerable to human frailty,” he concluded in an interview, comparing judges to members of the clergy.

COMBATING JUDICIAL STRESS IN NEW YORK STATE

Most recently, the New York State Judicial Institute has lead the charge in helping judges find more resources to cope with their unique struggles.

In June, the Institute held the first of three summer judicial seminars to discuss that very issue — part of that group’s continuing education programs for the judiciary. Reporters were excluded from the event, but it featured a lecture by Dr. Zimmerman and gave judges a private forum to discuss their problems.

Two more judicial seminars will touch on this issue during the summer.

In 2001, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye created the New York State Lawyer Assistance Trust, a group that “brings statewide resources and awareness to the prevention and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse among lawyers, judges and law students.” They work in concert with similar programs that are offered by both the American Bar Association and the City and State Bar.

Last year Judge Kaye appointed a 16-judge committee for that organization, focusing on judicial stresses. Currently, the committee is tasked with coming up with “ways to enhance the experience of serving as a judge in New York State,” and they expect to issue a report in 2009.

“Judges face pressures from many sources including increasing caseloads, increasing responsibilities, and in some cases, personal threats,” explained Tompkins County Court John C. Rowley, the judge who has chaired Judge Kaye’s 16-person judicial advisory panel since its inception.

Like most judges, Justice Rowley wouldn’t give specific examples of these judicial woes. He said in his own career, workload was by far the toughest problem he faced. “I was not prepared for the volume of work the job entailed,” he recalled.

Rowley’s sympathy with caseload problems is understandable.

His caseload is unique, as he serves in what the OCA calls a “multi-bench” area, alternating as a County, Surrogate and Family Court judge in his caseload. Rowley was elected to his post, and his term expires in 2010.

CANADA’S SOLUTION

For the last 10 years, Canada has offered counseling and psychiatric resources specifically for judges. Unlike New York State’s employee plan, the Judges Counselling Program is contracted to a non-governmental organization that coordinates a countrywide program, keeping the administration out of the actual administration of therapy.

Frank McArdle, the executive director of the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association, oversees the program. According to this administrator, the program is accessed by 6.2 percent of the 3,200 judges working in Canada last year.

“The whole idea was that there are judges that have problems, who do they turn to?” he said in an interview. “We have the contacts for these particular people, [then] they turn it over to the psychiatrist or counselor. They have a group of people that [judges] contact with no cost for themselves.”

During the program’s 10-year history, these services have been accessed by between 4.2 and 6.2 percent of all judges every year. The program is federally funded, with a surprisingly low price tag. The program began with a $20,000 federal grant, and it now costs $35,000 a year to maintain the services.

“At least people are using it. We have no idea who they are … without it, what would happen to these people?” said McArdle, accessing the anonymous beneficiaries of the counseling program. His office does not track which judges are seeking help, and he declined to comment on the frequency of specific problems in the judiciary.

“Who knows? Maybe it should be 8 percent. At least we know 6.2 percent of them are active,” he concluded.

While New York judges don’t have their own unique system, the State does offer all employees a similar mental-health network. When it comes to counseling and psychiatric help, State judges currently must use the Work-Life Services program, part of the New York State Employee Assistance Program that covers state workers.

That office provides services to help judges (and all state employees) cope with a variety of life issues—everything from alcohol abuse to problem gambling to child-care.

See: Judicial Reports

20 comments:

retired esq said...

Does OCA realize that some judges "get the blues" because they really want to be an honest law abiding judge but are sucked into the corrupt machine of judicial fixing by power hungry animals like some administrative judges or other "justice for sale" peddlers.

Anonymous said...

I know atty Joel Danials well and he is excellent at what he does...but he does represent most of the lawyers and attys, that are in trouble in Buffalo! He spins their story quite well, but to have a reputation of excellence...you must have that ability!
Judges schedule their own calendar, their way and often to allow them maximum time off!
The people that are burdened emotionally and heavily by this out of control scheduling...are the COURT CLERKS....they do all the rushing and paperwork at forced lightning speed! Administrative Judge Sharon Townsend has blocked any upgrades for this title for many years! She has granted judge's secretaries, AS WELL AS MANY OTHER TITLES,a grade higher than clerks...when the clerks are absolutely more legally knowledgable and compelled to work at the much harder pace, that the judge designates from their courtroom!
Judge Townsend cries about hard work and schedules at Family Court, and inserts fake empathy for her described, POOR family court victims .....where you may desire to question what time Townsend used to hit the bench in her beloved Family Court..and of course these family court people are worthy of the utmost sympathy! But.... Townsend has NO EMPATHY FOR HER FEMALE AND MINORITY EMPLOYEES, maybe because they are NOT victims, and they are paid a salary for their work...and of course, a lot less than her!
Townsend discriminates against female employees....and many are minorities!
Ms Townsend has a massive discrimination case pending against her in federal court now...due to her illegal activities against a long time employee...who had only EXCELLENT evaluations and an impeccable work effort and product ...until Townsend arrived in 2003! Many more females and minorities have been forced to transfer to other courts, where Townsend had no say in the transfer, or she threatened them, even with arresting them ,and then fired many more, using lies and false testimony!
Do you think this is a competent Administrative judge? Ask Ms Townsend how political her administrative position is, and did she ever apply for it...or did someone from NYC give it to her, over the applications of many who did apply..thanks Trificanti and Kaye!
I think Ms Townsend should be checked by the judicial psychiatrist, for the same issues that affected Whachler..unfit and incompetent!...her stated and false charges against those whom she perceives as ethical and professional....all against OCA policy!
The real story about OCA and the judiciary is the hidden truth, and the truth is what prevails, no matter how hard OCA, ABUSES or ATTACKS the accuser!
Investigations will IMMORTALIZE the true events and illegal activities by OCA, no matter what terror they have in store!

The WNY Blues said...

Also being from the 8th judicial district, I must say I concur with the previous writer! I am presently one of their supervisors,and I have witnessed some pretty nasty treatment of employees.
Andrew Eisenberg, who is Townsend's right hand assistant, can be brutal to workers and follows Townsend everywhere, I guess to assist HER in the hacking of employees.... which is really all females. This behavior by a man and a lawyer who took an oath to uphold the law, shows you what a man he truly isn't and a lawyer in crisis!
What the above writer forgot to mention or has no knowledge of, is that Townsend was herself, a court clerk in Family Court in 1980...until she finished law school, so to neglect court clerks is absurd!
Townsend is also not from NY...but Connecticut, so her heartfelt affections are where she grew up and not where she resides as an adult.
This explains why Townsend could care less about NY People or NY employees...she has no attachment to this state..even if she married here and has kids!
I am disgusted with OCA, even though I took a job that equates me with the heirachy..Townsend, Eisenberg, etc!
As far as some OCA paid shrink ,stating that judges suffer from the blues, stress or whatever, that is all...crap! Judge's names are rarely in the paper, and no one ever remembers that moment, unless the judge himself, commits a crime or ridiculous act...like Restaino!
Judges make decisions based on research done by law clerks or law librarians, so mistakes or whatever are very unlikly!
This story is one of the most amusing ever printed on here...so thanks for my weekend laugh! Unbelievable!
If the judges have issues...they had them for years before they matured...so blame their parents...not judicial workload!

victim of judge in bklyn said...

you can call it the "Blues", I would like to say that there are a whole lot of CRAZY JUGDES and it's called the FIX! Need I say more?

Anonymous said...

these Judges are no different than anyone else, every day they tell people who are normal that don't happen to agree with them that they should have their heads examined (court ordered), so they should have their heads examined too. Hey, it's only fair, they are no different than anyone else, right!

Anonymous said...

I wonder what color does Judge Francis Nicolai together with Judge Debra Kiediasch, Judge Andrew Bivona and Judge John K. McGuirk from Orange County NY turn to when they rig child custody cases for the sexual exploitation of children, child abuse and parental kidnapping.

ewe said...

Any advice for the same issues happening in New Jersey. I admire your blog. Thank you.

Black and Blue said...

I absolutely believe that the JUDGES wanted this story about their....blues...to get out, so they could invoke sympathy for raises!
Unless they gave birth recently....forget about it! But...many of you do need your heads examined, promptly!

Anonymous said...

judes whining and crying about too heavy caseload and understaffed is probably garbage around most of the state except a few major metropolitan courts - some courts "make" up business to feed the machine and far worse - all the judges have should have Mental Health Exams ( maybe some done on an in patient basis and perhaps while incarcerated ) and all the Family Judges should complete the Parenting Classes and detail their own Family lives to the public before acting as righteous gods over others and only whine and cry now that the public attention is rightfully on the systematic corruption in the judiciary - wholesale Judicial reform is needed throughout the state and many programs deemed unconstitutional like the Supervised Visit programs that are just money makers for "special friends" with no Standardized qualifications or training - the family harm caused by some of the judges is Worse than Criminal

Western Blues said...

In the late 80's and early 90's, in Buffalo City Court, there were about "175" criminal cases being heard on several bad days every week!
It appears that this total trumps Townsend's whine of less than 100!
I know of NO judges or court clerks in Buffalo City Court (the clerks really are stressed from all the heavy lifting) that fell out, have fallen out, or have quit due to that workload! They have not even gotten an upgrade in 28 yrs!...because Townsend worked behind , to nix it!
Today in Buffalo City
Court, the workload averages on many bad days about 110-120, while being the only court in the WNY area that is open 365 days a year and all court clerks compelled to work many of them, including all holidays!
So I guess, Townsend had to be shoved into a high paying Administrative judgeship, to keep her from the BLUES!
As a whiner on this site, she has really identified her true personality..she can't take what she dishes out! She should look in on her City Court judges in a real capacity, to see some real taxpayer benefits at work!

a taxpayer said...

they all need shrinks and give them all plenty of meds. It would be good for the national economy.

Anonymous said...

I know of one judge in NYC that has distinguished himself by receiving awards and recognition for his fine work. I won't mention his particular field, but his decisions can have life changing results.

I asked him how does he deal with it. Surely, even he makes a mistake he may regret later. He just said he does the best that he can do and hope he makes the correct decision.

Anonymous said...

I had an experience with one judge in Suffolk County that enjoyed a fine reputation for his knowledge of the law and his supposed ability to ensure that all before him receive a fair trial.

I was told that he was one of the best judges Suffolk has to offer.

But even he can be swayed by the pressure of a power hungry and politically connected District Attorney that forces him to do his will and to ignore the law. It is sad to see, that I can tell you.

In one such exchange at a trial I was involved with I witnessed the following:

There was an area that had been precluded by the judge for the DA to go into it at trial.

The judge had already received his menu of Molineux motions to enter into evidence, and broke his oath of office, IMO, by allowing two outrageous incidents to be heard by the jury.

One such uncharged crime was NEVER proven in any fashion to have occurred, other than a witness accomplice testifying to that incident. In any case, if the crime had been committed, the DA didn't have a clue as to when it happened, and could only offer a three month window if it happened at all.

the case involved a police officer allegedly assisting burglars to do their crimes. The DA would charge that the crime was committed on a night when the officer was working and didn't show any proof of any value as to the night the crime allegedly occurred. How could he say the officer was working when the DA couldn't define the time.

the judge allowed this nonsense into evidence. the 'victim' was in the building to testify that his home was burglarized and was in the cusody of the district attorney's detectives. He was to testify after the lunch recess. When called, he was no where to be found. We found out why later that evening. He reported that the detectives attempted to have him lie as to particular circumstances, and he refused to do so. They told him to get the 'f--k out, we aren't going to use you'

The judge never made an inquiry as to why the people's witness didn't show up for his testimony.

There came a time that one of the Molinuex issues the judge declined to give the prosecution came to a series of objections. The ADA was clearly going there - it was that obvious.

At one sidebar the judge said:

Judge: Mr______ I know where you are going with this and if you do so I am going to call a mistrial.

ADA: I understand your instructions, Judge, and I am going to do so anyway.

The defense attorney asked the court to have an opportunity to tell our witness that he shouldn't fall into the trap that the ADA was clearly setting for him. The ADA objected,and the judge sustained.

The ADA caused the witness to utter a highly prejucicial remark by our witness, a remark that would have caused more damage to defend than to let it go.

That portion of that sidebar was part of the daily record supplied to the defense. I know I read it, and another heard the ADA say: I am going to do it anyway, but it had no bearing on this otherwise decent judge to compromise his integrity by not calling the promised mistrial.

The same judge took many statements from the main witness in this case. He heard him lie in his allocution two years before the trial began. He heard that lie and several others being told in his courtroom. He allowed this miscreant lifelong criminal to return home free on no bail although he admitted to 38 violent felonies, and was a suspect in a homicide of a police witness.

The statement of the lie in the allocution was made in a sealed courtroom. The lie was proven beyond any doubt to be a lie at trial. The defendant was in Europe when the witness said he was doing an armed robbery.

The judge had too much information about this case to render a fair trial. He committed himself to this miscreant and allowed him to continue free to engage in mortgage and bank fraud in another state.

The judge pontificated in his court by telling this criminal to do partiotic things. It was sickening to hear a judge pander to this criminal and the district attorney.

You say stress? I say bolony. You make your own stress when you are too cowardly to take your oath of office seriously.

How does a man, a judge look in the mirror each day knowing he sent an innocent man to jail because he was too cowardly to do his job that he took an oath to do.

What Ponitus Pilate should have taught our judiciary almost 2000 years ago seems not to have any effect on many judges sitting in judgement of others. They abrogate their responsibility to the mob, in this case the jury, and wash their hands of the blood of an innocent man and put it on the jury.

In many cases the appellate courts will follow suit and not look at the facts so as not to be considered a liberal judge favoring criminals. They are the true Pontius Pilates of the court system.

Anonymous said...

There is too much money, power and influence, to keep politically defective judicial members, from not caving into the weaknesses of corruption, which brought them to the bench in the first place.
Politics and money, never draw out the good ,ethical and independent candidates!

a victim of judiciary said...

put them all in the NUT HOUSE that what they do to us normal people - let them all see how they like it.

Anonymous said...

blue balls?

Anonymous said...

It looks like from one judicial commentor...blue breasts..also!

Anonymous said...

lol

Anonymous said...

So Townsend, is that why you so brutally and illegally terminated or transferred, so many long term, non-political minority and female employees?
Was this your way of dealing with your intense internalizing of all the torture and abuse you saw with the same group of people???
Maybe you should have exercised or played chess, as you suggested, because the person you present here , is not the person you are in the 8th district!
Your story could have evoked pity for you, had it been true!

vonnie roberts said...

You get nothing from me....again you did not do Your job before coming to the court room. I have three grandchildren in fostercare and DSS has petitioned for terminatiom of parental rights on the oldest and the yongest, ages 8 and 1, leaving their 6 year old brother to be returned to my daughter after she finishes family drug treatment court. These three kids are siblings and should be with family while their Mom completes these progroms and gets well, not in foster care worrying about being adopted out to non family members. Who do the Law Gaudians work for DSS or the children? The law guardian for my Grandchildren has not contacted me nor visited me during all of this while I have been trying to get visitation, contact, custody, and placement of my three grandchildren. What does the Judge base his decision on? Surely as already proven NYS Standards for seperating these chldren from me it is a much higher standard than what Tompkins County Couny uses, really Tomkins County Dept. Of Social Services has had a year to put in writing why I am not suitable placement for my own Grandchildren and the cannot even do that....Something is very wrong with this picture and surely seems like you are falling into DSS's lies once again.

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The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
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