Do you like beer? – Judicial Temperament in DC Superior Court

Mark Rollins Criminal Law

contributing editor: Ada Chan

Recently, in the news, you have heard about judicial temperament.    Do you like beer?  If a witness on the witness stand questioned the lawyer asking the question, some Judges may get unpleasant with the witness.   However, a good Judge may simply try to persuade the witness to just answer the question.


What is judicial temperament?

It has been defined by some as the Character trait of the Judge that encompasses both the ability to apply the law to the facts and to understand how a judicial decision will affect the human beings appearing before the court.  It is the ability to communicate with counsel, jurors, witnesses, and parties calmly and courteously, as well as the willingness to listen to and consider what is said on all sides of a debatable proposition.

Judicial temperament in Practice

Judges are human beings and have biases, get angry, sad, mad etc.   They are just as imperfect as everyone else.   For example, I once had a criminal client in DC Superior Court call a Judge (do not worry the Judge has since retired ) an asshole.   The Judge got so angry that he gave the defendant 30 days in jail (obviously, I filed an emergency appeal) and the defendant did not serve anytime.   This Judge had poor judicial temperament.  I get it – no one wants to be called an asshole.   A Judge with a good disposition may look the other way or warn the defendant about possible fines.  You can see bad judicial temperament when the Judge is blaming, yelling, pointing, angry, or just flat out rude to people in the Courtroom.

Judicial temperament in DC Superior Court

As a practicing criminal trial lawyer in DC Superior Court, most of the judges in DC Superior Court have excellent temperaments.   Most trial judges have been trial lawyers and did not like it when they were practicing and a Judge created unnecessary stress in the courtroom.   Therefore, most judges try not to embrace these emotions when presiding over a case so that they do not unduly influence litigants, jurors, witnesses etc.    Judicial temperament is something that is very hard to see unless you have appeared before that Judge a number of times.    I say that because as a defendant, witness, juror etc, if you want to know the judicial temperament of a Judge, all you have to do is ask a trial lawyer who regularly practices in the courthouse.

Furthermore, every few years the trial lawyers who appear in front of the Judge in DC Superior Court get to do an anonymous evaluation of the Judge.