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Remarks Upon Receipt of the Orange County Bar Association 2019 James G. Glazebrook Memorial Bar Service Award

 

Professionalism Committee // “Remarks Upon Receipt of the Orange County Bar Association 2019 James G. Glazebrook Memorial Bar Service Award” by The Honorable Frederick J. Lauten // The Briefs, May 2019 Vol. 87 No. 4. //

I am deeply honored to receive the James G. Glazebrook award. Thank you to the members of the nominating committee and to all those who had a hand in my receiving this award. I knew Judge Glazebrook, and he exemplified all that is good and honorable about our profession and about being a judge. I am humbled to receive an award named in his honor and I will cherish this award for the rest of my life.

So much has been written about professionalism and ethics and lawyers that I doubt I can add anything of significance to the narrative. I also wonder if I am skilled enough to address the topic without being preachy or pedantic. In preparing for my remarks, I researched other professions to see if they devote as much attention to professionalism as we do. While doctors, accountants, ministers, teachers, and others have codes of conduct and have written about ethics in their professions, it strikes me that they have not spent nearly as much time as we have on the topic. Why is that?

Perhaps, it is because we labor in an adversarial system where each side owes – within the ethical boundaries – all of their energy, skill, and talent to zealously represent the interests of one’s client. This built-in competitiveness sets us apart from most other professions – with the result that we talk constantly, sometimes obsessively, about ethics and professionalism. The very nature of our adversarial system places us in roles where we compete for clients, for income, for success. Our system, if we are not careful and don’t pay attention, can devolve into inappropriate behavior and unprofessional behavior. So we need to pay more attention than other professions to ethics and professionalism. While I used to think we obsess about professionalism, I have come to believe that our local and state bars give appropriate attention to the topic, given the nature of our system.

Having been on the bench for 26 years, I am many years removed from the pressures, struggles, and ethical challenges lawyers encounter in the daily practice of law. There are more qualified speakers on the subject of lawyers and ethics, and two of them are being honored today. But I do have a quarter century of experience sitting on the bench and I have had the honor to train new judges, so I thought it appropriate to share what we tell new judges about the professional responsibilities judges owe to lawyers, to their clients, and to our system of justice.

Some of you have heard me say that the first session presented to new judges at the Florida Judicial College is taught by Justice Major Harding. He asks new judges to describe the qualities possessed by good judges and the qualities of bad judges. He concludes the session by summarizing in one simple, short sentence what makes a good judge – “A good judge gives a fair and courteous hearing and a prompt ruling.” For all the words written about being a judge, this sentence summarizes the essence of judging better than anything else I have ever heard, so I would like to talk about this maxim for a moment.

Allow me to start with the concept of giving a courteous hearing. Barring some emergency, it is courteous for the judge to start scheduled matters on time. It is simply impolite and thus unprofessional for the court to make lawyers, their clients, and witnesses wait on the court to arrive. Understandably, sometimes a trial or hearing takes longer than anticipated or an emergency arises that must be addressed, delaying court. But, as a routine, judges should be on time and manage their dockets so matters are heard when scheduled.

At the hearing, started on time, a judge should respect the dignity and worth of everyone who appears in court, from the richest to the poorest, from the most knowledgeable to the least experienced, from the well loved and respected to those whom the community has prejudged and condemned. Of course, this respect is due to all regardless of color or creed, gender or orientation. Historically, the court system has not always lived up to this standard, but I hope we are constantly evolving toward a higher order so that we do live up to these standards.

Judges wield enormous power, so we teach new judges to be humble and patient in the exercise of that power. We ask them to think twice before using the word contempt, much less applying that power. We ask judges to appreciate that we impose sentences, but we do not sit on the bench with the power of the divinity to condemn human beings. To realize, in other words, that we are sentencing another human being and that, even in that moment, the individual has dignity.

A good judge gives a fair hearing. That is self-evident. In ensuring a hearing is fair, a judge must apply the rules of procedure and protocol. Enforcing those rules is sometimes easier said than done, but if litigants cannot depend on the enforcement of the substantive and procedural rules we agree to live by, then the value of precedent is lost, the predictability of outcomes is undermined, and the law becomes a free-for-all. So, a fair judge enforces rules, and sometime lawyers don’t like that! A fair judge also must ensure that a certain decorum exists in the courtroom. If a courtroom is loud, disorganized, or unruly, if participants or the public cannot hear or see what is transpiring in the courtroom, then the trust and respect due to courts of law is diminished.

Finally, a judge owes the litigants a prompt ruling. Unnecessary or unusual delays cause lawyers and litigants significant stress, anxiety, and money. Sometimes a judge has to take matters under advisement to issue the correct ruling, but time generally does not make ruling any easier or the decision wiser. And, too much delay causes those affected by a decision to lose confidence in the decision maker. So we try to teach these values and others to new judges. And it helps experienced judges to be reminded of these values throughout their careers.

I don’t know if I have always lived up to this simple standard my entire career, but I know I have tried. And I know my colleagues try to live up to these standards and values. It has been the greatest honor of my professional career to sit as a judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit. I work with outstanding men and women, who day in and day out, work as hard as they can to live up to the standard I have enunciated, making this one of the best circuits in the state and a fabulous place to work. I can’t imagine not coming to this courthouse every day to work with my colleagues as we strive to provide justice to those who enter this building. But soon I will have to get used to that new reality. I venture into that new space bolstered by the honor you have bestowed upon me today. Again, thank you so very much for this recognition, particularly at this stage in my career. It means more to me than words can express and I will cherish this award today and for years to come.

The Honorable Frederick Lauten is the Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court. He has been a member of the OCBA since 1993.