One of my early judicial role models, Justice James L. Reid of the Maine Superior Court, was sentencing a defendant for a murder committed within the confines of the Maine State Prison. The defendant was already serving a life sentence for another murder at the time the offense was committed. Because Maine has no parole or capital punishment, the sentencing options were limited and ultimately meaningless. As Jim imposed a life sentence consecutive to the existing life sentence, the defendant rose in his manacles and uttered an early Anglo-Saxon version of “screw you.” Jim, rising from the bench and moving unhurriedly in the direction of his chambers, responded calmly, “Motion denied.” Now that is effective judicial communication at its best—clearly and concisely resolving what could have become a thorny situation. Having worked four years on the trial bench and twenty years on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, I finished my judicial career with deep appreciation of the critical role of judicial communication. Whether I was imposing a sentence, ruling on a motion, writing an appellate opinion, or asking the Maine Legislature to provide adequate funding for the courts, success often depended not only on what I did but how well I explained what I did. The major aspects of judicial performance depend on effective communications. If justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done, much of what is seen depends on the communicative skills of the judge. The judge must speak and write clearly and effectively, and in addition be mindful of the role the media will play in conveying the message to an audience beyond the immediate parties and their counsel. My experience, good or bad, as one cog in the wheels of justice in Maine for twenty-four years, may provide a vantage point from which to consider some of the elements of effective judicial communication.
Daniel E. Wathen,
When the Court Speaks: Effective Communication As a Part of Judging,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol57/iss2/5