American Judges Association


Date of this Version

December 2005


Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 41:3-4 (2005), pp. 3. Copyright © 2005 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at


Over their lifetime, most citizens will never see the inside of a jail or be a participant in a criminal trial. They may come to the courthouse for traffic violations and for domestic relations cases, to pay property taxes, deal with landlord-tenant matters, or obtain documents for other events in their lives. As a result, their understanding and appreciation for the judicial system must be gathered from other sources. We must provide accurate information. Citizens receive information about the judicial system from the media, particularly television. Television cases are resolved in approximately 22 minutes; on at least one show, that includes the commission and investigation of the crime, as well as the trial itself. Important legal rulings are made in the hallways, elevators, getting into or out of vehicles or in chambers. There is no record made of the proceedings and usually only the judge and the attorneys are present. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to make an important legal ruling off the record and while I was getting into my car in the county parking lot. Television trials have only two or three witnesses a side and they are asked only a few extremely well-crafted questions. Closing arguments are beyond succinct— beautifully and flawlessly delivered by each attorney. When something goes “wrong” in a case, it is usually the fault of dishonest police officer, a bad lawyer, or incompetent judge. Certainly these are not average trials in Washington County, Oregon, yet this is the nightly view of trials, lawyers, judges, and courts.

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