American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 54, Issue 2 (2018)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Every day in courtrooms around the globe, judges face a regular diet of difficult and emotional cases involving human misery and heart-wrenching circumstances that wear on a judge’s psyche and tolerance. Despite the nature of the cases, judges are expected to remain stoically neutral and unemotional to render fair and unbiased decisions. However, it is unreasonable to expect a human being, who happens to be a judge, to be emotionally unmoved by the plight of a young mother who turns to shoplifting and prostitution to feed her children; or the young man, raised in foster homes, with little education, guidance or hope, who deals street drugs to survive. Judges cannot help but absorb the despair they hear and be affected by the suffering around them.

Research has established the detrimental impact on an individual’s health, relationships, professional performance, and long-term quality of life from continued exposure to dramatic accounts of cruelty and harm in other professions. Judges should be aware, they are not immune, and are in fact at risk for developing secondary trauma. Large caseloads and the inherent isolation of life on the bench can also contribute to trauma. Training in the use of therapeutic and compassionate approaches will enable judges to craft healthier outcomes for those appearing before the court while cogently relieving judicial trauma.