Character opportunities — judges and senility

Judges often play a part in mystery and crime fiction — and of course, in my day job. So naturally, this headline caught my attention: “9th Circuit addresses senility among federal judges head on.” (I read the report in the Missoulian, but it appears to have originally come from the Associated Press.)

Mental competence of state and federal judges is a critical issue, and with an aging population on the bench, one that’s getting more attention. This article describes the approach the 9th and 10th circuits are taking, and gives a few examples. Some states have mandatory retirement ages, unlike the federal system. Many states have judicial assistance programs, where judges can get help with emotional problems, addictions, and — if they recognize the problem — competence issues. Lawyers and lay people — often, a judge’s staff — can also report concerns to professionals who can then assess and intervene.

What opportunities for conflict and crisis can you give your characters — judges, lawyers, clerks, probation officers and law enforcement officers, litigants, families?

6 thoughts on “Character opportunities — judges and senility

  1. This is an interesting article. I’ve thought about this in relation to Supreme Court justices appointed for life. We all slow down as we age. It is a tricky thing to decide when “enough is enough “.

    • There are stories, though I have not heard them about the current Court, of ill or elderly justices who only worked a few hours a week and whose chief clerk really ran the show. Supreme Court retirements are rare — in recent years, Justice O’Connor retired to take care of her husband and Justice Souter because he felt he’d served long enough and wanted to return to private life. Both occasionally fill in on the circuit courts.

  2. Thanks, Leslie, for sharing this. I once worked with an attorney group, one of whom was a sitting 40-something municipal judge. We always dealt with an interesting array of legal professionals. It’s interesting to see that some in the the field admit that lawyers/judges/et al. are people…those flawed characters we write into our stories.

    • Thanks, Marilyn. I believe every state bar now has a LAP, or Lawyers Assistance Program, to help lawyers with substance abuse and other problems, but judicial assistance is trickier. I like the reporting system described in the article, where a counselor contracts with the bar assn to handle calls from judges, staff, lawyers, or others with concerns about a particular judge.

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