Emotional judges, unlucky litigants


David Hejmanowski - Contributing columnist



“We investigate whether emotional shocks, experienced by a highly educated group of individuals, have any impact on these individuals professional behavior.”

“There are implications in a more general area of understanding and explaining human behavior.”

-H. Naci Mocan, Prof. Of Economics

Louisiana State University

There are many occupations where people are required to make decisions- sometimes snap decisions- that will affect the lives and well-being of many people around them. Doctors, airline pilots, teachers, bus drivers, medical technicians, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, and many more professions rely on the ability of men and women to remain calm and think clearly and unemotionally in high pressure situations.

The people who populate these fields are all human beings. They are all subject to have good days and bad ones. They have emotional highs and lows that can be brought on from things that are exceptional or mundane. Everything from the common cold to a family quarrel to seasonal blues can bring on a change of mood. But their occupations mean that they have the same responsibility to those around them, regardless of what kind of day they’re having.

Judges are in a similar position. They make decisions on a daily basis that can affect someone’s freedom, their right to see their children, their ability to drive, or cost them a business. In sentencing criminals, deciding civil matters, handling estates, ruling on traffic tickets or awarding custody, judges make decisions that substantially change the lives of litigants.

In trying to decipher whether something as trivial as the outcome of a sporting event could affect the outcome of an important court case, two researchers at Louisiana State University professors compared dispositional terms given to delinquent juveniles. In order to remove outside differences in the cases, they compared similar charges in more than 8,000 cases over a 16 year period in Louisiana juvenile courts. What they found was disappointing.

There was a substantial, and statistically very significant increase in the severity of detention terms given to juveniles in the days after the Louisiana State University football team suffered a loss. Even worse, the shift was greater when LSU had been favored to win but had been upset.

What’s going on here? What lessons can we learn from it? What can we do to counter-act it?

The study’s authors answered the ‘what’ question pretty easily. Many of these judges are LSU fans. Many are even LSU grads (either undergrad or law school). An LSU football loss creates a change in their emotional state and the change in their emotional state is affecting their work. But it shouldn’t.

A football game was the perfect trigger to study. It is, of course, completely trivial in the grand scheme of things. But it’s an event that has an emotional effect state-wide. And precisely because of its triviality, it raises the larger question of what other, more personal events might be affecting these judges even more.

The lessons to be learned and the benefit from the study both go to the continuing education of judges and others in public fields to inform themselves about now only how external events can affect their emotions, and how their emotions can affect their behavior, but also the importance of how to recognize when it is happening and learn how to counter-act it. Ohio’s judicial education entity, the Ohio Judicial College, is perfectly structured to do this. After all, ensuring that all litigants are treated equally is the key to a fair judicial system.

David Hejmanowski

Contributing columnist

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas

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