Vail Law: What do judges do? |

Vail Law: What do judges do?

Rohn RobbinsVail, CO, Colorado

What do judges do? Well, likely more than you think. In fact, particularly in these austere economic times where there are simply not enough judges on the bench, I marvel that most judges are not completely overwhelmed.First of all, why the bench? Judges are neither athletes in reserve chafing to get into the game nor do they actually sit on a bench. No, instead, the answer derives from the geography of the courtroom. The term originates from the seat (or bench) where the judges historically sat. This came to denote the body of the judiciary itself. Perhaps, in these days of moderately more opulent judicial surroundings, the bench should be renamed the executive desk chair.The bench has come to denote the judge. Judges are also commonly referred to as the court.The easy part is that judges try cases. I personally love the term try a case. How apt. Each lawyer and each party tries to win their case and the judge listens to them trying. But more than that, the judge guides the trial, directs its course and sets its boundaries. The judge determines what evidence will be admitted, rules on lawyers respective objections and, if there is a jury, instructs it. If there is no jury, the judge considers all the evidence and ultimately decides the outcome of the case.Without meaning to sound salacious, what do judges do when they take their robes off? Well, its sort of like the aphorism about the duck being calm on the surface and paddling like hell under water. Much more takes place when judicial robes are doffed than when the judge is sitting on the bench.Reading, writing, judgingLawyers do a lot of writing. Therefore, judges do a lot of reading. Ive heard it said that only a lawyer could pen a 100-page argument with annotations, footnotes and attachments and still have the temerity to refer to it as a brief. While, modernly, there are generally limitations on the length of briefs (no, not those kind of briefs, the kind that show when you sag your pants), a complex lawsuit can consist, literally, of dozens of motions, accompanying briefs, stipulations and a host of other pleadings. A quick time-out here to define some terms: A brief is a written argument prepared by counsel in support or opposing to a matter consequential to the action. A motion is a formal written document whereby one party or the other asks the Court to take a certain action or make a certain ruling. A pleading is a written instrument by either party containing allegations, usually against the other. A stipulation is a written instrument filed with the court whereby the parties agree or stipulate to a certain point of fact or law or other aspect of the case. And to be fully circular here, an action means the case or matter in dispute.In particularly complex cases, the various documents submitted by the parties to the court can easily run hundreds or even thousands of pages. Many actions involve multiple parties, each with their own lawyers churning out a veritable deluge of words and paper. I personally have been in litigations involving four, five and even six or more parties. The sheer volume of paper can be frightening.Checking sourcesEven simple cases have a certain amount of necessary paperwork associated with them. And a judge must read, understand, and often rule on them. He must also make certain that the law being cited by the lawyers for support of their position is, in fact, up to date and accurate. Many times, this means the judge must check the source authority and read the case. Judges also draft orders, rulings and opinions, all of which require careful craftsmanship and which, at times, can run considerable length.Keep in mind, while doing all this reading, digesting, verifying, deciding, and writing, the judge may be juggling a couple hundred other cases at the same time.In addition to the reading and deciding, a judge holds various conferences with counsel and/or counsel and their clients and, in many instances, holds one or more hearings preceding the main event of trial. A hearing can be as brief as 10 or 15 minutes or may span several days. There are also post-trial motions and hearings to consider which involve matters which may have arisen after the trial itself was concluded.If all this werent enough, in many districts, judges are involved in various mediation aspects of the case. Other districts farm out mediation to independent parties paid for by the parties. A district, by the way, is a territorial area subdivided for judicial purposes. For example, the State of Colorado is divided into 22 judicial districts. Eagle County, along with Clear Creek, Lake and Summit counties, make up the 5th Judicial District. Federal Courts are divided into 13 judicial circuits and 89 judicial districts. Our federal district court is located in Denver, as is the Federal Appellate Court for the 10th Judicial Circuit, which serves the states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma.What do judges do? More than a lot. And when you see them in their courtrooms decked out in their robes, thats only the tip of the judicial iceberg. Much of the real action takes place when the robes are off and the judge is bent over what must be a truly heroic stack of paper.Nonetheless, most judges comport themselves with equanimity and calm. Like the duck. If you could only see beneath the bench, youd likely see legs a-churnin simply to keep up.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: Business & commercial transactions, real estate & development, homeowners associations, family law & divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of Community Focus. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address:

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