The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Mindfulness: Judge Perspectives

Featured Article

A few years ago, I was in the midst of a contentious trial where the two attorneys were having great difficulty focusing their examinations on the crucial factual issues, and they were each also raising objections that were overly technical. A couple hours into the trial, I noticed I was having trouble following the testimony because of the erratic questioning and frequent objections, and I was starting to run out of patience with the attorneys. I decided to take a recess to gather my thoughts.

I spent the 15-minute recess sitting, just focusing on my breath and settling myself into a peaceful, calm state. Once I did that, I was able to formulate instructions I could give to the attorneys which I believed would help them stay focused and reduce the number of unnecessary objections, without embarrassing them in front of their clients. I also knew if I were feeling calmer, I could be more attentive and less distracted if the attorneys went off track on their questioning or objections.

It worked. The attorneys seemed grateful for my instruction as to where I wanted them to focus their witness examinations and relieved they did not need to make so many objections. I also suspect they may have been able to observe I was calmer and more patient after the break. The trial proceeded in a more methodical way after the recess and I was able to enter a prompt ruling.

—Judge Colleen Brown
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge
District of Vermont

A s a general practice, I apply mindfulness principles in my courtroom. First, I fully prepare for the hearings, so that I can concentrate on the actual issues at hand. Next, as I come into the courtroom, I block out from my mind any matters other than the case I’m addressing. Then, in the course of the proceedings, I ensure that everyone receives my full attention and that courtesy and civility are observed. Maintaining a mindful courtroom has helped me navigate through many contentious hearings, particularly those where counsel have become “personally” involved in their clients’ disputes.

—Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Southern District of Florida

My meditation and contemplative practices have led to my being more responsive and less reactive in the process of deciding appeals. The panel I was sitting on had an oral argument on an appeal. Prior to the oral argument, I had preliminarily concluded that the appellee should prevail on an issue of statutory construction. During the oral argument, the appellant’s attorney made an argument that I thought might not give guidance to parties in the future who were relying on the statute, so I posed a hypothetical to the attorney to see how his construction of the statute might affect different parties. The attorney, who probably could sense from the tenor of the argument that he was losing, commented that my question might be appropriate for a sociology course, but this was a court of law and we were limited by the language of the statute. Rather than react, my contemplative practices automatically kicked in and I simply let it go, thinking that the lawyer was lashing out because he knew he was losing the argument and wanted to deflect the result I was inquiring about. The comment had no effect on how we decided the case or on our award of attorneys’ fees incurred on appeal.

—Judge Donn Kessler
Arizona Appellate Court

O ne afternoon, on a heavily over-set calendar, at 5:45 p.m., I began a hearing in a felony probation violation in which the probation officer was recommending that the offender’s sentence be executed. Although the probationer admitted a serious violation, both through his attorney and through his own elocution, he made an emotional plea to be reinstated on probation. His mother was present in the courtroom, and the two were shedding visible tears while exhorting that he would be compliant if given another chance. When the arguments concluded, I checked in and realized I was both mentally and physically fatigued, and I was very late for a personal appointment. My first instinct was to just make my decision out of a sense of frustration and impatience. Instead, I called a recess, left the bench, and headed for the nearest private window. There, I gazed out into the evening sky settling over the surrounding valley and found a still center within. Remaining so for several minutes, the important and relevant factors that I had to weigh began to surface. Once there, I remained in stillness for another minute and returned to the courtroom confident that I was making my decision to execute the offender’s sentence for justifiable reasons. He, too, had the opportunity to recognize that I took this decision seriously. the time I pronounced execution of his sentence, he was ready to accept his fate and even thanked me for my time and patience. At the end of the day, I found solace in the fact that I was able to instill a sense of dignity and calm in a proceeding which otherwise could have seemed perfunctory and heartless.

—Judge Susan Miles,
10th Judicial District Judge
Washington County, Minnesota

T he practice of mindfulness enables me to greet negative or rancorous advocacy with serenity. In fact, when argument descends from enlightenment to bellicosity, I am always reminded of the serene alternative awaiting in mindfulness, to which I repair immediately.

—Judge Arthur Rothenberg
Senior Judge
11th Judicial Circuit of Florida