Justice is blind…and sometimes funny

My wife and I finally started watching the TV series The Good Wife, and we’re hooked. We’ve just finished season 2, and we’re ready to start season 3 despite reading the recent spoiler that Will dies in season 5. That’ll teach us to be late-comers to a great show.

Quirky Judges in The Good Wife

One aspect of The Good Wife that we love are the quirky judges. Like Cook County civil court judge Charles Abernathy, played by Denis O’Hare, who implored those in his courtroom to donate blood, and once said from the bench, “Can we have a moment of silence for the victims in Darfur?”

Another quirky judge, or perhaps I should say one of the quirker as they all have their quirks on this show, is federal district court judge Patrice Lessner, played by Saturday Night Live alumnus Ana Gasteyer, who likes it when the lawyers in her courtroom preface or follow their statements with “In my opinion,” a favorite qualifying term of the judge’s. Below’s a YouTube video:

The Good Wife (CBS): “In My Opinion”

A lawyer from Cook County comments in the “Television Without Pity” forum about real-life quirky judges from that district:

“I had a judge here who, after all the arguing and fighting was over between the lawyers, would always say something like: ‘Now, it’s a beautiful day out. I hope you’ll all go enjoy it. If you have a dog, maybe you’ll enjoy taking him for a walk. I wish you a happy, relaxing, and calm weekend.'”

Some real-life judges, however, have not been amused at the quirky ones portrayed on this show.

The Good Wife Demeans the Law

In a Huffington Post article, The Good Wife Does More Harm to the Judiciary Than Newt Gingrich, retired federal judge H. Lee Sarokin claims the show harms the judiciary by making them appear to be “fools and idiots” as well as being portrayed as “arrogant and pompous” as well as “deranged.” Judge Sarokin says, “I can only assume that one or more of the writers of this program has had an unpleasant experience with a judge. Otherwise, it is difficult to account for this consistent derogatory portrayal.” The good judge concedes that he might be “overly sensitive.”

Oh, a tad.

Truth is, there really are quirky judges, just as there are quirky lawyers and paralegals and court reporters and process servers and…you get the idea. Heck, if we all believed process servers were like the stoner-servers in The Pineapple Express, it’d be a miracle that anybody got served legal papers.

The Pineapple Express’s stoner servers

Real-Life Quirky Judges

Trust me, they exist. Let’s start with the judge who lost it when someone’s cell phone starting ringing in the courtroom…

The Judge Who Jailed 46 People for a Ringing Cell Phone

In 2005, City Court Judge Robert Restanio in Niagara Falls, New York, jailed nearly four dozen people in his courtroom after no one claimed ownership of a ringing cell phone. Fourteen who were unable to make bail spent several hours in jail, with the judge deciding to release them after learning reporters were inquiring about their incarceration.

This didn’t bode well with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, who called the judge’s actions “a gross deviation from the proper role of a judge” and removed him from the bench. You can read about it here:

“Panel gives judge a ringing rebuke” (CNN.com)

Who Can Forget the Crying Judge?

Remember Judge Larry Seidlin, who cried in the courtroom over the legal controversy in the Anna Nicole Smith’s burial and referred to lawyers by their hometown? According to the Today show, he was shopping around for a reality series (“Anna Nicole judge to get his own TV show?”).

Seidlin resigned from the bench in the summer of 2007.  

I’ve had a few interesting experiences with eccentric judges over the years, too.

Wonder Woman in the Courtroom

Source:Wonder Woman Vector from clipartlogo.com

Years ago, I resigned from my position at the public defender’s office to start my own private law practice. On my last day in court as a public defender, at the end of the day’s docket, the district court criminal judge called me to the bench and groused that I’d forgotten a case. The only people in the courtroom were other public defenders and a woman in a trench coat sitting in the back of the gallery. He called the woman forward, citing a case and number.

As she walked forward, the judge pulled out a boom box from under his bench while the woman tossed off her trench coat (underneath she was dressed as Wonder Woman). As the music boomed, the woman began gyrating. The judge had been secretly asked by my co-workers at the public defender office to help them give me a proper, or not-so-proper, send-off: A stripper dressed as Wonder Woman (why that super-heroine character, I have no idea).

Werewolves in the Courtroom

Another time, a district court judge interrupted  court proceedings to talk about the werewolves that were prowling the courtroom.  In another case, he asked a deputy to take a seat in the jury box so he could be arrested by the local sheriff’s department. Sadly, the judge was suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations caused by toxicity from kidney disease. Eventually, the judicial performance commission had him removed from the bench.

Reading Playboy During a Trial

I once defended a drug cartel member charged with first-degree murder. The state assigned a retired judge to hear this case, which was a tense and contentious trial from day one. The judge was a crusty, cantankerous old fellow who, I learned, had no intention of letting go of his daily habits. At the conclusion of the defense and prosecution’s first meeting in this judge’s chambers, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. Leaning back in his plush leather chair, he exhaling grandly, then looked at the female prosecutor and asked her, “Do you know where a fella can get a good bottle of booze in this part of town?”

After she gave him the name and location of a local liquor store, he then asked her if she knew whether or not it stocked Playboy magazines, explaining that he’d been sitting on the bench for 35 years, and the trials where he read Playboy during court always went more smoothly.

Yes, this judge read Playboy magazine throughout the trial. Every time the prosecutor and I approached the bench, we’d see the magazine lying open on his desk, unseen by the jury or anyone else.

And yes, the trial went smoothly.

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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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