One of the benefits of practicing in Federal court is that anytime I go to court I appear before real judges - lawyers who have years of training and experience being judges. Back in my family law days, I occasionally practiced in front of magistrates in state court who were completely the opposite - not lawyers, with no requirement of even a college education, and little grasp of the legal world.
I was reminded of West Virginia magistrates by this story in today's New York Times about that state's town or village "justice courts." For instance:
Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge’s bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings.The story, first in a three-part series, then goes on to document egregious acts of judicial malfeasance in these courts. Obviously, not all (or probably even most) of those judges are corrupt wielders of power. However, when the system allows a judge to conclude:'
Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school.
I just follow my own common sense,' Mr. Buckley, in an interview, said of his 13 years on the bench. 'And the hell with the law.'In a modern world that is increasingly regulated at the federal, state, and local level, that kind of cavalier attitude is simply not appropriate in a "public servant." And a system that fosters that sort of attitude is profoundly broken.