The Judicial Council has come out with the ruling suspending Justice Zabel for 30 days for briefly wearing a Trump “Make America Great” hat in court the day after the U.S. election.
The council convened as a result of 81 complaints being filed about the incident. The judge did apologize for this incident saying it was really a gag, an attempt at injecting some humour into the courtroom. He was adamant he was not endorsing Trump’s views.
My concern now is that judges will be terrified to use any humour at all in the courtroom. There could be a snowball effect whereby judges go out of their way to emasculate and muzzle their sense of humour? Judges may even bend over backwards to demonstrate they are not kidding or laughing about anything. For example when the Registrar announces at the beginning of a session, “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, come forth and ye shall be heard”, I can readily see a judge saying, “Did I hear chuckling? There is nothing funny about the word oyez”.
To make sure their sense of humour is not cocked and ready to fire, some judges will likely read the morning papers, looking for a depressing news item. I can see a judge who is chipper and buoyant but just before he heads to the courtroom, he grabs a newspaper, muttering to himself, “Court starts in 3 minutes. There has to be a story in here about hurricanes. “
In the unlikely event that he does not find one, he can always look at the sports section to learn the score in the last Blue Jays game. That’s an easy fix.
There is always the risk of course that while scanning the newspaper the judge’s eyes might notice the comic strip. Life has its risks.
If the news does not work, the judge can simply examine his latest hydro bill. After a minute or so, he can go into his courtroom saying to himself, “Great. Now I feel like crap. I’m safe.”
But what about those judges whose mood is almost always at a high. I imagine there will no doubt be sharp entrepreneurs who will cater to judges who have trouble losing their sense of humour and becoming depressed and glum. These motivational speakers will offer seminars to the judiciary, such as, “Tap your inner genius. Get depressed in 3 easy steps.” Or “Humour is no laughing matter. Giggling is the new smoking.”
I am certain if a judge’s mood in the courtroom does not plummet, he or she will get a visit from the chief justice who will likely admonish the happy judge, saying, “Harry, we have had some complaints about you. You were seen smiling several times this week. It has to stop. Here, read this immediately. I’m leaving you my copy of Hamlet.”
Are we heading in this direction? Better yet, do we want to head there?