This blog is full of suggestions for judges who want to be fair and to convey a sense of fairness in the courtroom. But what about judges who want to be wise? Will following tips on procedural fairness help them too? In our latest interview, psychology professor Heidi Levitt suggests that the road to wisdom runs right alongside the path of procedural fairness.
Levitt has published two studies on judicial wisdom with coauthor Bridget Dunnavant: Judicial Wisdom: The Process of Constructing Wise Decisions and The Development of Wisdom in Judicial Decision-Making. Both studies relied on interviews with judges who were nominated as wise by their colleagues.
The interviews generated a long list of behaviors and attitudes associated with wise legal decision making—traits that will sound familiar to anyone who has read about procedural fairness. The judges emphasized giving litigants respect and voice, explaining court procedures, and expressing compassion for parties while still upholding the law. They valued curiosity, thoughtfulness, and flexibility to consider individual circumstances. They felt that it was important for judges to be engaged in each case—not only giving their full attention to the parties and the law but also recognizing and dealing with any emotions or bias that might arise.
Wise judges developed strategies for dealing with situations where their own values conflicted with the law or where they felt that the correct legal outcome was not necessarily the fair one. They tended to prefer rehabilitative sentences over punitive ones when possible. They also talked about the sense of isolation judges can feel and suggested seeking out the support and community of other judges.
Levitt and Dunnavant asked their subjects how judicial educators might promote wisdom in law school and beyond. The judges suggested placing more emphasis on pretrial problem solving, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and social justice. They felt that increasing the diversity of the judicial profession would be helpful as well.
As with the other podcast interviews on the Procedural Fairness Blog, this interview was done by Justine Greve (M.A., American Studies), a staff member at the Kansas Court of Appeals. Listen to her interview with Levitt (just click one of the links below) and think about your own experience. Are the wise judges you know also ones who strive to be procedurally fair?