Black robe disease (also known as black robe syndrome) is a condition which is not widely known to the general public, but which every trial lawyer in the country could describe in great detail if they were not too afraid to speak out against judges suffering from it. It afflicts those lawyers who have reached the pinnacle of professional status by achieving the position of judge, infecting all levels of the American judicial system.
Black robe disease is characterized by exhibiting three or more (though frequently all) of the following symptoms:
- Inflated ego and an excessive sense of self-importance
- Lack of empathy
- Sudden outbursts of rage (whether genuine or exhibited for show)
- Refusal to effectively manage scheduling issues
- Belief in a double standard when it comes to the judge’s own conduct
- Lack of patience with inexperienced lawyers
- Hostility towards lawyers more knowledgeable than the judge
- Inability to work efficiently
- A compulsion to waste the time of others
- Imperious attitude
- The belief that his or her words are dogma
- An obsessive desire to be kissed on the ass
Most lawyers who become judges are able to stave off the symptoms of this illness from somewhere between 6 to 18 months, depending on their prior moral character and their experience as a litigator. However, studies indicate approximately 96.2% of all judges ultimately succumb to this disease (according to a random double-blind study fabricated for this article). The small percentage who are able to avoid black robe syndrome do so only by a strict regimen of prayer, meditation, and vodka.
What can be done about black robe disease? Unfortunately, there is no known cure. Removing one judge from office requires putting another one in his place who will likely fall victim to the same condition, so that method of treatment has been found ineffective. Due to the absurd level of power granted to judges by our judicial system (created, conveniently enough, by judges), there is little that can be done other than raise public awareness of the issue. Raising public awareness does absolutely nothing to solve the problem, but at least people may be more understanding when they see a lawyer walking out of a courthouse shouting obscenities and making a beeline to the nearest bar.
Do you have a favorite story about a judge afflicted with black robe disease? If so, please post it in the Comments section at the bottom of this article. If you can include a link to your story, that will be even better.
Note: special thanks to my former law partner Richard D. Jensen, author of the newly released biography The Nicest Fella – The Life of Ben Johnson: The world champion rodeo cowboy who became an Oscar-winning movie star and Ashes and Dust, for inspiring this article with his recent unpublished email rants against black robe disease. Also thanks to another former law partner Ray Kolb for his wise suggestions on this post. Ray’s short story “The Siege of Ravelin” was recently published in the anthology Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms.
State of North Carolina v. Douglas Shane Wright (judge’s remarks to defense counsel in front of jury create prejudicial negative atmosphere)
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