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What are the responsibilities of a judge in non-jury court cases?
Judges in a court room have a specific role in our judicial system. In a jury trial the judge gives instructions to the jury regarding the case they will be deciding but in a non-jury trial the emphasis is all on the judge on the bench to make the decisions. While there are many cases throughout our judicial system on a daily basis those who hold the office of judge must make sure they live up to their responsibilities.
The first line of getting justice rests with those who hold the position of judge in non-jury trials. Judges in a non-jury trial have a higher degree of responsibility not only to enforce the law as it is written but to make decisions in a timely manner regarding the cases before them.
Judges in some cases in their decisions have re-written the law based on their interpretation but interpretation is not the aim of our judicial system it is to enforce the word of law. Some may feel that interpretation is necessary while others feel interpretation is unjustified.
Non-jury trials or cases as the terms are used are disputes either between individuals or between individuals and organizations/companies. In either case the facts are presented by both sides and the judge must listen to each position. In some many cases where the proceedings are in the public eye it causes a delay in making the decision. Not all cases within our judicial system have easy answers and judges in these kinds of trials are place in a precarious situation where their decision will be reviewed by the media. In any case the media has the right and responsibility to cover decisions made by judges.
One of the requirements of our judicial system is a fair and speedy trial. This requirement does not always appear to be accomplished but when the Constitution was written it was a different time and our country and population was not as big or populated as it is now. The question of how to resolve this deficiency is three-fold. One is to provide enough resources to address the volume, judges and/or juries to make decisions based on the evidence in a timely manner. Some trials take weeks and in some cases this may be considered timely given the facts in specific cases. Other times the issues are not that difficult and the decision to be made is obvious. Granted there needs to be ample time to weight the evidence in relation to the law but where the law is clear as to who is right the decision needs to be made quickly.
The third aspect of a fair and speedy trial involves the number of cases which should never reach a courtroom. These cases are attempts in many cases to make some individuals suffer or organizations pay for their mistakes when in fact the cause is not the fault of an individual or organization. One example which seems to be used is where a customer was burned by hot coffee in a restaurant and sued the company for the pain their received. Coffee is always going to be hot when it is handed to you from the attendant. It is not the fault of the business but the individual in not handling the coffee more safely. Granted there are cases which warrant lawsuits but there are many which do not. Every individual has a right to sue for damages when they occur but cases such as the hot coffee should never reach a courtroom.
Our judicial system was established to provide restitution for issues and it is important for our country and the rights we have as individuals. Judges and those who aspire to become judges need to consider their responsibilities and how they will handle various situations they face as a judge. Integrity in our judicial system is critical in achieving justice for all individuals and organizations alike. Those who are judges and especially those who have the total responsibility in non-jury trials must take their responsibilities and authority seriously and make decisions in a timely manner in all cases before them. Decisions need to be made on the basis of the law and the facts in the case. Cases involving clear decisions need to be readily made providing confidence in the system to make accurate decisions. Decisions should not be an expansion of the law as it is written but based on the words written in applicable laws with respect to the case before them. Judges who make good decisions in a timely manner will be respected within the legal system but those who delay decisions into the future will face charges of dereliction of the duties to which they have been entrusted.