The Scales of Justice

by Jessie Meyers Moore ’10

As Justice of the Bronx County Supreme Court and Supervising Judge of the Bronx County Civil Court, the Honorable Laura Douglas ’79 never knows quite what she’ll confront when she walks through the doors of the courtroom. It’s unpredictable, often chaotic work, but Douglas maintains balance with some of her tried-and-true courtroom rules:

  1. Try not to get emotionally involved. “It’s the litigant’s fight; they’ve been at this a longer time than you. If you get drawn in, you begin to lose objectivity.”
  2. Sit back and listen. “When you listen, you’re able to discern through the clutter and eventually hear the truth.”
  3. Find a balance. “Being still helps you find balance and not get caught up in the fray. That’s what judges really do: balance. Nobody’s going to walk away a total winner. The fact that someone is just willing to hear them out, no matter what the decision, helps them walk away with a good feeling.”
  4. Understand cultural differences. “When witnesses don’t look you in the eye in American culture, it is viewed as a sign of dishonesty. But in many cultures, not looking authority figures directly in the eye is a sign of respect. That’s something I take into consideration: Not everyone who doesn’t look at you is a liar.”
  5. Think creatively. “The laws that govern Civil Court allow judges’ discretion to fashion the appropriate remedy. You’re constrained by whatever the law says you must do, but sometimes you can be a little more judicious.”
  6. Realize you can’t fix everything. “The Court can never really make you whole, especially if you’ve suffered an injury. You’re not going to be exactly who or what you were before the event happened. However, sometimes a judgment, monetary or otherwise, can help.”
  7. Act like a grown-up: “Being a judge can sometimes feel like “playing kindergarten cop” or being “Mommy.” People’s go-to thing now is ‘I’m going to take you to court’ over matters that could easily be resolved, but no one takes the time to do it. Many do not explore other avenues including settlement and then the judge seems like the bad guy.”
  8. Focus on the bigger picture. “As an attorney, you’re focused on whatever side you’re advocating for and looking at what’s best for your particular client. As a judge, you’re looking at what’s legally best for the parties as a whole. You’re focused on the bigger picture and seeing how you can balance the scales.”
  9. Know that your work makes a difference. “Being in court and having a case adjudicated can be life-altering for some people. [Your decision] is always going to have an impact on someone’s life.”
  10. Listen compassionately. “A judge must do his or her best to allow the parties to present their side of the case in order to judge fairly.”

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.