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Judicial Independence Integral To Maintaining The Rule Of Law Despite Outside Pressures And Glaring Spotlight - Opinion/Editorial - By Judge William S. Sessions - Division of Media Relations and Public Affairs - American Bar Association

Judicial Independence Integral To Maintaining The Rule Of Law Despite Outside Pressures And Glaring Spotlight

By Judge William S. Sessions, Chair
American Bar Association Special Committee on Judicial Independence

In the media spotlight of high public interest trials, such as the Massachusetts au pair case where all parties issued multiple statements, day in and day out, and people picketed outside the Cambridge courthouse, it is important to remember the true role of the court and the judge who presides over the trial.

The true role of the judge is not to be a caricature in a made-for-television sitcom, where the viewer tunes in for entertainment and then clicks to another channel. The true role of a judge is not to be reduced to a 25-second sound bite on the evening news. The true role of a judge is not to be shaped by pressure groups promoting a particular outcome.

Rather, the true role of a trial or appellate judge is to uphold the rule of law and ensure that justice is done. This principle is at the core of our democracy. This critically serious business requires that a judge protect the rights of all participants in a trial as well as the public interest. This principle is what has made the American legal system the most copied judicial system model in emerging democracies around the world.

The judicial process requires time to unfold. It is deliberative and thoughtful, designed to ensure that all issues are carefully weighed and considered. It is designed to produce the truth. Without this careful and deliberate process, under the rule of law, the strong fabric that binds Americans together would fray and democracy would be weakened.

Judicial decision making, however, does not occur in a vacuum. Our judicial system is at work in the jury trial process when a jury considers the evidence and arrives at a verdict on the facts. The system is at work when a judge conducts the trial and reviews the verdict of the jury in light of the law, and again when the appellate court reviews the decision of the trial court. This dynamic system of judge, jury and appellate review is what makes American's judicial system so unique and effective.

As the world reacts to the decision of Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Hiller Zobel, Americans should understand that judges' decisions are not determined by the glare of the camera lights, nor as Judge Zobel put it, "by a plebiscite", nor by partisan pressure brought to bear on the jury or the judge.

An independent judiciary is a necessary, vital and irreplaceable constant in the American Democracy, which continues to successfully evolve after more than 200 years.

That's our American system -- and it works.