When interviewing for this job, I was asked multiple times about my leadership style. That was easy – I am a coach, both figuratively and literally. My husband and I find ourselves on a lot of sidelines coaching and cheering on our kids – we coach our sons in basketball and I coach our daughter in 4-year-old soccer, which is as fun, challenging and exhausting as you might think.
On all these sidelines, I come across a lot of umpires and referees. The umpire who calls the batter out at first base, but then she quietly checks on him because he ran his heart out trying to beat the throw. The older soccer referee who helps the goalie warm up by taking a few shots on goal and then mesmerizes the younger siblings at the half by juggling the soccer ball. The basketball referee having to hustle to keep up with the youngsters running the court, who talks to a player to help him learn how to avoid a carrying call next time he dribbles.
Watching all of these people who make it to a match early on a Saturday or right after work, I kept wondering – why are they here? I hustled to get to the game because I have a child on the team. Without that, I would not be there.
This question grew stronger in me during a soccer tournament that was supposedly being played in Augusta, but in actuality was being played on the face of the sun. All the parents were sent a code of conduct that we had to read and follow. A few weeks later, we received a similar code for another child’s baseball team. The codes of conduct centered around how we conducted ourselves and how we treated the third parties who were officiating.
My husband has taught all of our kids to thank the refs after a game. Sometimes this is a hard thing to do, especially after a close loss when a few calls could have gone either way. I am glad he has taught the kids to do this, and frankly, I am glad he has taught me to do this.
Again, I ask myself, why the umps show up on a perfectly good Saturday where they could be anywhere else. The best I can figure out, these folks are there because they love the game and what the game stands for. It is not the check – those keep getting lower. It is not the prestige – again, parents and spectators have to agree to a code of conduct to treat them with some respect. However, without these refs and umps, there would not be games, there would not be sports.
As the Bar published information about the upcoming judicial elections, I found myself talking to a few people considering running. Often, they would say it was not the right time for them. Understandable, but again I was left wondering what makes people show up and offer to be judges. Unlike these kids’ sports, in our legal system lawyers can continue to be lawyers and likely out-earn a judge. So what makes lawyers decide “I will stop practicing law, and serve as a judge?”
I think it is that love for the justice system and a heart for public service that calls to a person. We must have people call the balls and strikes for our justice system to exist. This is an incredibly difficult task. No one will ever leave a ballfield thinking an ump got everything correct – we are human after all – and a court room is no different. We have an appeals process in our system as a safeguard, which is more thorough than any instant replay on a field. Judges certainly hear from many people on the sidelines too, and there is no code of conduct for non-attorneys there. Not everyone understands the legal constraints, such as standing, that our courts must adhere to. Further, few know that judges cannot respond to taunts and heckles from the sidelines.
So why are they here? Why did multiple people offer to serve as judges and enter a screening process that includes submitting personal data questionnaires that rival bar applications and include financial details, interviews with a local citizens committee, interviews with the Bar (which include being asked academic legal questions as well as questions following a detailed survey of attorneys about the candidate), an anonymous ballot box survey of all attorneys and clerks of court, and a public hearing in front of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission. All these interviews and surveys look at a candidate’s qualifications, ethical fitness, professional and academic ability, character, reputation, physical and mental health, experience, judicial temperament and other qualifications.
I think someone embarks on this rigorous journey for similar reasons as the young baseball ump calling balls and strikes on the pitcher not much younger than him – because they love the justice system. It is part of their soul, and they know without them calling balls and strikes, there would not be a justice system. They show up to serve – serve our system, serve our citizens and serve our state.
So thank you to all who currently serve or have served in the past, to all who offered to serve, and to all those who are considering one day offering. Thank you for showing up. Our justice system needs you.
Reach Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org.