By John P. Paone, Jr., Esq.
It is quite troubling that in the present political climate, some of our leaders believe that attacking judges is fair game and indeed good politics. These attacks — which heretofore have been verbal — have now turned financial. Without question, these attacks diminish our judiciary. As judges are effectively without a voice, it is incumbent on the bar to defend our system and the people who have dedicated their careers to the service of our state.
The ongoing verbal tirade against judges, which goes beyond expressing disagreement with an individual decision and rises to the level of personal and ad hominem attack, is destructive and dangerous behavior. This conduct undermines the public’s respect for the judiciary and the rule of law. Unlike the other branches of our government, “respect” is the essential element that makes our judicial system work. The judiciary doesn’t have an army or police force to carry out its decisions. It has (what until now has been) universal respect for the rule of law. To be clear, no one (let alone me) is always in agreement with the decisions that come from the bench. But our system is based on respect for those decisions and the public servants who make them. Without that respect, we devolve into anarchy and the law of the jungle where might makes right.
If the verbal assault on the judiciary weren’t damaging enough, the current state budget effectively reduces the compensation of judges in a way that appears clearly unconstitutional. I agree that business as usual is over in Trenton and that the state must make hard decisions to address these difficult economic times. Indeed, our leaders should be applauded for taking on these tough challenges without the gimmicks of the past. The judiciary itself has attempted to assist in these hard times by declaring furlough days, and by operating within a reduced budget. But the diminution of judicial compensation is beyond the pale and represents a broadside attack on an independent judiciary. Long ago, our Founding Fathers made clear that a judge’s pay should not be diminished during his or her tenure on the bench. That sacred principle is now under attack in our state.
Our nation’s greatest asset isn’t the new technologies we invent or even our brave armed forces — it is our independent judiciary. Knowing that regardless of money, race, sex, or any other demographic, all disputes can be resolved fairly and civilly is a blessing that simply doesn’t exist in most places around the globe. It certainly doesn’t exist in the newly emerging financial juggernauts being heralded as America’s future successors on the world stage. Unfortunately, because it has been a bedrock of stability for so long, many of us take our judicial system for granted and fail to appreciate the foundation upon which it rests. Our judicial system is founded upon respect. During this era of heated rhetoric and incivility, we would all do well to keep that in mind.
The Middlesex County Bar Association is a non-profit professional membership organization whose purpose is to: Maintain and improve a viable, fiscally sound, self-sustaining membership organization open to all members of the legal community; Provide a proactive voice to represent the views, interests, and concerns of the legal community of Middlesex County on all issues affecting the practice of law and the administration of justice; Promote ethical conduct, collegiality, and mutual respect among the members of the legal community in Middlesex County through programs and services; Foster respect for the legal profession by the public; Enhance the quality of the legal services provided by our members through education, networking, and mutual support; and Encourage and provide opportunities for members to use their knowledge, skills and resources for the benefit of the public.
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