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Monday, March 16, 2015


Judge Robert McGahey submitted the following post:

About ten days back, Chris posted a very thoughtful piece (link here) which was inspired by an article in Politico. I read that article and would offer these comments as both a judge and a teacher.

In addition to teaching Trial Advocacy courses, I also helm the Judicial Externship Seminar at DU Law School.  Per the ABA, every judicial externship requires an academic component, and that's my task.  I try to focus on issues that aren't always talked about in law school and the last class session always focuses on the how judges are selected, and the influence of politics and money on judicial decisions. I tell the students that the class is about the value of an independent judiciary in a free society – and I have them watch Judgment at Nuremberg to see how perverted a justice system can become. Knowing that some students will poo-poo the movie with "it can't happen here," I assign as extra reading articles like the one in Politico, as well as cases like Caperton v. Massey.

Since many of my students come from Colorado, where there is no direct election of judges, there is shock and amazement when they find out that 39 states still elect all or part of their judiciary. (Admit it: some of you were shocked to find that out, too.) We talk about what that can do to judicial thinking.  I have yet to find a student who thinks that electing judges is a good idea.  Some of the most fervent opponents to that concept come from states where election of judges is the norm.

My seminar also includes earlier sessions where I ask the students why they went to law school and whether their motivation for being here has changed as they progressed. Those sessions are interesting, to put it mildly.  Many students seem to come to law school without any clear idea of why they came or what they want to do at the end. I don't critique their reason or choices; the idea is to get them to examine their motivations and those choices, to see how they tie into the greater framework of the legal system in general.

All of us who teach recognize that our students will be practicing law after we're dead. Courtroom advocacy matters to us, in a profound and visceral way. We have a duty to the system to make sure the people who follow us aren't just going through the motions; as Chris so eloquently put it, "It would be a tragedy if they were all as good as Atticus Finch in courtrooms where it didn't matter."

Finally, we shouldn't forget the words of Preamble to the Model Rules: "A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice." (Italics mine.) We must never shirk that responsibility in either the courtroom or the classroom.

--Judge Robert McGahey

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