The Timid Judge and The Clever Bailiff

James McManis

The Judge was a lovely old fellow, a relic from a time before the birth of Silicon Valley, when Santa Clara County was covered with orchards instead of start-ups, and was known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.  As a measure of his humility, the Judge usually took the bench in a coat and tie without his robe.  (This practice would be a law violation in our current enlightened age.  See CA Gov’t Code 68110.) 

The Judge could never bring himself to rule on an evidentiary objection.  If a lawyer objected, and the Judge thought the objection was meritorious, the best he could do was say in a soft voice, “Why don’t you rephrase the question.”  If he believed however the objection lacked merit, his “ruling” was, “You may proceed.”

One day, the presiding judge assigned a murder case to the Judge.  The prosecutor was a relentless lawyer, who would never take “No” for an answer.  The defense attorney was also fearless, not about to give an inch to anyone.  Every day, the trial was a series of angry exchanges which the Judge was unable to control.  The jury soon tired of these daily battles, and during a recess one day, wrote up a petition to the presiding judge to have the Judge removed from the trial, and “a real judge” substituted in his place.  Not knowing where to lodge their petition, the jurors gave it to the Judge’s bailiff.

Now many bailiffs might have thrown such a document away and admonished the jury, or worse, given it to the Judge and embarrassed him.  This certain bailiff however was a clever bailiff, a true diplomat.  When the jurors presented their petition, he studied it with great care and complimented them on their craftsmanship. He remarked that a petition of this nature was a very serious matter, but noted that it was “signed by a number of the jurors,” was “addressed to the Presiding Judge,” and appeared to be correct in every other particular.  He pointed out however that not all the jurors had signed the document, and since the matter was a criminal case, a petition of this sort had to be unanimous before he could present it to the presiding judge.  In other words, the entire jury had to sign it to be valid.

Predictably, some of the jurors thought better of signing such a remarkable document. The “petition” died a natural death, and the trial continued with “please rephrase” and “you may proceed” to a chorus of many sighs from the jury box, blessed by the beneficent smile of the Clever Bailiff. 

About the author James McManis

A member of the trial bar for 50 years, Jim has unparalleled experience and skill in preparing and presenting cases for adjudication – whether by jury, judge, arbitrator, mediator or the parties themselves.