Webinar presenter Michelle Welch answered a number of your questions after her presentation, So in Other Words, How Do You Speak in Your Judge’s Langauge? Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What are some suggestions about how to research the background of a judge?
Michelle Welch: Okay, so I think there’s a couple of ways to do it. I would look them up on the Internet first because that’s what my Millennials have taught me. Everybody is on the internet at some point, in some shape or form unless they’re a boomer they may not be on the internet as much. Pretty much you’ll figure out where they used to work like if they were defense attorneys or if they were a prosecutor. Prosecutors might be a little harder because they’re usually within an office but you might find stuff on Google, or Facebook, I can’t tell you how many times people put things on Facebook that they should not. I would start there depending on what your occupation is. If you’re a law enforcement officer, I would talk to your other law enforcement officers to see what they know about the judge. I would talk to your prosecutor. If you’re a prosecutor, I would talk to the people within your office to see what they think of the judge. My first call is to the prosecutor’s office because I’m always helping a prosecutor’s office as special prosecutor. So I call them up and ask “what’s your judge like on an animal case? And are they Law and Order?” Or are they more liberal or conservative, and I don’t mean that in a political party way. I mean it as liberal meaning they don’t lock anybody up or the more conservative, you know they will lock everybody up. Are they going to follow the law? That’s always what I want to know especially like in animal fighting cases – I just had a jury mistrial where it was juror misconduct and I really thought the judge should have ruled that it was the defendant’s fault. But the judge kind of spilt the baby but I argued it’s not my fault that this defendant’s family tampered with my jury pool. The speedy trial should be waived or calculated to his detriment. However the Judge erred on the side of the defendant, not the Prosecution on that issue.
If you are probation and parole, I would speak with your prosecutor and ask them about the judge. A veteran probation officer will know kind of what that judge is all about and will know how he’s going to rule on issues.
Audience Question: When a new judge comes onto the bench perhaps as chief of animal services, do you suggest a meeting with them to give them an idea of how you approach prosecutions sharing about how you educate prior to filing charges, always keeping ex parte issues in mind?
Michelle Welch: That was going to be my first disclaimer. You know that you really shouldn’t talk to a judge ex-parte. I would be really careful about it. We had the judges that would pull me in and want to chat with you generally after court. Sometimes I think being a judge can be lonely. I have a prosecutor friend who was just elevated and I’m thinking “can I still be friends with her on Facebook?” I don’t think I’ll be using Juvenile Courts. I think it’s going to be unlikely that I’ll be before for her. But if she gets elevated to the circuit court, I may be appearing before her and would have to be careful. I think you can certainly go in and introduce yourself and you can tell them you know that you’ll be before them and you can educate them about what cases you will be bringing before them. But I would be really careful about that. If you’re a lawyer, defense attorneys do it all the time. I had a defense attorney call me when I was in the middle of a search warrant and he said “I’m here with the judge and we are discussing your search warrant.” I thought that’s an ex parte communication and you don’t get to stop my search warrant. So the bottom line is I would be really careful as a lawyer to talk to a judge ex parte. Always be professional. I certainly always go up to introduce myself before I start the case with the judge. I would not be chatting with the judge ex parte on a regular basis and if you’re law enforcement or animal control, I’d be really careful about it.
Audience Question: We talked about generational differences, but you also see common differences between male and female judicial officers?
Michelle Welch: Yes, I really do. I mean obviously, I’ve been before more male judges than female. What I will say is for females judges, which I referenced earlier in my presentation, is that you can’t assume the judge is going to be all supportive for the animals or all for the children or all for the victim. It depends socioeconomically where they come from; I think that we didn’t really touch on socioeconomic differences in judges. If you’re a middle class white person, can you really empathize with someone who lives in a homeless shelter or someone who’s living on the street? As a prosecutor, you have to make that victim really human and show they are innocent. So often when we’re talking about an adult victim, we tend to blame the victim as a society and so making sure that the judge really sees your victim for who they are. White male judges may not be as sympathetic, especially for animal victims. I really I go in fighting a certain mind frame. Once one of my lawyers said, “Will you stop fighting?” And I’m like,” Never!” That lawyer thought the judge was on my side, but I was not sure of the judge. I kept fighting because I think you have to go above and beyond especially if you’re different sex or a different race than the judge you are appearing before. You really don’t know what biases they might bring to the table. So again showing up with your A-game is really important.
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