How To Deal With An Unreasonable Family Court Judge
There is an old joke that goes around law schools, it says that “A” students end up working for “B” students and “C” students become State Court Judges. The reasoning is that students who get A’s are so focused on academics they miss out on what the law is really about, that is people and their problems. They spend all their time in the library reading case notes and they forget (or never learn) how to deal with people. While the B students instead have a nice mix of academics and learn how to deal with people.
Contrast that with the adage that C students become Judges, It’s a bit of a slight towards State Court Judges, suggesting that perhaps they either A) couldn’t handle it in the private sector or B) aren’t very smart. While this isn’t really true and there are many fantastic Minnesota judges (we do in fact have some very great judges in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Martin, Brown and Redwood Falls County to name just a few) the problem is that there is the occasional rogue Judge who gets what we call “black robe fever” and become a true nightmare to deal with.
Before we go into what to do with unreasonable Judges, a little background on who Judges are. In Minnesota Judges are elected for a 6 year term, but most of them are actually appointed first by the MN Judicial Selection Committee and then a few names are sent to the Governor for his or her final selection. Aside from “…being learned in the law.” As our State Constitution states there is really no other criteria. As a practical matter Judges are licensed MN attorneys with at least a decade of experience. Here are a few more facts from MinnPost.com about Minnesota Judges. Former prosecutors are appointed 2-1 over public defenders to the Bench. Most Mn Judges are from the private sector law firms (272) only 32 were solo-practitioners.
The pay for MN District Court Judges start at $138,318 and go up slowly as they gain more experience all the way to the Minnesota Chief Justice who earns $172,012. (as of 2016). So while the pay is very nice, it’s not even close to what a partner at a top firm is making. Last year a non-equity partner (sometimes called junior partner) made $450,000 at Big Law. That’s quite the spread.
Rude & Unreasonable Judges
Ok now on to the topic of this post, rude or unreasonable Judges. Yes, there are crazy judges in Minnesota. It is a cold hard fact of life. Just like outside of the court system there are good people and bad people and the Court System in no way keeps out all the bad people. There are literally dozens of examples in Minnesota alone where Judges do things that are improper, illegal and downright rude. A few examples are shown below:
Judge “Fixing” a ticket for court clerk’s Husband. Here.
Dakota County Judge convicted of Drunk Driving. Here
Judge ordering people to his own Divorce lawyer for a discounted fee. Here
As I said above, there are good and bad Judges just as there are people, but what do you do when there is a man or woman in a black robe who is rude or just isn’t following the law? Can you do anything? The answer is yes, you can.
Remove The Judge From Your Case
Luckily Minnesota is one of a handful of states that allows lawyers or their clients to remove a judge without any reason given. The states that do not allow this require a showing of bias or prejudice, which is very difficult to do. MN Rule of Civil Procedure 63.03 allows a person to remove a Judge within 10 days after receiving notice of that judge being assigned. Once the notice of removal is received a new judge will be assigned. No reason has to be given and there isn’t a requirement that you have to prove bias or prejudice, which is very hard to do.
Most lawyers who have practiced family law (or really any type of law) for any period of time have found a Judge or two that is either plain rude or just doesn’t understand family law and they have made the decision to never appear in front of them again, the way that is done is through Rule 63.
While I don’t know this for a fact, I’ve know that if a Judge is removed too often it can cause a bit of a stir with the powers that be, either the judicial standards board or the Chief Judge of the district. I’m not aware of any rules but I’ve seen it happen where a Judge was being removed by nearly all the local lawyers and it caused an investigation.
So, ask your lawyer if they are removing a judge, why? Or if you have heard terrible things about the Judge that may be assigned to you don’t be afraid to immediately talk to the lawyer and see if you should remove them. But, don’t wait as you’ve only got 10 days!
Appeal Bad Decisions
Minnesota has a court of appeals. The Minnesota Court of Appeals is what we call an “error correcting court” that means when the district court issues a ruling or an order and one of the parties appeals it goes to this 3 judge panel. (the exception is 1st degree murder cases which go directly to the MN Supreme Court).
The MN Court of Appeals is composed of 19 judges and handles about 2,000 appeals a year. The last statistic I found from an excellent article by the Mitchell Hamline School of Law shows that about 44% of cases were either reversed (meaning the Court of Appeals said that the trial court made a mistake) Remanded (meaning the Court of Appeals said that the order issued was somehow not consistent with the law and needed to be clarified or fixed in some fashion) or a combination of both of those.
The startling thing here that means the trial court made a lot of errors, it should be pointed out that while one could think that means the trial court got it wrong nearly ½ the time, in 1998 there were 2,038,585 cases that were filed in Minnesota (according to the MN legislature study. That means a tiny, tiny percentage were actually appealed.
Pro’s And Con’s of Appealing.
Well, first and foremost it’s expensive to appeal a district court Divorce decision. Very expensive to appeal. The filing fee is $500 then there is a $500 cost bond and the printing fees (but with e-filing that should be reduced) and finally the transcript and attorney’s fees. If possible, you should avoid appeals unless the district court has issued such a bad decision that you have no other choice. It really boils down to a cost benefit analysis.
As with most areas of the law, there is no magic bullet when dealing with unreasonable Judges, but you do have options and you don’t have to just accept the decision from an older Judge who decides not to follow the law.
You have some options, but be sure you talk to your lawyer and know what your options actually are.
Rosenberg, Kohlmeyer & Hagen, Law Office