She’s Rude. She’s Intimidating. She’s Still a Judge

Judge Judith Eiler says she just doesn’t put up with “gobbledygook.”

After the state Commission on Judicial Conduct lightly reprimanded King County District Court Judge Judith Eiler in 2005 for rudeness on the bench, she indicated she wouldn't have further exchanges like this one during a family court hearing, when she told an attorney, "This is not a divorce court! And I am not gonna hear your divorce proceeding! I'll send you back to Superior Court so fast that your head will swim!" Later, when the attorney tried to offer more information, she said, "You've won here. So you might want to be real quiet before I give you a zero verdict." (A zero verdict is a ruling that's in your favor but awards you no money.) When the attorney objected, she said, "Sir, you wanna smirk, I'll just give you a zero verdict." When he tried to speak again, Eiler barked, "Sir! You wanna push the button, we'll just give you a zero verdict..." And she did. Despite the state reprimand, she continued what she calls her "straightforward, plain-talking" approach to jurisprudence. She said she had settled with the CJC just as a matter of convenience. But last year the CJC filed new disciplinary charges for "a pattern or practice of rude, impatient, undignified, and intimidating treatment" of defendants and attorneys. Eiler's explanation in part was that she had been under pressure from stress and a heavy caseload. But earlier this month, in a 5–1 signed decision, the CJC meted out a censure and recommended a 90-day suspension without pay. Not surprisingly, there was Judge Judy last week pretty much saying she'll do it again, and vowing to appeal her suspension. "If I wanted people to love me, I wouldn't have chosen to be a judge," she told KIRO-TV. "I don't sugarcoat stuff...I don't use a lot of gobbledygook." And she noted that the CJC didn't find anything incorrect about her legal decisions. But what the CJC did say was that "in a number of cases, litigants were not allowed to develop their cases or were so intimidated by [Eiler] that they did not submit evidence which might otherwise have resulted in a different outcome." The commission cited 15 cases in which, at times, decorum rather than facts were on trial—such as when she told an attorney "You do not get to interrupt at this point unless you are making a proper objection," and when he properly objected, she lectured, "All right, then don't say 'I must interrupt.' Say 'Objection.'" The issue wasn't just Eiler's words, but "the intonation of her voice and...her whistling and tapping of her hand on the bench to gain a litigant's attention," the CJC said. "Her voice inflection with words that are mocking and belittling were frequent and commonplace." She told a father trying to speak for his son, "He's not a puppet. You don't get to move his mouth"; and told a speeder who said he was just going with the flow, "You are a mature adult, so 'everybody doing it' doesn't cut it, period. Duh." She called traffic offenders "idiots," and seemed to reach a flash point when interrupted. Defendants wondered if their verdicts had been affected by what shouldn't have been at issue, the court's demeanor. Well, said Eiler in her TV interview, "People don't come to court because they're having a good day." Judges either, apparently.

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