A Trial Court Judge On The Ins And Outs Of Judging

If you were in my courtroom and a person there was charged with driving a stolen car, you might hear evidence like this:

An officer pulled a car over for a burned out tail light. Upon contacting the driver, the officer noticed a screwdriver sticking out of the ignition. When asked about it, the driver claimed that this is how the person he borrowed the car from told him to start it. When asked who he borrowed it from the name doesn’t match the person listed on the registration in the glove box.

You may be thinking, “Likely story, pal. You stole the car and you know it.”

That’s one of the things about the hearings I often do. I’ll start hearing evidence and think I know where things are going to end up. I’ve been a judge since 1995, so perhaps I do have a better idea than most people on where cases are going. But what that experience also means is that I might see cases going in a different direction than a less experienced observer might suppose. The guiding principle is to wait for all the evidence to come in before making a decision.

Later in the same hearing the defense attorney calls a witness. Now you learn:

The witness tells you she owns the car and the ignition switch has been broken for months. She can’t afford to get it fixed, but that’s all right because she can still use a screwdriver to turn it on and off.

She also tells you that she let her cousin borrow the car a while back and he allowed a friend to drive it. The friend is the defendant sitting there in the courtroom. She and the defendant have never met, but any friend of her cousin’s is a friend of hers.

How likely is that? Who would use a screwdriver to turn the ignition on and off?

I did. The car I drove in High School had a worn out ignition that could be turned with a screwdriver. It also had a busted out trunk lock that opened with a screwdriver. Given time, I probably would have been able to use it on the door locks too.

Jumping to Conclusions as a Competitive Sport

One thing I’ve learned in 18 years of judging: Don’t jump to conclusions – wait for all of the evidence to come in and then decide.

Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy got me thinking about this in a different context recently. Her family’s travails at trying to get to church on Sundays pointed out to me once again that if jumping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, Christians would field some of the top athletes. Here’s how Anne described the times people have jumped to conclusions and landed right on top of her:

We’ve struggled to identify why church is so hard for us, because the reasons we’ve been given don’t satisfy. We’ve been told it’s because I work outside the home too little, or too much. That I’ve failed to bond with my child, or I’ve bonded too well. That I’m too indulgent, that I’m too strict. Repeatedly, we’ve been told it’s not the church’s fault our kids don’t fit, but my own.

Harsh, right? But her response to all this criticism heartened me:

After thinking it through for a decade, I’m not buying it.

I think this applies to people who try to judge our relationship with God, too. So much of their judgment is based on incomplete evidence, and like Anne said, I’m not buying it.

The Judge Who Always Comes to the Right Conclusion

At one point in her article Anne describes sitting on the church steps crying.

I had wanted to come to church so badly, and we were there, sitting on the church steps. But we weren’t there. We were on the wrong side of the door.

She and her son were not only outside church physically, but the judgmental attitudes of some of the people she’s heard from at church show that they are putting Anne on the wrong side of the door relationally too.

That’s not the way the Judge of all the earth does things. He does what’s right.

It’s not that no one is on the outside God’s kingdom. Jesus too often mentioned those who are cast outside for there to be any doubt about that. In his parable about the kingdom of God being like a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son, Jesus says:

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:8-14.)

Did you notice how the King handled this? He called the man “friend” and asked for an explanation. He did not assume the worst. It was only after inquiry that the king then made his judgment.*

And that’s how to be a good judge.


*I hope no one is jumping to conclusions about the fact the man was tossed out. This is a parable and one point of it is that judgment is always left to God. The man’s lack of appropriate clothes means he was not clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and the inability to answer the king is because he did not have the Holy Spirit as his advocate to speak for him. None of us can stand before God and answer him without Jesus and the Spirit enabling us to do so.

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21 Responses to A Trial Court Judge On The Ins And Outs Of Judging

  1. Tim, one of my favorite parables for we are indeed the wedding guests and the man. Something about this post and yesterday’s post are uniquely connected at least for me anyway.

  2. I think rushing to judgment also applies in health. We should not assume we have a disease by using Google.

    Recently my husband was having difficulty walking. After the emergency room, X-ray and MRI, he was still difficulty walking. The doctor’s conclusion was arthritis. However strong pain pills didn’t work and so we had to find another solution. Bingo! The chiropractor is helping! Within days my husband went from a wheel chair to a walker to walking!

  3. lauradroege says:

    I just went and read Anne’s blog post: powerful. Your post was great, too. And, while I know this wasn’t the point of the post, I was amazed to learn that a screwdriver could start certain cars!

  4. Jeannie says:

    Great post, Tim. I like the courtroom example and how you linked this issue to Anne’s post. On a personal level this discussion of judgment/judgmentalism really speaks to me today. Thank you!

  5. Adriana says:

    I love how you tied all this together today, Tim. I always find it fascinating when you share stuff about your job. That process of refraining from judgement until you have all the evidence is an important life skill for all of us! It’s something I try to employ daily as I help my children settle their quarrels.

    I’m learning how to let the unjust judgement of others roll off me “like water off a duck’s back” (as my aunt would say). This doesn’t come naturally for me; I like to please. I have an especially hard time when a person I consider to be an authority figure judges me unjustly. That hurts me more than it should, I think. I have to work at not letting my authority figures eclipse God.

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    This is a lesson God has been teaching me…I’m still in the early stages of learning.

  7. So very well said. Excellent post Tim.

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