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What type of Family Law Judge will you face?

What type of Family Law Judge will you face?

By Jeff J. Horn – Divorce Attorney

What type of Family Law Judge will you face?

A Family Law Judge in Ocean County strives to empathize with the local population.  It is human nature that we want to be judged by people with whom we have something in common. 

How Does One Become a Judge?

State judges can be either appointed or elected.  Elected judges gain their post one of three ways:

  1. Replacing an existing judge by a mid-term appointment, after serving time in the applicable political party apparatus; or
  2. Rising through the ranks of political machinery in order to gain favor; or
  3. Being elected based upon a promise to exercise law and order in proportion to the local popular sentiment

In more enlightened states, judges are appointed, not elected.  However, Family Law Judges are not appointed based on who are the most knowledgeable in an area of the law.  Oftentimes, Family Law Judges are chosen among the politically connected lawyers and law firms in the local political district or county.  They are typically appointed by the governor with the blessing of the political establishment of both parties.  In New Jersey, there is an unwritten rule that provides for a Republican judge to replace a retiring Republican judge or a Democratic judge to replace a retiring Democratic judge.  When new judicial vacancies are created, the political parties alternate filling the slots. Hence, if an Ocean County Family Law Judge retires, the replacement comes from the the same political party.

Becoming a Family Judge

Look twice at your Family Law Judge before you vest control of your five-year plan in a complete stranger.  The route to a judgeship may vary but the essentials hold true.  In the race to become a judge, the lawyer-would-be-judge must purchase tickets to political fundraisers, work for free in political campaigns, and avoid expressing an opinion that does not suit the tastes of the local political bosses.  It is a fine line between supporting political activity and maintaining some legal integrity among your colleagues.  Besides working one’s way up through the ranks as a contributor and supporter of political campaigns, one might also actually run for election, serve as an elected official, or work directly in government offices.

Judge’s Lifestyle

Frequently, Family Law Judges have limited court room experience. When a lawyer comes out of government service and has not been a litigator or court lawyer for many years, their ability to handle the rigors of court battles is limited.  If you are lucky, the newly minted Family Law Judge will adapt.  If not, your case will be ruled upon by a career bureaucrat who hit the bureaucratic lottery in the form of a judgeship. Becoming a judge, for most lawyers, is a promotion and the thrill of a lifetime.  Most judges work extremely hard and diligently to fulfill their obligations as officers of the court working with honesty and integrity.  There is a large enough minority who see the judgeship as a job with great benefits.

Evolution of Family Law Judges

There was a time when Family Law Judges were typically middle-aged heterosexual white men who worked as lawyers for 25 years, whose wives stayed home or worked part-time. Most come from comfortable middle-class homes, and by human nature, understand the world from their perspective.  In other words, they might best understand the plight of the middle class.  By inference, they do not understand the life of the poor or intercity urbanite and they do not understand the rich.  Judges may feel that they have it made or be jealous of those who make more than they do. 

Fortunately, appointments of Family Law Judges have evolved with society.

Clearly, Family Law Judges are highly educated and largely middle-class, but reflect the racial and social make-up of the community. Still, Family Law Judge are only human and even the best of them, bring their prejudices with them to work.

Best practices: plan your approach for presenting your case to the Family Law Judge, including potential prejudices.

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Thanks to Horn Law Group, LLC intern Noah Hilsdorf.