I Do Not Want to Be a Judge
(Editor’s Note: This article is written by Rambling Ever On super fan, mentor, and pastor, David Potete. We are so thankful for his contribution and his support of what we do.)
The first to speak in court sounds right— until the cross-examination begins.Proverbs 18:17, NLT
[Author’s Note: For the purposes of this article, I am using the word “judge” in the legal sense of determining guilt and punishment in a court of law, not in determining whether an action is biblically right or wrong.]
“Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly.”
Recently, I was summoned for jury duty and selected to serve on a 12-member jury for a medical malpractice lawsuit. This case involved a plaintiff who alleged the doctor used the wrong equipment and treatment plan for a procedure that resulted in temporary disfigurement (for about a year), pain, emotional distress, and loss of a normal life.
Furthermore, the defense for the doctor countersued saying the plaintiff was at fault for the injuries as the plaintiff did not follow the doctor’s orders and did not fully disclose medication being taken. So the case began on a Monday morning and lasted 4 ½ days. And at lunchtime on Friday, the jury was sent to deliberate. I had listened intently to opening statements, every witness, and closing statements, and the judge’s orders concerning the law and how we were to apply it to this case. I had taken numerous detailed notes. We had three options:
A – The defendant was guilty.
B – The plaintiff and defendant were both partially responsible for the resultant injuries.
C – Or the defendant was innocent.
Twelve Views Becoming One Judgment
If we chose B then we had to decide at what percentage each was responsible and then award damages. I left the courtroom for deliberations extremely certain in my opinion for C – the doctor was completely innocent. Once in the jury room, the foreman’s first comment was that during our deliberations we need to agree to respect each opinion, listen to each other’s thoughts, and truly try to understand what everyone was saying and why we were saying it. This set a very good tone for our deliberations. To start we took a secret ballot to vote to see where we were. The vote was A – 0, B – 6, C – 6.
I do not mean to lessen the importance of the case. But that is not what this article is about. The most fascinating aspect of this event for me was that, in being a judge of others, God put a spotlight on my heart and showed me things about myself, some of which I didn’t like. Here are five of those things:
1. I have biases I do not even know about.
One bias that showed most prominently, and surprisingly, was a bias in favor of professionals. I slowly began to realize that because the doctor was a doctor, I was predisposed to give her the benefit of the doubt. There were four major points in the case. If the defendant were guilty of just one of those four points, then the verdict would have to be guilty.
As we began discussing why we voted the way we did, I was able to explain my reasons on the first point. I thought I defended it well. And there were five other jurors that agreed with me. They also gave supporting reasons for their position that reinforced to me we were correct. Then as another juror explained the opposite view, I had to grudgingly admit he was correct. But in my heart, I still wanted to defend the doctor. As other jurors talked back and forth, I knew in my head that I should change my vote to “B”, but I could not convince my heart to do it.
This discussion went on for about 30 minutes or so. Then, we took another vote. This time it was A – 0, B – 11, C – 1. Yes, I was the one. So I spoke and said, “I am hearing what you all of you are saying, but I’m just not there yet”. Because of this, I expected impatience and even an argument. Instead, they were gracious and patient. And as we talked more, I began to admit in my heart that I was allowing my bias toward professionals cloud my view of the case, and the crystal clear application of the law. In the face of overwhelming evidence, I still wanted the doctor to be right.
My bias blinded me. It hindered me from seeing a bigger picture. In other words, it hindered me from seeing the truth. What I fear is that I have other biases that I am unaware of. Even now, I grow increasingly aware of other biases that I just don’t want to admit publicly in this article. I don’t think this pleases God. In truth, I know it doesn’t.
2. Stereotypes are inaccurate.
I know this, but I still fall prey to it. All 12 jurors were strangers. Two of the jurors were younger men that were into video games. And I don’t mean just a little bit! Once they realized this, they became best friends. Every day before court, at every break, at lunch, and after court was over for the day, they talked. It was like a foreign language to me. They were quite animated about their hobby. I could tell their knowledge of video games was very extensive. I assumed they were typical early 20-somethings, living in their parent’s basement, and probably even smoking weed and who knows what else. And I assumed that when it came time to decide the verdict, that both of them would just nod in agreement with the rest of us with glazed eyes.
But when deliberations began, my incorrect pre-judgment humbled me. For instance, they had both taken extensive notes. They both made major contributions to the deliberations. Both were articulate in what they saw in the evidence. And after the case completely finished and we were leaving the courtroom, I felt like I owed them an apology. But I was too proud to admit it, so I didn’t.
3. I realized again the value of community.
It scares me to think of how the plaintiff would have been wronged if I had been the only one deciding the verdict. Because if it were not for the different perspectives on that jury, I would have decided wrongly. I am convinced that the various life experiences, occupations, education, etc., of the other jurors, helped us immensely to come to a fair verdict. This particular jury was quite diverse in age, ethnicity, occupation, education, socio-economic status, and gender. The whole experience makes me want the community of my church even more. Alone, I really don’t know as much as I do as when I am in community.
4. I do not like the outcome of my judgment.
I do not like the outcome of the law applied to the case and the amount of an award that we decided.
Honestly, I believe we ended up with the correct verdict and the correct monetary award. I really do. But in a few minutes, as I think it over again, I’ll have my doubts. It is almost like a pendulum swinging back and forth between the two. I don’t want to be a judge because even to the moment of submitting this article, I question myself. We only awarded about a fourth of what the plaintiff sued for. And the award was not nearly as much as the defendant’s lawyers thought it would be.
But the doctor was still guilty. That judgment will affect her practice, her future, and maybe even her livelihood as a doctor. I don’t know how those things work. But my heart goes out to both the plaintiff and the defendant. Neither got what they wanted. Human judgments are imperfect. No one left the courtroom a winner. And that bothers me to this day.
5. I do not want to be a judge.
I have limited knowledge and limited ability to understand what knowledge I have. O course, I can determine actions to a degree, but I cannot judge motives. And I never know all of the facts. Even after hearing all of the testimony, I still did not know all of the facts in this case. I can never know for certain if a witness is lying.
And that makes me doubt my judgment. Some may think I am overreacting. Or that I am taking it too seriously. But to have the future of someone in your hands was a very heavy load to me. The act of judging was a profound experience for me. It’s one thing to judge someone in your heart. That kind of judgment really only affects you and possibly your relationship with the person you are judging. But to judge where there are consequences for other people is a heavy weight. This was a civil suit. And I don’t want to lessen the importance of it. But it only involved monetary judgments. As a result, I can’t imagine judging a criminal case, deciding whether to send someone to prison. Furthermore, I have no idea how I would have felt if this was a case that could have potentially ended in capital punishment.
And yet I stand amazed at how easily I slip into judging another person’s motives and even their eternal destiny. Consequently, being a judge has caused me to examine myself. I have been very introspective since the verdict was read. And when I see stories in the news I am much less willing to pronounce judgment now than I was a few weeks ago. Because I don’t know all of the facts.
“Yes, Lord Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
All of this has caused me to thank God that Christ is my judge. When we stand before Christ, his judgments will be with complete knowledge of all the facts and even the motives and intentions of our hearts. And we will all stand before Him knowing we are guilty. There will be no defense at that trial. And every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord. That He is the judge and that he is qualified and capable. As a result, we will all agree with his judgments.
Even now, my heart goes out to the defendant. In some odd way, I wish I could have done something to help the doctor. But I can’t do anything. I’m willing but unable to help. Yet, I am certain that this is a big part of why Christ came to die for us. Knowing we are guilty and yet wanting to help us. The good news is that he was not only willing but able. I hope I am never selected to serve on a jury again. If I am, I will serve to the best of my ability.
But I seriously hope I am never selected again. I don’t want to be a judge.
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2 thoughts on “I Do Not Want to Be a Judge”
Very well written, which doesn’t surprise me knowing David Potete as I do. Well-reasoned, thoughtful, and certainly relevant for our time. Thank you, David.
I am late to this article’s party, but I am glad I came! I really appreciated the self-reflection in this article and it has caused me to self-reflect as well. Thanks for writing it!