the court of public opinion what would you do

You are a state court trial judge, and you were elected by voters a little over two years ago. When you ran your campaign, your slogan was “Judges should enforce the law—not make it!”

Today, as you don your judicial robes and prepare to leave your chambers to enter the courtroom, you know that the case you will be hearing presents special challenges. It involves a defendant named Tim DeFoy, who had been the superintendent of public schools in your county until he resigned a few months ago amidst allegations of a financial scandal involving embezzlement of public funds by his office.

The case against DeFoy has been well publicized, with local newspapers carrying at least one story or editorial piece about it each day; local television and radio stations have been equally involved. It is easy to see that DeFoy has already been convicted in the court of public opinion.

DeFoy has opted for a bench trial, something that your state allows in cases like this, and you will be the one to decide his guilt or innocence. You face something of a quandary, however. From what you’ve heard of the evidence, it seems incriminating, but you’re not sure that when all the facts are known, you can be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that DeFoy is guilty. After all, a “trial by media” is not the same as a trial in a court of law.

In the back of your mind, there is the thought that if you find DeFoy not guilty, members of the public will be outraged. You’re up for reelection in six months, and you certainly don’t want to be seen as the “liberal judge” who let a guilty man go free—especially a man who people think stole their money.

It would be easier, of course, if you lived in a jurisdiction where judges were appointed instead of elected. Although you feel your first duty is following the law and seeing justice done, you’d also like to be reelected.

What will you do? Support your opinion.

 
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