Judges occupy an esteemed position in the legal profession and society at large. For most, serving on the bench is the capstone of their legal career. The position, however, can take a toll on judges’ health and well-being. Judges regularly confront contentious, personal, and vitriolic proceedings. Judges presiding over domestic relations dockets make life-changing decisions for children and families daily. Some report lying awake at night worrying about making the right decision or the consequences of that decision. Other judges face the stress of presiding over criminal cases with horrific underlying facts.
Also stressful is the increasing rate of violence against judges inside and outside the courthouse. Further, many judges contend with isolation in their professional lives and sometimes in their personal lives. When a judge is appointed to the bench, former colleagues who were once a source of professional and personal support can become more guarded and distant. Often, judges do not have feedback on their performance. A number take the bench with little preparation, compounding the sense of going it alone. Judges also cannot “take off the robe” in every day interactions outside the courthouse because of their elevated status in society, which can contribute to social isolation. Additional stressors include re-election in certain jurisdictions. Limited judicial resources coupled with time-intensive, congested dockets are a pronounced problem. More recently, judges have reported a sense of diminishment in their estimation among the public at large. Even the most astute, conscientious, and collected judicial officer can struggle to keep these issues in perspective.
We further recognize that many judges have the same reticence in seeking help out of the same fear of embarrassment and occupational repercussions that lawyers have. The public nature of the bench often heightens the sense of peril in coming forward. Many judges, like lawyers, have a strong sense of perfectionism and believe they must display this perfectionism at all times. Judges’ staff can act as protectors or enablers of problematic behavior. These are all impediments to seeking help. In addition, lawyers, and even a judge’s colleagues, can be hesitant to report or refer a judge whose behavior is problematic for fear of retribution.
In light of these barriers and the stressors inherent in the unique role judges occupy in the legal system, we make the following recommendations to enhance well-being among members of the judiciary.