When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said: a lawyer. It started when I was 7 or 8 years old and a family member was charged with a criminal offence. Every time the Lawyer called our house, everyone stopped to listen. Television was muted, music was silenced, it felt like the whole world stopped spinning to listen to the Lawyer talk. I wanted that. I wanted that voice. I wanted that power. As I grew up reading crime novels and the news, it became very clear to me that certain titles in life garner a level of respect that makes it irrelevant who a person truly is. As I navigated my teens, I learned to question that. I started meeting people with such titles who did not deserve the respect they were afforded. They were not “good” people. They held titles to suggest otherwise but through life I learned their truth. And it wasn’t so good. I started to question the fact that we, as a society, judge people by certain choices they make, instead of the people they truly are. Often this is done without ever even taking the time to find out who the person actually is. And often it takes only one decision in life to get labeled Good or Bad. One conviction can brand a person a “criminal” forever while a couple of diplomas can put another on a pedestal.
The hierarchy of respect in the justice system is something I will never understand. Each role exists for a reason and each is an integral part of the system as a whole. That includes those accused of committing crimes. Without them, there would be no justice system. There would be no jobs for the lawyers, the judges, the officers, the court staff, the probation and parole officers, and the jail guards. Government officials talk about “getting tough on crime”; riding our streets of gun violence and cracking down on gangs. But the reality is that crime fuels a multi-billion dollar industry and I am not talking about the money generated from those who commit crimes but the system designed to stop them: The Justice System. Not only does it contribute to our economic system but it actually gives the majority of its participants a purpose and an identity. How many lawyers do you meet and don’t learn of their occupation within minutes? Officers and Judges are no different. We spend so much of our time and energy being “the job” that it becomes a part of who we are. But the title does not dictate our worth. And it most certainly should not make us think we are better than anyone else. Its that sense of entitlement that I cannot comprehend. Why do some people believe they deserve respect when they do nothing to actually earn it? And how did society come to structure itself so that power and respect are meted out by virtue of one’s occupation, as opposed to their fundamental values and ideas?
The concept of questioning “Who Judges the Judge” ™ is not meant literally nor is it intended to insult or demean the role of judges in our justice system. Quite the opposite: I take pride in the system we have developed and feel honoured to be a part of it, if nothing else but to add balance and tip the scales just a little for the clients I have the pleasure of representing. I just wish everyone recognized the important roles that everyone in this great system plays. I just wish that people’s choices stopped being the sole basis for their judgment. Most career criminals are stuck because the system keeps them stuck. Not because they are intrinsically Bad. Getting stuck in the system is no accident. The system is designed that way. It is why we have stringent parole conditions, harsh terms of probation, and a complete lack of skills training, education, and re-integration programs for those released from prison. It is why the government invests in the multi-billion dollar Justice System and builds super jails but parents can’t afford after-school programs and teachers start and stop their day inside the classroom. The system is designed to keep people stuck. It does not question the worth of those who enter it and it does not care about the value of the people who stay, whether by choice or by circumstance. And society does not stop the cycle because people cast judgment without even asking the question: Who Judges the Judge? ™