Know Your Legal Rights:  Judges’ Power or “Discretion Has Limits”

  • By Keryl L. Douglas, Esq.

    While courtroom procedural rules say, AND it is generally well known or assumed, that “A judge’s ‘discretion’ is broad,” it is equally important to remember that a judge’s ‘broad discretion’ in making his or her rulings has limits!

    While a person may be represented by an attorney or law firm considered among the best, I recommend that every person embroiled, engaged, or embarking upon litigation or other actions in the justice system involving rulings by judges feel empowered, courageous, and persistent enough to question perceivably questionable rulings on motions and final judgments.

    It is your legal right to question rulings by judges you believe the evidence, facts, rules and law do not support – or worst yet, dictate the exact opposite of what the Judge ruled.  It is your legal right, AND in the interest of justice and public policy, to hold “even” the Judges accountable to the procedural rules and established law when making their rulings.  Judges CANNOT break or ignore established law, procedural rules, nor “abuse” their discretion in applying either of these to your case.  Make sure you get have a lawyer committed and courageous enough, that while keeping with all courtroom decorum and respect, they assertively make sure that your rights are protected and progressed via the rules and the law….not politics, favoritism, or monetary antics.

    I am compelled to write this encouragement to laypersons because I, a life-long/destined from birth kind of advocate, have been appalled to hear glib comments about certain judges “doing whatever they want,” and/or “caring little about what the law or the rules say!”  Either motivation is a denigration of the justice system and should not be tolerated. Even the appearance of impropriety should be questioned and resolved.

    It was reported to me recently that person(s) or a law firm bragged that a certain judge “was theirs” and would do whatever they wanted him to….that the Judge was strictly “political” and made his decisions accordingly.  After I heard this multiple times about the very same Judge, the thought of countless people being robbed of justice for personal favoritism, political gain, financial gain, etc., is far too serious to ignore. Even the possibility of such miscarriage of justice being true is a threat to justice everywhere; and culprits must be held accountable, whether they inhabit the “robe and bench” or appear before those who do. Ask questions of your lawyer, or have your lawyer ask questions of the Judge and court if ruling or judgment appears unsubstantiated, antithetical to rules and law.

    I strongly encourage laypersons to become familiar with the procedural rules affecting their cases or outcomes by asking their lawyers for better understanding.  This of course, requires that you select lawyers more committed to your legal interests than they are to their own personal relationships with the Judge.  I strongly encourage laypersons do the same regarding the established law relevant to their cases.

    Currently, multiple judges are serving prison time and/or have been permanently barred from ever serving as  Judge again because a few courageous people appropriately questioned ‘questionable’ rulings.  Judges are not gods!  They are regular humans subject to error and, at times, temptation.  Know that even the Judge in your case is not above review, reversal of ruling, and accountability if their ruling defies, ignores, misapplies established law or procedural rules.  While Judges’ rulings are most often reviewed by appeals courts, some conduct of Judges is also subject to review and discipline by agencies like the State Committee on Judicial Conduct.  Where appropriate, Judges who flagrantly abuse their position, ignore or even break the law are disciplined, sent to jail, removed, disbarred, etc. You have the legal right to make our justice system “JUST” and FAIR, fueled by integrity and the law.

    Keryl L. Douglas is an Attorney in private practice with a long history of community advocacy in Houston, Texas. She has one son, James Matthew Douglas II, and is General Counsel to local non-profits.

    Keryl L. Douglas, Esq.

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