Ubuntu in the Courtroom

u·bun·tu - noun - a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.

Sometimes the best examples of social impact are found in simple but important moments that appeal to our common humanity.  

Here is heartwarming insight into the role of judges as social innovators.  

Judge Amber Wolf temporarily suspended a no contact order so that an incarcerated defendant awaiting trial could meet his newborn son for the first time.  While the meeting was brief, it was a great example of compassion and empathy. It also reflects the role of the law, lawyers, and in this case, the judiciary, in making an impact above and beyond our roles as mere custodians and facilitators of the law.

This isn't the first time a video from Judge Wolf's courtroom has gone viral.  The first time was because she demanded accountability for appropriate treatment of an inmate who had allegedly been denied pants and feminine hygiene products while being held for days on a first time shoplifting charge.

The specifics of these two instances aside, they invite a discussion about the role of judges in not only maintaining the role of the legal profession in civil society, but also enhancing its impact. Some champion the "tough as nails" approach some judges take. And there is absolutely a place for that.  But as Joe Patrice noted in his piece for Above the Law:

"Every time Judge Wolf goes viral, we get to see what the world looks like when the bench endeavors to be the bigger person and not stoop to the level of the lawless by acting the bigger bully."

Imagine a world where judges in every courtroom across our country undertake their difficult and often solemn duty mindfully aware of the opportunity they have to recognize and reflect empathy for our fellow man/woman (and the children among them).  Even I am intimidated by the rigid formality of a courthouse, courtroom, and the processes and procedures administered by the judges presiding within them. I often think about how those without law degrees, representation, or familiarity with any part of the system must feel.  

Now, thanks to Judge Wolf, I like to think about how they might feel if they knew that - regardless of their lot in life, the nature of their case, or the quality of their representation - they will be seen by the presiding judge as the uniquely individual human being they are. Ubuntu in the courtroom...

Judge Wolf is a real time reflection of "architecting a better bench" where the swift, fair, and sometimes stern administration of justice can be undertaken with full appreciation for both the gravity of underlying charges and also the common humanity we all share.

Kudos, Judge Amber Wolf.

- Scott