Hon. David G. Bernthal, (Ret.) published his monthly column in the News-Gazette titled, “Tough Decisions Often Left to Judges.” In the column, Judge Bernthal discussed the backlash judges often face following a controversial decision in the courtroom.
“When the president of the United States and members of Congress publicly condemn judicial decisions, I fear their comments will undermine public confidence in the judiciary,” he said. “This is particularly true when the comments do not include a thorough analysis of the decision but instead amount to whining about a result they did not like.”
Judge Bernthal references the high-profile case of Terri Schiavo (1990 – 2005), whose husband wanted to discontinue life support due to her persistent vegetative state.
“The case went on for years and involved appeals, related litigation and even legislative attempts to control the outcome,” he said. “Judge [George W.] Greer decided that the evidence supported the relief Mr. Schiavo sought, so after several years of litigation, the life support was removed, and Terri died.”
But public outcry did not stop there. In the book “Tough Cases,” Judge Greer recounted “the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom Delay, flanked by a bicameral and bipartisan group of congressmen, calling me a terrorist and a murderer.”
“As one who served as a judge for nearly 30 years, I had chills reading this account,” Judge Bernthal said.
However, Judge Bernthal still encourages politicians and the public alike to voice their opinions, as long as it is done in a constructive manner.
“Rest assured that judges are not exempt from criticism. They understand every decision is subject to being dissected and critiqued,” he said. “I just want to remind readers to listen carefully to those who howl in opposition to a given decision. Just because the speaker desired a different result does not make the decision flawed.”
Judge Bernthal is a senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems. He has served 21 years as a federal magistrate judge in the US District Court for the Central District of Illinois. Those who practiced before him have praised his skills as a jurist, describing him as both a learned scholar and efficient administrator. Judge Bernthal’s proven legal knowledge and keen understanding of negotiation are critical assets in both mediation and arbitration. In addition to Judge Bernthal’s work as a mediator and arbitrator, he also publishes a monthly column in the News-Gazette.
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