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Eye On Boise

Brody, McKenzie offer differing perspectives on judicial demeanor and the current court

The two candidates for an open seat on the Idaho Supreme Court had some interesting comments at the forum yesterday, particularly on the subject of judicial demeanor.

Candidate Robyn Brody had some pointed remarks about the current court on that score. “Demeanor of the court is a common part of the conversations that I have with lawyers as I travel around this state,” she told the crowd of close to 60 assembled in the Lincoln Auditorium. “I know that there are many lawyers here in the audience, probably watching over the internet. And I don’t think I’m going to surprise any of you saying that concerns about the demeanor of the court is a very real conversation that’s taking place. … People are tired of the snarky footnotes and some of the judgmental language that’s in the opinions.”

“And I’ll tell you one of the most heartbreaking conversations I’ve had was actually with a litigant,” she said. “He called me one day as I was traveling and he shared with me that he had gone to a Supreme Court argument, and he said, ‘The justices wouldn’t even let my lawyer talk.’ So we aren’t talking about just civility. … We’re talking about it having an impact on people’s faith and confidence in our judicial system. If people don’t feel like they’ve been heard, if they don’t feel like they were given a fair shot, then we’re undermining our entire system of justice.”

Candidate Curt McKenzie had this to say on judicial demeanor: “I think it’s important from a sense that the fundamental role of a justice or a judge at the trial level as well is to fairly and impartially apply the law to the facts before him and the parties that are before him. And that’s not just substantively, but it’s also to make sure that people feel like they’re being treated fairly and impartially. And I’ve been in front of many judges. Some do that better than others. But it’s important that when people walk out of the courtroom they feel like the system treated them fairly, and part of that is the demeanor of judges. And I think I can do that. I’ve sat and chaired many, many committee meetings on many very controversial issues and I believe I’ve got a demeanor that I will treat people with respect and make them feel like they were treated with respect.”

Later in the forum, the two candidates were asked to name a sitting or former justice they admire or draw inspiration from. Brody named former Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout; McKenzie named current Justice Dan Eismann.

“Linda Copple Trout’s demeanor is something that I greatly, greatly admire,” Brody said. “She was actually the chief justice when I started practicing law. She brought a certain grace to the bench that I appreciate.” She said it’s something “I hope I get the chance to emulate.”

McKenzie said, “From the bench I would say Justice Eismann, just because of his demeanor, his service to the country I think gave him a good perspective, and then I can relate to how he got on the bench, he was the last justice, Justice Burdick and Horton both had races, but Justice Eismann was probably the closest campaign that people had voted on in a number of years.”

Eismann defeated then-Justice Cathy Silak in 2000 with 58.6 percent of the vote to her 41.4 percent. Eismann is the current justice whose comments, both in court and in written opinions, have aroused the most debate among the bar with regard to their tone.

After the forum, McKenzie said, “I’m not talking about the writings, but his personal demeanor when you meet him. … I admire his ability to get to the heart of an issue.” He added, “When I meet him, he’s someone who’s got the demeanor of a judge.”

Video of the full forum, sponsored by the Idaho State Bar, Idaho Women Lawyers and the Idaho Environmental Forum, is available for download here as a low-resolution MP4; a high-resolution video will be posted to YouTube soon, and I’ll update this post with that link when it’s available.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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