Political science students and the community were given a rare chance to cross-examine Los Angeles Superior Court judges and a member of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association to learn more about the courts and the legal system at the University Student Union’s Grand Salon on Thursday night.
The nine judges and the member from the SFVBA answered questions from the audience, which ranged from how to handle tensions in the courtroom, what students can do in preparation for law school, and why judges wear black robes.
Some wanted to know what judges do when they want to consult others in a particular case
“We can’t talk to lawyer friends and family,” said Judge John Farrell, who coordinated the event with CSUN and serves at the Chatsworth courthouse. “We are allowed to talk (to) each other, that is ethical.”
When asked what courses students should take in preparation for law school, the judges offered up a few ideas.
“Follow your passions,” said Judge Wendy Kohn, who serves at the Van Nuys courthouse.
“It is critical that you are honest and you maintain your reputation,” said Bert Glennon Jr., who is a CSUN alumnus and serves at the Van Nuys courthouse.
“You can have any major,” said Judge Holly E. Kendig, who serves at the Chatsworth courthouse.
Another question was tied to how many cases they hear in a day and what the most rewarding aspect is of being a judge.
The judges said they hear anywhere from 250 cases a day to 450 in a week, depending if they are in a trial or not. Some found settling disputes to be the most rewarding, because it ends in the parties involved resolving their differences and moving on. Others liked trials.
“To see the people whose life stories are being told is very rewarding,” Kendig said. “If someone were to write a novel, it would not be believable.”
Judge Jeffrey M. Harkavy, who works at the San Fernando courthouse, graduated from CSUN in 1980 and works in the courts under Proposition 36, which allows for someone who committed an offense because of substance abuse to receive treatment instead of being put in jai. He said it is very rewarding for him when one of his cases “overcomes a very severe addiction.
“We applaud them,” Harkavy said. “We have cases that have been able to break the cycle of addiction who are now in their 50s and 60s who have been using since they were 12. (It ) breaks the cycle of addiction.”
Another was a question about judges’ personal ideology and if it comes into play when a judge is making a ruling or judgment.
Several judges in agreement replied in the negative.
They said they get their marching orders from those who came before them, and they tap into that to help them make decisions. They said they do not make the law, and that it would be worse if they had to rely on their own opinions to reach decisions in cases.
Judges’ wardrobes were brought up, as one question wondered why judges wear black robes.
“Some of the reason (is) it sets us apart in court,” Farrell said. “There is an aura in the room and it’s tradition. (It lets) people know that something very serious is taking place. It reinforces it is a formal occasion.”
Members of the audience enjoyed seeing the judges in an informal setting and relished in asking about the law, the courts and the legal process.
“It opened them up to the human side and not behind the black tarp of intimidation,” said Carla Ryan, 34, a private investigator who attended the event.