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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #7, 8/22/2006

Where do Judges Come From?

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

People often ask me: Where do judges come from? What are they like outside the courtroom? What do they eat for lunch? What are they wearing under that dark robe? Are they wearing anything at all?

Now, after months of secret research, I am ready to reveal the answers. I know how judges work, and although the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations don't want me to, I am going to share that knowledge with you right now.

Judges come from the Third Floor, where they are kept in cages until it is time for court to begin. Don't get me wrong, these are very nice cages. Each judge gets to decorate it however he or she chooses, but they are still cages nonetheless. They are kept there naked, to reduce the risk of escape. When it is time for court, they are unshackled and taken down a secret elevator to the second floor. Then they are lead down a hidden corridor, still naked, until they reach a back door to their assigned courtroom. Then the robe is placed upon them, and—PRESTO!—they become judges.

I know all this because I have been to the Third Floor. I have seen the wretched conditions these tortured souls are kept in. I have ridden the secret elevator and walked down the hidden corridor. All the rumors are true: Judges, who seem all-powerful on the surface, are just as trapped in the system as anyone.

Oh, and did I mention the mushrooms? They are fed hallucinogenic mushrooms before they go to court. This helps clarify their thinking and assures that they will produce answers when required.

Judges are "oracles" in the classic Greek sense. They are kept in isolation and are fed the mushrooms to permit them to perform their one assigned duty in life: to render decisions for those supplicants who appear before them.

A judge is one small replaceable cog in a great and ponderous machine called the "adversarial system". The system works like this: Some guy's got a beef with some other guy. They can't seem to work it out on their own, so they come to the temple for guidance. Each guy hires a priest, and the priest presents his client's case to the Oracle.

You need a priest, because there are certain ways you are supposed to address the Oracle. For example, you never say "you" to the Oracle; you say "Your Honor" or "The Court." The priest also has to present the case according to certain rules and rituals that are way too complicated for an average guy to understand. If you do things wrong, then the Oracle gets mad and maybe even bangs his little hammer. Whatever you do, you don't want to piss off the Oracle!

Once he has received both sides of the story, the Oracle makes his pronouncement. Either the first guy is right or the second guy. Then the Oracle quickly leaves the courtroom, and the parties have to sort things out from there.

Many people mistakenly believe that the job of the Oracle is to make the "right" choice. This is overestimating the power of the Oracle. The fact is, he is so stoned from the mushrooms that he probably didn't hear what either party said. The most important thing is THE ORACLE MADE A DECISION. Maybe it is just a flip of a coin. Maybe the Oracle decides he likes blue today and renders his decision based on the color of the priests' ties. To a certain degree, it doesn't matter how the decision is arrived at, as long as it is final. By whatever means, the Oracle made a choice, so now the parties can move on with their lives.

Then it's back to the cage with him until the next order of business.

The beauty of the system is that it works, at least better than chaos would. Imagine if we didn't have the Oracle. Disputes would go on and on, and ultimately the strongest party would win. Now, there is definitive end, at least to the material conflict, and everybody's got a decent shot at winning.

The Oracle's decision is surrounded by all of the pomp and theatre that the law allows. He's wearing the magic robe. He is sitting on the high chair. Everyone is shushed when the Oracle walks in the room. The Oracle could be under investigation for corruption and have his face in morning paper, but people would still respect him in the temple. They have to. He is the Oracle, and he has terrible power over your future.

Great pains are taken during the trial ceremony to assure the appearance of fairness. The Oracle can't receive bribes. No information can be presented to the Oracle without the other side being able to respond. The Oracle is kept in prison on the Third Floor so he won't be biased by the alliances and passions of the real world. All the Oracle is supposed to know about a case is the paperwork and arguments formally presented to him.

There is nothing in the law, however, to regulate the thought processes of the Oracle. As long as he is not corrupted by an overt conflict of interest, the Oracle can make any decision he chooses based on any criteria he chooses, provided it conforms with the broad outline of the law. This concept is called "judicial discretion."

During divorce proceedings, for example, the Oracle can decide that the children will go primarily to the father, or to the mother, or be shared. The Oracle can make any decision he wants on child custody, based on very little data, and the choice is virtually unappealable.

Just about the only control that anyone has over the thought processes of the Oracle is in choosing him to begin with. Each Oracle tends to make decisions in his own particular way, and we really ought to understand this style before we take away his clothes and install him on the Third Floor.

In Nevada, we select our Oracles by studying the entrails of dead animals. More precisely, the voters choose him based on the sound of his name and the appearance and distribution of his street-side advertizing.

Again, the most important thing is that a decision has been made, but whatever magical means democracy allows, and that it is final and unappealable. There are better systems for choosing Oracles, but every system has its problems.

At its most basic level, the court system is an institutionalized flip of a coin—a crapshoot—but this is better than no decision at all. If the Oracle also happens to make a thoughtful, reasoned choice based on the evidence in front of him, that's just icing on the cake. Where people go wrong is that they expect the court to always make the best decision, which isn't humanly possible. The caseloads are too big. The priests aren't always competent. The Oracle may be having a bad day. The Legislature may have been having a bad day when they passed the law that the Oracle is ruling on. All of this goes into the semi-random decision issued by the court.

Is this system frightening? Darn right! But it is the only system there is, and it is what you have to live with. If you can't resolve your personal disputes on your own, then you are going to have to expose yourself to this inevitably crude societal alternative. An Oracle is never going to understand subtleties of your life; you just ask him for a decision and he gives you one.

You should be be thankful for it.

Reader Comments

“Ugly truth. But in Family Court, the BIGGEST liars win. UNLESS...” — 3/3/07 (rating=4)

“I love the different point of view” —a 13 year old female student 4/22/09 (rating=5)

Ratings so far: 4 1 4 4 1 5 (Average=3.1)

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