Many of us here have had experiences in court where we were less than satisfied with the outcomes. I feel mainly fortunate in that respect. For the most part, those I dealt with understood enough about personality disorders to act accordingly.
However, in one case I am familiar with, that clarity was somewhat lacking. In the end, things worked out fine because the judge followed the laws of the land explicitly. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning because, in my opinion, his attitude and belief system could have been of serious concern had different issues (in the same court) been at stake. As long as there are those who believe as he does, and he is not unique in this way, justice may not be served in some instances.
A very brief background
According to court records, this judge had many years on the bench at the time this case was heard, and more than 35 years of experience in the legal profession. I respect and appreciate his service, background, and legal knowledge. It was evident that each played a role in his decisions.
From my very limited knowledge of civil procedure, his actions and decisions seemed appropriate. Although, the fact that this case was even heard begs several basic jurisdiction questions and he acknowledged that. He was not the judge who initially chose to move forward with this case, waiving the defendant’s personal jurisdiction. The parties lived in different states, separated by thousands of miles, and had next to nothing to do with each other. It remains my opinion that the minimum contact rule was not met; nor did the defendant consent. He concurred and encouraged the parties to reach an agreement outside of his courtroom. It was clear that he hoped not to have to hear this, moving it to the back of the docket. To the best of my knowledge, this placed approximately 30 other cases ahead. His legal knowledge and reasoning were not the problems.
We are not all equal and the playing field is not always level
Rather, the concern is that he missed something crucial, as many in his position do, based on the issues discussed on this site alone. He demonstrated very little understanding of those with psychopathic features or any of the features associated with personality disorders, as well as those who may act while “under the influence” of these individuals. In this case, some combination was likely involved.
He mistakenly assumed the playing fields were level. They were not. He operated under the assumption that both parties were “equal.” Doing so can be a fatal mistake.
The following is a quote from the judge presiding over this case. It has been taken directly from the court transcripts. He states, “And as I have said 100 times in this court, there are no white hats, no black hats. Everyone is equally guilty.”
I disagree. In cases where one or more of the parties involved have traits consistent with any of the personality disorders there is no such thing as “equally guilty.” A lack of understanding in this area can, and often does, have serious consequences. It is time to acknowledge that there are simply those who do not see matters as they truly are, or who are prone to promoting conflict.
A little slack
While I am confident that he has been witness to countless shenanigans in and about his courtroom over the years, and can appreciate how exhausting and ridiculous these may collectively become, each individual entering that forum is entitled to an unbiased assessment. As long as both parties are viewed as “equals” in this respect, that can never happen. In this case, it was definitely not what the defendant got, especially when we consider the convoluted manner in which the defendant had to work the case from afar.
In many respects, I feel the need to go easier on this judge than I may under different circumstances. This case was filed by an individual who was also being manipulated, to some extent, by the same outside force as the defendant. The waters became too muddy. However, in spite of the judge’s strong suggestion that the parties conclude outside of his courtroom, even in the absence of evidence and merit, the moving party insisted it be heard.
I could see where he, or any other individual with no background on the parties, might assess culpability in this fashion. In the event that what the plaintiff was alleging was true, the case could have, in theory, been legitimate. Unfortunately, it consisted of bits and pieces of what became mass chaos.
This instance was a civil case involving the family courts. However, it was not between two partners or ex-partners. Regardless of relationship, it has long been my belief that a fair amount of what is heard in such forums involve at least one individual with elevated features of disorder. For if all parties involved were healthy, much of what is set forth for decision there would have been handled in the context of a civil conversation, rather than as a civil matter, never making it to court.
Insert any specific scenario you have either experienced or can think of, and this judge’s response could be that of any other one who lacks a clear picture of psychopathic features, personality disorder traits, or other high conflict personalities.
What can we take away from examining this case? First and foremost, as much as possible, do not allow inaccuracies to make it into “the record.” In this case, they did, in part because the defendant was working from over 2,000 miles away. Additionally, the case lacked any and all evidence. The allegations had to consist of something, even if they were fabricated by the moving party, partial truths taken out of context, or the result of complete lies told to the plaintiff by the “mutual individual” involved. The same transcripts indicated that the plaintiff’s entire relationship with this person was built on a lie. Why would it surprise anyone that what followed would be any different?
This case also demonstrates the need for no contact. Communication with a high conflict individual will very likely be misconstrued. If we communicate improperly or “emotionally,” we appear to lower ourselves to their levels. If we do so with less emotion, but in an effort to better the situation, it may be mistaken for “engagement.” Thus, the best approach is not to say anything more than what is necessary and often, little or nothing is necessary.
What comes next?
What comes next is good news because it involves actions we can take to advocate for change. Most importantly, and perhaps most obviously, is the need to educate the judiciary to the fullest extent possible about personality disorders. We cannot expect them to know what they are not taught. Dealing with disorder, no matter where, when, or how it rears its head tends not to come naturally to us. The understanding was not inherent to us and may not be inherent to them.
Naturally, as these cases enter their courtrooms looking as ridiculous as they do, it may be easy and natural for them to assume that everyone is similarly culpable. Therefore, they must learn, just like the rest of us. They must be willing to abandon their preconceived notions about human nature, just as we had to do. However, this will not occur unless they have the information.
I think it is entirely possible for this to happen. Why? In part, because most really do want to make proper decisions. Notice in this case, the judge did not let the other side off the hook. He saw the other side as childish and ridiculous. His only mistake was comparing both parties equally. That, we can overcome. This is not a problem lacking a solution.
Currently, law schools may not focus on psychology, but the topic does make for interesting and important Continuing Legal Education classes. My hope is that more will surface. Next, more of us who “get it” must get out into the profession. I realize that is no small task. However, I am committed to this cause and will take what many of us already know into the legal arena, in hopes of furthering justice. I am honored to have the opportunity to do so and thankful to those who unknowingly and certainly unintentionally guided me to do so.
Here’s what I know
I know that there are “white hats” and “black hats.” Even if none of us is perfect, there are absolutely areas of gray; ones that the judge who heard this case did not recognize. While it did not adversely affect the outcome in this particular instance, making general assumptions is dangerous, especially in cases where disorder is either suspected or has been assessed. Fortunately, even if he did not understand the challenging psychology at play, his reasoning prevailed. In that respect, there is no dissent. The rest, we can work with and make progress on in time. He may one day agree. He may never agree. We, however, can keep talking and teaching so that future generations of decision makers take all of this into consideration.