As Sop commented on my weekend edition of SLABBED Daily, there are limits to what you can learn from PACER documents.
For example, you can read the citations in a Judge’s orders and opinions but you don’t know if the frame fit the facts or the facts were adjusted to fit the frame.
If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts, a post I wrote for Sop as Promise when I was testing the water on his insurance blog that became SLABBED, explored the function of a cognitive map governing the processing of new information – denying some and inventing other.
Here, ‘cognition’ can be used to refer to the mental models, or belief systems, that people use to perceive, contextualize, simplify, and make sense of otherwise complex problems. Put more simply, cognitive maps are a method we use to structure and store spatial knowledge, allowing the “mind’s eye” to visualize images in order to reduce cognitive load, and enhance recall and learning of information.
We can guess at the cognitive map a judge follows in reaching a decision; but, short of events such as those reported in Oversight panel calls for ousting Judge Joan Benge from Gretna court, we have no way of knowing:
“It is not clear what her reason for making the award was. What is clear is that the award was not based on Judge Benge’s assessment of the evidence in the case.”
A comment from Judge Benge included in the Panel’s report offers additional insight:
“This conduct occurred in ’01. I’m a different judge today. This is ’09,” the report quotes her as saying. “I was young, and I pushed back at a mentor. My verdict in no way reflects what he wanted me to do.”
Judge Benge’s comment is consistent with research on the impact of life experiences on judicial decision-making:
…[F]indings of fact and the findings of law are quite highly subjective elements of the decision-making process. In coming to conclusions, the judge has only one place to go for answers and that is into his or her own decision-making ability which is strongly influenced by the judge’s training and experiences as well as by other more factual aspects of the case.
Research reviewed for this post was silent on affinity for the plaintiff’s lawyer as a factor in judicial decision making; however, it spoke to others such as demographics and social background, partisanship…, prior employment, potential for promotion, and judicial precedent.
Studies have found some correlation between a judge’s political party affiliation and how the judge will decide a case that is ideologically divisive. The party affiliation of the President who appointed the judge is also useful in predicting judicial attitudes.
Prior judicial experience does not generally appear to correlate with judicial behavior. But, some studies have found prior criminal prosecution or defense experience to have some influence on judicial decision-making.
Recent studies have found that the potential for promotion is a factor in explaining lower federal court judge’s behavior.
Potential for promotion would have to be the last thing on Judge Benge’s mind at this point:
The Louisiana Supreme Court disclosed Friday that the Judiciary Commission, an advisory body that reviews allegations of misconduct, recommends Benge “be removed from office” because she decided the case not on its merits but based on her affinity for the plaintiff’s lawyer, who had helped bankroll her election campaign, and the behind-the-scenes influence of another judge who himself proved to be corrupt.
That sets the stage for the Supreme Court to hold a hearing on the charges and decide whether to punish Benge.
She did not return calls for comment on Friday. But according to the Judiciary Commission’s report, she suggested a private reprimand and offered to donate six months’ salary to charity.
Judge Benge has not been charged with a crime – hopefully, she has a new cognitive map.