Former Manhattan Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin — better known as “Judge Judy” — has for nearly two decades presided over one of TV’s most-watched daytime programs, in the process becoming one of the most highly paid celebrities on the small screen.
Through her no-nonsense demeanor and practical approach to justice, cutting to the essence of small claim disputes and making fair determinations within her half-hour time slot, Judge Judy has won legions of admirers and earned contracts worth tens of millions of dollars per year. We believe the basis for Judge Judy’s popularity is that she provides viewers with a daily glimpse into how the justice system is supposed to function.
Frankly, we in the Cayman Islands could use a little — no, make that a lot — more Judge Judy in our courtrooms. That’s the reason why we are applauding local Magistrate Valdis Foldats for speaking his mind to Crown counsel and defense attorneys for wasting his time (and by extension, the taxpayers’ money).
“Too often the court is doing the job of counsel, pointing out defects in charges,” the magistrate said.
The context of his remarks is that at least four defendants in front of him that day were facing charges that had wrong or missing information, which, as the magistrate noted, could have important consequences in regard to potential penalties and trial venues. The onus for making sure charges are correct falls first, of course, on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions — but also as the magistrate noted, on the defense attorneys who are responsible for representing the interests of their clients.
“These sorts of issues are cropping up all the time,” the magistrate said, providing, we hope, a much-needed spritz of WD-40 into Cayman’s creaking wheels of justice, which by their nature already tend to move methodically, rather than hastily.
On top of all of that, the magistrate had to deal that day with a dozen defendants who had been charged with “failure to surrender to custody” — meaning missing a court date without a valid excuse. Some of the charges dated as far back as eight months ago, to last October, but were listed for the first time this week.
Again, the magistrate tried to take the most direct course possible. “I’m going to be blunt about it,” he said, saying that if they pleaded guilty, he would not record a conviction against them, but would impose costs (which turned out to be $100 apiece).
Three of the defendants took the deal. Three others gave reasons ranging from illness, to work obligations, to being in custody at Northward Prison. Six others, also charged with not showing up for court, didn’t show up for court. It’s no surprise that Magistrate Foldats appeared exasperated.
Too often in our judicial system, in minor and major matters, cases are postponed, delayed or dismissed due to problems with procedures, paperwork, overworked attorneys or general issues of overcrowding.
As we’ve observed before, and as we’re sure Magistrate Foldats would concur, our country’s system of law and order is a three-legged stool, comprising the police, prosecutors (and defense counsel) and the judiciary.
If any one of those components is unstable, the whole apparatus comes crashing down under its own weight.