Some clients naively assume that judges are appointed to protect them and have broad powers to do whatever they feel is “fair” and “just.” Of course, what is “fair” and “just” in the eyes of the client is whatever relief they feel they need. However, it is not the role of the judge to dispense some sort of rough justice according to what they deem is fair. They are as constrained by the law as anyone else. This is where we get the saying, “We are a nation of laws and not of men.”
It is not unusual for a judge to feel badly as she executes her duties, but a good judge does her duty as she believes the law requires. The judge is concerned with the law and not necessarily with the negative consequences of the application of the law to a particular individual. A judge cannot save you from a bad bargain and is expressly prohibited from rewriting a contract for the parties even if it unfair to one of them. The judge can only grant those remedies that are allowed by law in a particular case. There are usually other judges above them in the hierarchy who will reverse their decisions if they believe they overstepped their bounds or misapplied the law. Judges hate to be reversed.
I thought about this today because a client expressed the vain hope that the judge would rewrite his agreement to grant more favorable terms to him. The judge could not possibly do this. I also came across a sad case involving a Milwaukee man who was losing his $240,000.00 home due to a $2,600.00 zoning code violation. He had illegally parked a vehicle with expired tags in the driveway of the home. Unfortunately, the gentleman had numerous personal and mental issues and the situation just snowballed. I got the feeling the judge felt bad about it when he found out, but as he said,
The moral of this story? You’ve got to look out for yourself first. Don’t count on a judge to save you later. He may not be able to do so. Judges aren’t the Lone Ranger riding the prairie in search of wrongs to right. They’re people constrained by the law just like everyone else.