Chris Newbold:    

Hello and welcome to episode five of our podcast series, The Path to Well-Being in Law, an initiative of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. I’m your co-host, Chris Newbold of ALPS Malpractice Insurance and our goal here is simple. To introduce you to cool people doing awesome work in the space of lawyer well-being and in the process, build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates content on creating a culture shift within the legal profession. I’m joined by my incredible tag team partner, Bree Buchanan. Bree, welcome.

Bree Buchanan:   

Thanks. How are you?

Chris Newbold:      

Good. Today, we’re going to turn to a critical element of the well-being picture and that’s judicial well-being. So often when we think about well-being, we think about it through the lens of practicing lawyers under the guise of lawyer well-being. But today we’re going to look at the judge side of the equation and we have a recognized leader in our space and a fellow member of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, Judge David Shaheed of Indiana. Bree, would you be so kind to introduce our guest?

Bree Buchanan:   

Absolutely, I’d be delighted and I’m truly honored. Judge Shaheed is such a wonderful person that I’ve gotten to know over the past six or seven years, and he’s a delight to work with. So, let me introduce everybody to him. Judge Shaheed is a judge in the Marion Superior Court, Civil 1. He came into that position in August of 2007. Prior to that, Judge Shaheed preceded over the Drug Treatment Diversion Court and Re-entry Court. He served on the Court Alcohol and Drug Programs Advisory Committee and was former chair of the Problem-Solving Courts Committee for the Judicial Conference of Indiana. In addition to serving on the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program in Indiana, he’s a former member of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer’s Assistance Programs and former co-chair of the Judicial Assistance Initiative for CoLAP. Judge Shaheed, welcome, we’re so glad you’re with us.

Judge  David S.:  

Thank you very much. It’s an honor to be here.

Chris Newbold:   

Yeah. Judge Shaheed, I think one of things we love to do with our guests is just an introductory question which is what brought you into the well-being movement? Were there experiences in your life or other drivers that led you to have a passion for this kind of work?

Judge  David S.: 

Yes. Well, I think, for most people, at least in my community, there’s always been somebody in the broader community not in my immediate family that’s struggled with issues of depression, sometimes with substance use problems. So, I knew first hand how difficult that could make life for a person. The human dimension to the story. And so when I became a judge and was assigned to a criminal court and then I also had the opportunity to work with a drug treatment diversion court and then later was able to start a re-entry court of ex-offenders. It was a way to take life’s personal experiences and build on those personal experiences to hopefully change the lives of people that I came in contact with in the courts.

Bree Buchanan:           

Terrific. Judge Shaheed, we heard in our last couple episodes from the author of the lawyer research study, Patrick Krill and then we heard from the author of the law student research study, David Jaffe. Now, we’re rounding out the third leg of the three legged stool and hearing from you about the critical research that’s been done in a sphere around judicial stress and resilience and you’ve been at the center of that national research project. So, could you tell us a little bit about that?

Judge  David S.:    

Yes. Well, that research associated with the National Task Force as most people may remember had a number of recommendations and one of those recommendations is that there be a survey of judges, especially with respect to stress, the effects of stress and also with respect to resiliency. There had been a survey with prospective law students. There had also been a survey done with respect to lawyers. It was one of the key recommendations especially with the judiciary, that there be a survey of judges dealing [inaudible 00:04:54] and also resiliency.

Bree Buchanan:             

So, what was the purpose of the research? What did you all set out to find?

Judge  David S.:              

Well, the purpose of the research was to actually get involved with judges and try to determine the sources of stress, the effects of that stress and then also to have a positive part, not just talk about the things that were going wrong and the things that were difficult, but also to get feedback from judges as to techniques or tools that they were using to work to try to deal with that stress. We know that when people are stressed out, when people are suffering from difficulties related to their work, sometimes there are unhealthy habits that take hold. And so since wellness is an important [topic 00:05:58] across all professions and the legal profession is also a part of that, the resiliency part with respect to what judges are doing in a positive way to deal with wellness and to deal with stress in a positive way.

Bree Buchanan:           

And there was a coalition of groups. Who all was involved in getting that project together because it was a big one?

Judge  David S.:              

Yes. It was a big project and probably the principal researcher, the person that I listen to the most, the expert was Professor Swenson. He is with the St. Scholastica College in Minnesota and also another minister of contact was Joan Bibelhausen, who is the Executive Director of the Lawyers Concern for Lawyers program in Minnesota. Yourself as representative of CoLAP during that period of time, and then also Katheryn Yetter, who is with the National Judicial College. There’re perhaps premier organization associated with the education of judges. They put on many programs for judges throughout the year. And they had the role associated with having the judges that participate in their programs to respond to the survey so that we had good results. There are over 18,000 judges across the country, and we were fortunate to have over a 1000 judges in fact, 1034 judges participate in our survey.

Bree Buchanan:             

Wow. That is great.

Chris Newbold:               

Wow. Yeah, that’s a great response.

Judge  David S.:              

Yes, very good.

Chris Newbold:               

Very good. Yeah. I’m curious what some of your key findings were and from your perspective, were there anything surprised you in the findings?

Judge  David S.:              

Well, the resiliency activities and interests, those were probably something that I hadn’t really suspected when we initially thought about the survey, it’s obvious you wanted to quantify as best as possible the sources of stress. So the ranking of the sources of stress [inaudible 00:08:47] and then also the effects of stress, there were about 34 effects of stress that were listed. But then there were also about 13 activities or interest including meditation, walking, exercises that judge were relying upon to effectively deal with stress in a positive way.

Bree Buchanan:             

And judge, I’ve read the research and I helped out on that some, and the thing that struck me was it seemed that judges overall compared to lawyers generally were fairing a little bit better than lawyers. But was there anything in the research that caused alarm?

Judge  David S.:              

Yes. Two things. It was not [inaudible 00:09:46] percentage, but 2.2%, and the figures sticks out in my mind because you have to remember there were over a 100 participants in the survey, but of that number 2.2% had [inaudible 00:10:03] aside. In other words, the stresses of the job were so significant that they had actually considered suicide. So to me, that was a big concern. A then also we all know about the availability of alcohol in our society. And so about 9.5% of the judges, especially in 2019 identified problematic drinking as one of the effects of stress.

 

And actually the 9.5 is a little higher than what is found in the general community of people over the age of 25, because it’s around 6%. It’s a little higher for lawyers, but the 9.5 is still problematic when you consider the stresses of the job and that some of our colleagues in the judiciary are using alcohol to cope with the stresses of their work.

Bree Buchanan:             

Right. And that is concerning. Absolutely. I remember another thing that was found out of the research was that there was data gathered of what judges were doing to improve their resiliency and what they wanted to know more about. And we looked at that gap there and where there was a big gap between what they were doing and what they wanted to do. We’re thinking about honing in on that. Can you talk about a couple of those practices or things that judges wanted to do more?

Judge  David S.:              

Yeah. Well, one of the troubling and I’ll just mention two, for a new judge because becoming a judge in the US especially a trial judge, I’ll just speak of that in most states involves an election of some type. And so it’s not like in Europe where they have a track or where you are a solicitor or whether you are on the ban, but in the US, the judge typically comes from the lawyer ranks. And so there’s no real training to become a judge. So that’s a concern especially for new judges, because they feel ill-equipped for the task of being a judge. They don’t really feel that there is the proper support to help them be successful, and judges work in a silo. And so [inaudible 00:12:53] in a practice group law office, there’s always a senior associate or partner that you may be able to go to. So you’re on your own with respect to that.

But another aspect that we have found to be helpful is the judicial round tables. There’s an excellent report out of Texas about the success of the round tables. They started for the most part in New York because they’ve had a lot of success with round tables, but the round tables are just an opportunity for judges to get together and talk about the work that they do, not so much in terms of cases and case law and statutes and procedures, but mainly about the work itself and how you cope with that work, how you deal with that work. So that’s an important part of the discussion as well.

Bree Buchanan:             

Absolutely. And just one more thing. When will the study be published? When can we expect to see that?

Judge  David S.:              

Yeah. The study is going to be published in the ABA Professional Lawyer, and we’re in the process now of ABA review, I think for many who are aware and familiar with the American Bar Association, it’s quite a bureaucratic institution. And so we’re in the process of, they’re completing their review but we’re hoping to have it published in The Professional Lawyer of the ABA by the end of the year.

Chris Newbold:               

Got you. And one of the things I think is interesting particularly for any of our non-lawyer listeners is just how all the different types of judges that are out there. I mean, when you really think about the breadth of the judiciary, I mean, you’ve got municipal judges and justice [crosstalk 00:15:01]. You got district court judges, you got appeals judges, you got specialty court judges. And so I’m just curious on your perspective of whether there are… My sense is that there are certain types of positions on the bench that are more prone to the stress and the interaction with clients.

Obviously, the higher you go up on the appellate side, probably the less interaction you have with real people. And so I’m just curious on whether the findings of the report or your personal experience tend to steer toward your judicial well-being being more of a challenge in certain parts of the judiciary.

Judge  David S.:              

One of the concerns, and it’s talked about in the literature, and it’s also found in the research is secondary trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorder and we tend to associate that with combat situations and our service people who are in military situations, but trauma can be experienced in a variety of ways. We know that there is trauma that the children experience. If they’re in a household where there is domestic violence, that’s a trauma. If they see violence in the family, that’s trauma. So that kind of drama and trauma that is seen in the family situation, sometimes bubbles into the courts in cases of abuse or neglect. And there are judges that have to look at the probable cause, they have to look at reports with respect to how children are being mistreated and abused and cumulatively, seeing that kind of information on a daily basis, a daily diet of abuse and neglect takes a toll on the individual.

Also, we’re familiar with criminal courts where there are absolutely horrific events that take place. They cause the loss of life or the injury to people or the assault of individuals. And again, judges have to hear that information, sometimes have to see a horrific scenes that are part of the evidence associated with the death of a person. And so that’s just part of the job. And so a stale, a daily diet of that kind of information eventually takes its toll on a human being. Takes a toll on a person. So one or two things happen, a person sometimes becomes numb to what they’re seeing, so they become somewhat detached. In other words, the daily diet of that kind of information just numbs and individuals. So they see it, but then they block it out.

And that’s not good because then they become almost robotic in terms of doing the technical parts of the job. But to those who are a part of that court system with that kind of judge, they notice that there’s something missing and that’s not a good thing. So one of the other parts or one of the other aspects that is causes problems for the judiciary is burnout, because after so long, a daily diet or that kind of information causes one to just burn out. And so they start pulling away from the job and jobs satisfaction goes down and many of them are just looking for an exit or a way to get out of that kind of a court.

I can recall recently elections in my county where I heard stories about one judge who was really suffering from burnout in a criminal court, basically just started continuing cases because he knew that he was going to be leaving the court at the end of the year. So there became about a six month backlog of cases that got continued. And so for those individuals who were trying to have their cases resolved, they basically suffered because the judge was burned out. So those are just a couple of ways that it manifests itself when judges are overwhelmed by the ugly side or the ugly aspects of their job.

Chris Newbold:               

Yeah. And it seems like such an interesting challenge both on the front end, because you’re elevated out of the lawyer ranks. You’re elevated to the bench and there’s got to be a shock to the system at that point of just, “What am I doing?” You’re trying to figure this out. There’s all these new emotions that are coming your way. We know there are schools that try to help judges adapt to that, but there’s really emotions there. And then as you said on back end of their career you suffer the burnout side of things where this means you figure it out, you start to then go down and put down the road of just, “This is just being tough.” And it’s such an interesting as you think about it from a… I’m at an age right now and soon approaching 50 that a lot of my friends are elevating to the bench. And a lot of times you elevate to the bench and you go under an island a little bit. Right? And-

Judge  David S.:              

Right. Yeah. And that’s another aspect you’ve really touched on is the isolation because we’re collegial people. One of the things that has been pointed out by the pandemic is that in many places in the world, people have become familiar with the idea of quarantine. And we have learned most of us, at least that that’s not really a comfortable idea to just isolate yourself. And we’ve been told as much as possible, we should isolate ourselves. And my age group pretty much the mantra. For anybody over 60 isolate yourself, don’t be in contact. And so it’s a little unnatural because we like to be in community, we like to be able to interact with people.

So one of the downsides of becoming a judge is the isolation, because the collegial aspect of life when you’re in a practice group or when you’re with a law firm, or when you’re with any kind of legal work in an organization, you can ask for advice, you can just kind of bounce ideas off people, sometimes about cases that you have, but when you become a judge and you have your own caseload that you’re responsible for, it’s not like you can go to another judge and say, “Hey, look, I’ve had this case, what do you think I should do?” Because for the most part, they have their own case load and so you don’t want to seem weak and not up to the job. So you basically go to your office or on the bench, you try to figure it out as best you can, but it is an isolating proposition.

And so that takes a toll as well. And it’s not like you can go home and share the details of your troublesome caseload with your family. So it’s a rather lonely job. And then when you have to make monumental decisions, life-changing decisions about people, typically those are made by yourself. It’s not like you take a committee vote, you have to make the decision and then you have to live with the decision, both with respect to appeal but also with respect to the emotional toll that it takes on yourself. And then thinking about the consequences of your decision on the lives of other people. So it’s a weight that doesn’t go away, and it’s a weight that is unlike a lot of other professions, especially in the legal profession.

Chris Newbold:               

It certainly feels like a heavyweight of a job from an emotional perspective, a lot of weight on those shoulders-

Judge  David S.:              

Yes it is.

Chris Newbold:               

There’s obviously glory in the role, but real world, real family ramifications in both the decisions and the contemplation. Let’s take a quick break here and hear from our friends at ALPS. And I’d like to come back on the conversation and talk about why the judicial system should to be paying close attention, not just to the judiciary totality of the profession more generally.

Bree Buchanan:             

Welcome back everybody. We’re here with Judge David Shaheed, who is a member of the National Task Force and a member of the Judiciary. And he’s talking to us about wellbeing among the judiciary in the United States. And Judge Shaheed, I think particularly with the task force report, we’re really starting this well-being movement across the country. And a piece of that is for the judiciary. Could you talk a little bit about why the judicial system should be paying attention to wellbeing? What happens when wellbeing is not really addressed?

Judge  David S.:              

Well, the role of the courts in our life in America is one of the most important roles that there are. I mean, just the number of TV shows that focus on judges in terms of reality shows and then also drama that involve the courts. There’s always been a fascination with the courts. And the rule of law in a very serious sense, is probably one of the hallmarks or most significant aspects of our democracy. And so most people don’t spend their lives in course. We have professionals of course, lawyers and judges and so forth, but the average person may not ever get to a court, but if they come to a court that is going to be an experience that they seldom forget. And so the interaction that they have with the judge is going to mark them and influence what they think about the courts and the rule of law in America.

So we want everybody to be at their best. When we go to a doctor’s appointment, we want the doctor to be at their best and any kind of interaction that we have, we want the person that we’re interacting with at their best. And since judges are making life-changing decisions, the wellness of those judges is an essential concern for all of us. And we know that if judges are well, their decisions reflect that. A part of the study has shown that with research that depending upon the time of day that judges make decisions, they’re more positive in the early parts of the session and they trail off toward the end.

But we want to have judges at their best during that entire process because that forms what the average citizen thinks about our courts, and about our judiciary, and about this principle of justice of being fair to everyone that comes before the courts. And so the rule of law and the administration of justice through the courts is one of the hallmarks of our democracy and that’s the reason why it should be of concern that we have judges who are well and healthy on the bench.

Bree Buchanan:             

Wow. That’s a great answer. I’ve never heard it put so clearly in such dramatic terms.  That’s great. And now of course, we’re in the midst of a pandemic. We’re hitting the sixth month of this. And you’re still presiding over cases in court. What is it like right now in the judicial system to try and carry on justice during a pandemic?

Judge  David S.:              

Yes. Well, since late February, early March everybody’s life all over the world has changed and the courts and judges are not immune to that. For a period of time, basically from March, maybe until mid-May, there were basically only emergency court hearings and definitely not hearings where people were coming to court. In many cities, in many communities, the courts have been for the most part closed, and they’re gradually starting to open up. And so just like we’re on a Zoom call for this podcast, the courts have been using Zoom primarily at least in Indiana as the primary mechanism to have non-emergency hearings. So that has been a tremendous change because two quick points about this for judges.

The second source of stress for judges is heavy dockets. So when you consider that for two and a half months or most, there were no court activities at all. There’s a backlog that has developed in the criminal courts and civil courts all throughout the court system. And so I can tell you right now, the judges are stressing of how are they going to get that backlog work down. So that’s one concern for judges and that adds to stress. The other part is that judges like routine, all of us like routine. And so within a short period of time, all of us as judges have had to become familiar with the technology of operating a court for the most part electronically.

In most states there is e-Filing, which helps somewhat but for the most part judges have had to adapt and the staffs have had to adapt to the technology associated with conducting a hearing remotely. Where the judge is in one place, maybe in one location in one state, and then the parties may be in other states at least in other locations and still the business of the court has to get done. So this adjustment causes additional stress because we know how to do things the way we did them in 2019, but the reality is the way we operated as judges in 2019 is not the same way we’re operating as judges toward the end of 2020. So those kinds of adjustments are additional stressors as they say, but that’s the reality of the work that we’re doing.

Chris Newbold:               

Yeah. Change, change, change, change, right?

Judge  David S.:              

Yes, absolutely.

Chris Newbold:               

I mean, backlogs and new technologies and new ways of operating a courtroom. I am curious Judge Shaheed, as you think about the courtroom, I think your answer was so eloquent I think on the role of the judge, you also preside over the totality of the courtroom and that includes the attorneys that are before you ultimately are officers of the court. I’m curious on your perspective with respect to them and what you generally see in the courtroom. When you see hints of attorneys who are before you who might be struggling in terms of [inaudible 00:33:40] situation, we’ve even seen essences of alcoholism in courts and strange behavior. I’m just curious on your perspective on the interplay between your role on the bench and then those officers of the court and what role you have in terms of both identifying challenges and then being part of the solution.

Judge  David S.:              

Well, I can remember over the Drug Court in Marion County, an incident where a lawyer who showed up for a hearing had cocaine drop out of his pocket before he was able to get into the court room. So that part was easy because he ended up getting arrested right there in court before the court session started. But sometimes you see impairments. A judge wants to have a fair trial in particular, if you’re over a criminal court you have to be concerned about the defendant having a fair trial because from two respects, you want to have a fair trial because you don’t want to have an appeal based upon the lawyer representing the defendant not being affected, but also from the standpoint of fundamental fairness. You want to make sure that as much as possible there’s an equal playing field and both sides or both parties are being properly represented.

So it does create a problem and an immediate problem with respect to how you get through that hearing, but then there’s other ethical problem for you as to what you do when you witness signs of impairment. Fortunately, in all states there are lawyers assistance programs. And so those lawyers’ assistance programs are a vital asset to the legal community, because if you see a sign of impairment or something that doesn’t look exactly right, and many times lawyers you’ve seen them over not only months, but over years. And so you can call the Lawyers Assistance Program, mention what you have observed and then the Lawyers Assistance Program can reach out to that lawyer or sometimes a judge and to volunteers, I’ve done it myself just check on the person and say that you’re just there to see or to ask them if everything was okay.

And again that’s when the real benefits of Lawyers Assistance Programs so that judges or any other professional can alert the Lawyers Assistance Program in their state that there may be an impairment or there may be some other issue that is interfering with that legal professionals’ performance of their professional duties.

Chris Newbold:               

We should note that Judge Shaheed is an active leader in the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program. And thank you for your contributions there, because I think your perspective is particularly important. Now, let’s maybe wrap it up with one final question Judge Shaheed, which is overall, are you optimistic are you pessimistic about judge resiliency and then the ability to cope with the stressors of the bench obviously with the pandemic going on right now? What have you seen, what do you think we are now and where do you think we’re going?

Judge  David S.:              

Well, let me give a formal plug for the article that’s going to come out this year, Stress and Resiliency in the US Judiciary. That represents, I think a milestone or a high watermark with respect to information that will guide in particular those judges who are presiding judges over their courts or those judges who are administrators for the judges in their district or circuit so that they have concrete information from which they can tailor programs to assist the judges. Without the data, it’s hard to have a justification to have a wellness program for the benefit of judges in district, for example.

But with this report coming out, once it becomes public, then those presiding judges, those chief judges of those districts can say, “Now I have information that can guide me to start around table for judges on a monthly or quarterly basis or to have programs on wellness.” So it gives judges and the judiciary the tools and information necessary to help promote and support the wellness of judges across the country.

Bree Buchanan:             

Wonderful. So well said.

Chris Newbold:               

It is. When that report obviously is published, we’ll make sure to include that on our website @lawyerwellbeing.net because I think that that is… Again, a really important part of the equation that we talked about lawyer wellbeing, but it really is more of a holistic look at wellbeing in the law more generally and we certainly thank you for your contributions, your leadership, your perspective. It certainly feels like awareness is a big part of the game right now for more judges and with awareness brings vulnerability support amongst each other, and those all seem to put us more in a sense of we’re trending in the right direction than the wrong direction.

Judge  David S.:              

Yes, yes. Well, trending is very important. We’ve learned with social media and depending in the right direction with respect to wellness for lawyers, the legal profession, and also judges.

Chris Newbold:               

Yeah. Well said, and again, thank you Judge Shaheed.

Judge  David S.:              

Yeah, absolutely.

Bree Buchanan:             

Thanks so much.

Chris Newbold:               

This was a great conversation again, I think sometimes we don’t step back and take a look at the role of judges and just… Again, what tough jobs those are, what important jobs they are for again, of the underpinnings of a well-functioning democracy, but they don’t come without emotional and stress and real problems that affect real people. And so we appreciate your perspective and bringing it on the podcast today.

Judge  David S.:              

Well, thank you so much for launching this podcast. I know it’s going to be a big help to the legal profession. And so it’s not a small step, it’s a significant step and we just need to have the need to support it as best we can and years from now, people will look back on this moment and say they can remember when Chris and Bree started this. So you’ll be in the hall of fame on national wellness.

Chris Newbold:               

That’s right.  Well, again, thank you so much-

Judge  David S.:              

Sure, absolutely.

Chris Newbold:               

in a couple of weeks where we start to look at… I always think of states as laboratories of democracy and one of the states that has been really doing some incredible work is the Commonwealth of Virginia. And we’re going to have a couple of the leaders of Virginia come in and talk about some of the great work that’s happening there on wellbeing. And so stay tuned for that. Thanks, Judge Shaheed.

Judge  David S.:              

All right. Thank you. Thanks to both of you.

Chris Newbold:               

All right. Take care.

Bree Buchanan:             

Thank you. Good bye.

Judge  David S.:              

All right.

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