As compared to the lawyers who appear before them, trial judges have much less control of the outside causes of stress. For example, a family lawyer can control his or her stress level by guiding the case, as in the use of experts, and the use of mediation. There is also the choice of utilizing the collaborative divorce process. In contrast, the judge makes decisions based on the controversy before him or her and cannot pick and choose the controversy.
So it is not surprising to me that the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges is launching the “Florida Judicial Wellness Program,” a confidential resource for jurists who may be feeling overwhelmed.
The program is the brainchild of immediate past conference Chair Scott Bernstein, a veteran 11th Circuit judge. Bernstein said he got the idea after several judicial meltdowns made headlines, one of them involving a close friend.
“I’ve learned a lot about vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue,” Bernstein said. “Although judges like to think that we’re super human beings, we’re really just humans, and it does take a toll.”
Judges face a higher risk of stress disorders because of their unique status, Bernstein said.
“When you get on the bench, you almost have to close down your friendship network with a lot of people because of appearances of impropriety,” Bernstein said. “And that cuts off the avenue for even talking about some of the things that are going on in your personal life, or your work life.”
Yet judges may be reluctant to seek help because they’re public figures who answer to voters, Bernstein said.
Bernstein and Ninth Judicial Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore were part of a 16-member committee that worked on the program for months before announcing it at the FCCJ annual meeting in August. More than 500 judges attended the meeting and the Florida Judicial Wellness Program booth drew heavy traffic, Bernstein said.
A judge or a family member can get help by dialing 888-972-4040. Within two weeks of the launch, the hotline was already ringing, Latimore said.
How does a judge know when to dial the number?
Latimore lists the following red flags:
- Feeling anxious, irritable, depressed, or overwhelmed.
- Drinking more than usual or using prescriptions to relax.
- Trouble sleeping or using sleeping pills.
- Financial disarray.
- Inability to enjoy hobbies or other activities.
- Friends and associates are expressing concern.
“We are humans, we have families, we have kids who don’t act right, we have conflicts in our marriages or our relationships, and we have medical issues that we’re dealing with,” Latimore said “And we’re trying to balance life and work and everything else without the assistance that might be available to someone who might have the same Bar license, but just has not been elevated to the same position.”1
1 This blog was borrowed from the following: Ash, Jim. Program aims to provide wellness assistance to judges. The Florida Bar News. September 15th 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Fb37ea94c444031b2852583010049b644