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Judges’ use of humor as a social corrective

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Abstract

Although judging is serious business, the occasional humorous opinion is a longstanding tradition among both British and American judges. In the United States, humorous judicial opinions are frequently used by newspapers as filler articles, and numerous collections appear in books and on Internet websites, to the apparent delight of popular and professional audiences alike. However, despite a widespread absence of public disapprobation, some commentators have criticized judicial humor as inappropriate, arguing that a judge's role is not to entertain, and that an opinion that ridicules a litigant or his case violates standards of judicial decorum and impartiality. This article challenges the view that a judge's use of humor is necessarily injudicious, and argues that judges use humor as a social corrective to sanction wrongdoers and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct. Through an analysis of actual judicial opinions, I demonstrate how this is achieved.

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... This largely critical view of judicial humour appeared to be the dominant one until recently, perhaps thanks to the "emotional turn" in research and theory of the judiciary, which argues for revising the notion of judicial decorum being necessarily dispassionate and a-emotional (Bandes 1999;Lange 2002;Maroney 2011). Hobbs (2007a) argues that instead of treating judicial humour as an ornamental activity that endangers the impartiality of the judge and risks ridiculing the lay-people in the case, it can be analysed as a useful courtroom resource. Judges may use humour instrumentally "in the form of parody, ridicule and satire … to sanction counsel and/or litigants who take flatly unsupportable positions, inflicting punishment on the offenders and deterring similar conduct" (p. ...
... But as other research notes, humour can be linked to status and power in more complex and subtle ways, for example by superiors who seek to sustain authority while remaining collegial, and by subordinates to contest hierarchies (Holmes 2000). Humour can also be used carefully by people in superior positions-such as judges-to negotiate and momentarily bracket social hierarchies and to relieve tensions (Hobbs 2007a;Malphurs 2010;Roach Anleu et al. 2014). Through humour, power and status may be negotiated, but both power and status will generally determine who jokes with whom and about what (Fine and Soucey 2005). ...
... Judges may use humour deliberately to softly reprove norm-breaking (Hobbs 2007a). In the following episode, one of the three defendants (appearing together) in a large and long fraud trial participates on video link, and is seen on two large screens in the courtroom. ...
Chapter
This chapter analyses humour from an emotion sociological perspective, linking humour to power, status, and group solidarity. It draws from about 300 observed trials and interviews with 43 judges and 41 prosecutors from four Swedish district courts. Humour is sometimes skilfully used as a strategy to ease tension, relieve boredom or to reprimand. It is initiated/allowed by the judge, but high-status lawyers or prosecutors may take the initiative. Judges may use humour to uphold an effective and smooth procedure, attenuating their own power. It is generally unacceptable to laugh at the expense of lay- (low-power) people present in court. Inter-professional humour takes place in intermissions during the hearings, while trials running over several days may include the defendants in the semi-backstage inter-professional joking. Most in-court humorous incidents are unintended, where laughter is suppressed or released depending on the judge. Humour has different functions and expressions frontstage (in court) and backstage (office, lunch room). Observation of both arenas reveal its shame-management function in inter-professional relations. While the judges’ backstage area teems with jokes about embarrassing procedural mistakes, prosecutors’ backstage humour more often deals with the foulness and tragedy of criminals and crimes.
... Humour already exists in forensic settings, though not as utilised as it could be. Hobbs (2007), reviews the way that humour is used as a "social corrective" with judges in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Whilst some view humour as "inappropriate" for the courtroom, Hobbs (2007), takes the perspective that it is beneficial. ...
... Hobbs (2007), reviews the way that humour is used as a "social corrective" with judges in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Whilst some view humour as "inappropriate" for the courtroom, Hobbs (2007), takes the perspective that it is beneficial. In this instance, humour is used to mock the offender and by extension, detract others from committing similar offenses. ...
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The area of investigative interviewing was revolutionised with the creation of the cognitive interview, which added psychological aspects to the basic interview conducted by the police at the time. The cognitive interview has undergone many evolutions since then, such as the enhanced cognitive interview and the PEACE interview. Humour was considered, due to its pro-social properties, such as: emotion regulation, increasing attention and engagement. This study aimed to investigate whether humour could be added to cognitive interviews, without hindering the established techniques, and potentially improving it. Using a virtual cognitive interview, participants were randomly allocated into three conditions: humorous cognitive interview (HCI), standard cognitive interview (SCI), and control standard interview (CSI). All watched the same 5-minute movie clip. The amount of correct information recalled, and total number of answers given were recorded. Results indicated that humour does not negatively affect the cognitive interview process. The implications of adding humour to cognitive interviews to assist with rapport-building and the humanitarian approach to interviewing are discussed, as well as gathering information from vulnerable populations.
... Inspired by the organizational humor model (Romero & Cruthirds, 2006) and a large meta-analysis on the consequences of workplace humor (Mesmer-Magnus et al., 2012), job satisfaction, communication, stress, creativity, and perceptions of leader power will be explored. The current study takes an exploratory approach, and while no causal effects can be assumed, results are expected to provide insight into the efficacy of humor as an organizational communication method, and inspire practical recommendations for workplace humor use (Hobbs, 2007;Huo, Lam, & Chen, 2012;Isaksen & Akkermans, 2011). ...
... Based on the current findings and those of Leist and Müller (2013), it is recommended that for the most preferential outcomes, managers should be encouraged to use more positive humor types than negative humor types. Contradicting previous recommendations, this suggests that use of aggressive humor is not too problematic if accompanied with affiliative humor, and is concurrent with suggestions that aggressive humor use may have positive functions when used appropriately (Hobbs, 2007). Recommendations based upon the current study are made cautiously, however, as cause could not be attributed, and thus work to replicate and build upon the current study is encouraged to validate conclusions and recommendations. ...
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The current study is the first to explore the relationships between managerial humor and workplace facets using cluster analysis. Two-hundred and two employed adults rated their managers’ humor and workplace facets online. K-means cluster analyses identified three managerial humor clusters, mostly replicating those found in the existing literature. A significant pattern of differences in stress, communication, creativity, perceptions of leader power, and job satisfaction were found between the clusters. Findings suggest negative humor use is most likely to be damaging to organizations when not used alongside positive humor types, and it is not merely the frequency with which a manager uses an individual humor type, but the holistic view of their humor, which is of importance in gauging valence of organizational facets. Using cluster analysis was beneficial in challenging assumptions from the existing literature, further contextualizing our understanding of humor and reinforcing the importance of humor use in the workplace.
... Thus, many scholars have realized that court judgments representing judicial discourses would be great resources to manifest knowledge of both the institutional facts and social facts/practices: for example, Li, Cheng, and Cheng (2016) found that judges would balance between freedom of speech and protection of reputation in defamation cases; Cheng and Cheng (2014) noted that judges would use different orientations and values to express their beliefs via epistemic modality; Hobbs (2011) argued that the United States Supreme Court would (mis)use dictionary to decide cases and inappropriately use of analogical reasoning. Besides, Hobbs (2007) also noticed that judges would use humor as social corrective; Charnock (2009) found that different speech acts have been employed in overruling cases; similarly, Kurzon (2001) found that English and American judges used different strategies of politeness. Though different scholars utilized different theoretical frames, methods, data to carry out their studies, they agreed that (1) court judgments are interactionally dialogic (e.g. ...
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Issues concerning cyber asset in cyberspace have intrigued the legislators, the judicial practitioners, the netizens, and even the onlookers in real world; simultaneously, academia is discussing the disputes aroused by this intangible object. However, various studies in the past refined the discussions in domains of law but the refinement fails to clarify the cyber-asset issues and to resolve the disputes. Therefore, a better understanding of what “cyber asset” is can be achieved by exploring cyber asset in the judicial discourses from a socio-semiotic perspective. In this study, judicial discourses are tantamount to the semiotic resource. Then, incorporating in a generic model of judicial discourses, we examine (1) how cyber asset as a sign has been framed by agents of the judicial institution of the People’s Republic of China; (2) how the judicial institution justified their framing; and (3) whether any temporal change in the semiotic system of cyber asset took place. Furthermore, by applying the five questions introduced by Van Leeuwen, we examine why the quandaries of cyber asset are aroused. In conclusion, we propose that the cyber-asset disputes can hardly be resolved unless joint efforts are made by the legislature and the judiciary of the People’s Republic of China.
... There is no lack of criticism of using humor such as satire, parody, mockery, and verse, and judicial humor is sometimes related to judge's carving recognition of their wit and gaining notoriety and "an enfant terrible that, like an undisciplined child, amuses its inordinately tolerant judicial 'parents' at the expense and dismay of the rest of society" (Rudolph 1989: 178). Of course, judicial humor is also supported as a social corrective (Hobbs 2007) or a way to crystallizing a point, putting it in context, and breathing life into a set of facts that that law has formalized, and thus making an opinion much easier to read and understand (Jordan 1987: 700-701). However, if such a humorous style is presented in a court judgment, the task of a translator is to be loyal to such a style rather than to be involved in the debate. ...
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As Hong Kong is the only common law jurisdiction operating in Chinese, alongside English, writing a common law judgment in Chinese is like exploring an uncharted domain in legal discourse. Apart from those judgments originally written in Chinese, Chinese judgments have also been prepared by way of translation from English. Besides, there are also English translations of Chinese judgments of jurisprudential value. Judgments in Hong Kong therefore present an interesting case for study both from a legal point of view and from the perspective of discourse analysis. As Chinese judgments in Hong Kong to a large extent mirror images of their English counterparts, they provide us with insights into how judicial thinking embodied in one language is carried over to another. As the translation of court judgments can serve as a clue to the understanding of how judicial thinking is transferred and reflected in another language, this study looks into some of the fundamental problems of legal translation in general and translation of court judgments in particular, showing how the sociosemiotic approach can shed light on those problems.
... Prominently, Frank (1973) drew attention to the leeway judges have in processes such as gathering and directing the presentation of evidence and assigning greater weight to the testimony of credible witnesses versus less credible ones. Although there is extensive research on different qualities that might be linked with legal wisdom, such as impartiality (e.g., Darcy, 2004), humor (e.g., Hobbs, 2007), and transparency (McKeown, 2011), as well as research on wisdom in decision making outside of a legal context (e.g., Melé, 2010;Sternberg, 1998), the question of legal wisdom itself remains largely unexplored. ...
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Surprisingly little research exists on the role of wisdom within legal decision making. To shed light on this topic, we interviewed 11 U.S. judges who were nominated by their peers for their legal wisdom. They were asked to describe their experience of wise legal decision making and the qualities and processes they felt characterize wise judges. Their interviews were subjected to a grounded theory analysis to develop an understanding of the psychological processes and interpersonal performances that constitute wise legal decision making. Among other findings, results identified attitudes in judges that were thought to lead to better decisions, such as an attitude of curiosity. They identified courtroom management styles that were characterized by magnanimity and compassion as instilling public faith in the system, in contrast to a distant or overly adversarial tone. They tended to agree that, when possible and within the confines of the law, rulings oriented toward rehabilitation were preferable to punitive ones. As well, wise judges described the ways they managed personal challenges arising from value conflicts or ambiguous evidence when making decisions. The article provides clarity on the meanings of the term wisdom within the judicial profession and its construction within the alternative discourses of retributive and procedural justice.
... Norrick 1993; Hay 2000; Holmes and Marra 2002; Everts 2003; Antonopoulou and Sifianou 2003; Fine and de Saucey 2005, Lampert and Ervin- Tripp 2006; Coates 2007), humour in formal contexts, such as workplace, is under investigation (e.g. Yarwood 2001; Holmes and Marra 2006; Holmes 2002, 2006; Bonaiuto et al. 2003; Hobbs 2007ab; Plester 2007; Romero et al. 2007; Bippus 2007, Mik-Meyer 2007). Furthermore, researchers examine cross-cultural differences and similarities of humour forms and their application (e.g. ...
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Preface 2004 1. Introduction 2. Conversational Style: Theoretical Background 3. The Participants in Thanksgiving Dinner 4. Linguistics Devices in Conversational Style 5. Narrative Strategies 6. Irony and Joking 7. Summary of Style Features 8. The Study of Coherence in Discourse 9. Coda: Taking the Concepts into the Present Appendix 1: Key to Transcription Conventions Appendix 2: Steps in Analyzing Conversation Appendix 3: Participants in Thanksgiving Dinner Appendix 4: Flow of Topics in Thanksgiving Conversation REFERENCES AUTHOR INDEX SUBJECT INDEX
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This paper seeks to explain the jury’s verdict of acquittal in the bizarre case of eccentric millionaire Robert Durst, who was charged with the murder of Morris Black after Black’s body parts were found floating in Galveston Bay off the coast of Texas. Though an analysis of a portion of the defense’ closing argument, this paper examines the Durst defense team’s strategy of directing the jury’s attention to a single event – the confrontation that resulted in Black’s death – in order to effect a shift in focus that allowed them to use “reasonable doubt” to leverage their argument that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof. This paper demonstrates how this strategy acted to construct the “unreasonable doubt” that resulted in the jury’s verdict.
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In this article, I explore the main theoretical issues facing researchers in conversational humor today. In particular, I address (1) the structure of humorous discourse; (2) the forms of conversational humor: jokes, anecdotes, wordplay, irony; (3) the interpersonal functions of conversational humor: aggression versus rapport; (4) single-stage versus multi-stage processing of humor; and (5) the description of timing in word play and narrative jokes.
Article
This book offers new insight into one of the most disturbing social problems of modern societies: rape. Using tape recordings of actual trials, Gregory M. Matoesian looks at the social construction of rape trials and at how a woman's experience of violation can be transformed in the courtroom into an act of routine, consensual sex. Matoesian examines the language of the courtroom, focusing on how defense lawyers interpret and classify rape in a way that makes the victim's experience appear as a normal sexual encounter. He analyzes the language that defense attorneys use in cross-examination to argue that courtroom talk can shape the victim's testimony to fit male standards of legitimate sexual practice. On this view, cross-examination is an adversarial war of words through which lawyers manipulate reality and perpetuate the patriarchal domination of women. Reproducing Rape will interest students and professionals in law, criminology, sociology, feminist theory, linguistics, and anthropology.
Article
Since many legal disputes are battles over the meaning of a statute, contract, testimony, or the Constitution, judges must interpret language in order to decide why one proposed meaning overrides another. And in making their decisions about meaning appear authoritative and fair, judges often write about the nature of linguistic interpretation. In the first book to examine the linguistic analysis of law, Lawrence M. Solan shows that judges sometimes inaccurately portray the way we use language, creating inconsistencies in their decisions and threatening the fairness of the judicial system. Solan uses a wealth of examples to illustrate the way linguistics enters the process of judicial decision making: a death penalty case that the Supreme Court decided by analyzing the use of adjectives in a jury instruction; criminal cases whose outcomes depend on the Supreme Court's analysis of the relationship between adverbs and prepositional phrases; and cases focused on the meaning of certain words in the Constitution. Solan finds that judges often describe our use of language poorly because there is no clear relationship between the principles of linguistics and the jurisprudential goals that the judge wishes to promote. A major contribution to the growing interdisciplinary scholarship on law and its social and cultural context, Solan's lucid, engaging book is equally accessible to linguists, lawyers, philosophers, anthropologists, literary theorists, and political scientists.
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The Language of JudgesRhyming judge' takes over high court. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Posted at: www.post-gazette
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Matter of Right: A History of the Michigan Court of Appeals The pragmatics of humor support
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Thoughts on Laughter and Observations on 'The Fable of the Bees' in Six Letters, 1758 (Introduction by John Price) Thoemmes Antiquarian Books
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Appeal Lost, Yet Freedom Won Latin Satire: The Structure of Persuasion The Good News/Bad News Joke Page
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Is rhyme a crime of judicial decorum when people implore 'em? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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