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“I Don’t Read ‘Em, I Just Sign ‘Em.”

The judge in this case had told me the other day that he generally doesn’t read orders before signing them; he relies on his clerks to vet the papers and signs whatever they put before him.

Judges perform powerful word magic; words on the paper make something happen in the physical world. Clerks may be as competent as judges to decide what should be ordered, but it’s not their job. When a judge lets the clerk (or a litigant) decide what should be ordered, he’s in dereliction of his responsibilities, and likely to screw up someone’s life unnecessarily.

I asked another Harris County criminal court judge whether he reads orders before signing them. He responded that he generally did, but then he told me about once signing an order for a mental health evaluation when his clerk put it on his desk. The subject of the ordered mental health evaluation? The judge himself.

All very droll, until you consider that, while the judge can, with the stroke of a pen, undo the order affecting him, anyone else who is the victim of an improper or mistaken order has to spend time and money straightening things out, if things can ever be straightened out—much judicial word magic, once performed, can never be undone.


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