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Nonlawyer Judges and the Professionalization of Justice: Should an Endangered Species Be Preserved?

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 17 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2001 Pages: 19-36
Nigel J. Cohen
Date Published
February 2001
18 pages
This article examines the prevalence of nonlawyer judges in State and local trial courts, emphasizing courts of limited jurisdiction.
The article looks at trends in legal education and the current emphasis on judicial ethics. It reviews statewide court reform in Pennsylvania as representative of many States’ experiences. The article also analyzes criminal defendants’ due process rights before nonlawyer judges, using cases from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court. The article presents ideas about the future of nonlawyer judges and suggestions for improving the quality of judging in the United States, including: (1) improving legal education, incorporating use of online law schools; (2) bringing current technological advances, e.g., Internet chat rooms, to populations currently underserved; and (3) continuing judicial education. That education should include more study of the judges’ States’ Code of Judicial Conduct, which itself mandates professional competence in legal knowledge. In conclusion, the article observes that the United States “cannot afford to have any more lay judges who pride themselves on ignorance of the law, their court’s jurisdiction, and defendants’ constitutional rights.” Notes, references


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