How Judges can Avoid Decision Fatigue – RELY ON AND LEARN FROM YOUR IN-COURT CLERKS

June 25, 2015 MINNESOTA Update 15-12 Hon. Alan F. Pendleton, Anoka County District Court, Anoka, Mn 55303; 763-422-7309. How to Avoid Decision Fatigue

THE PROBLEM: In a perfect world judges make decisions by applying legal analysis to the facts of a case in a rational, fair and deliberate manner. But in the real world, we know that judges and judicial decision-making, despite their best efforts, are often subject to the same foibles, biases and imperfections that affect everything humans do. We would love to believe that a judge’s rulings are solely based on rational decisions and written laws. In reality, they can be influenced by a variety of non-relevant factors that may be so subtle that they go mostly unnoticed by attorneys, the parties and most importantly, judges themselves. In order to keep this update short and concise, these non-relevant factors are broken down into two main categories: 1) IMPLICIT BIAS; and 2) DECISION FATIGUE.

1) IMPLICIT BIAS & The Committee for Equality and Justice (CEJ): Explicit Bias: The problems of overt discrimination have received enormous attention from lawyers, judges, academics, and policymakers. While explicit sexism, racism, and other forms of bias persist, they have become less prominent and public over the past century. However, explicit bias and overt discrimination are only part of the problem – What about “implicit bias”? Implicit Bias: An implicit bias is a positive or negative attitude toward a person or group of people that a person holds at an unconscious level. An implicit bias is formed by a person’s individual developmental history, life experiences, and culture causing it to be so ingrained in a person’s personality that he or she is unaware of its existence. Over the past decade, researchers have provided convincing evidence that implicit biases exist, are pervasive, are large in magnitude, and have real-world effects. Since fairness and unbiased decisions are fundamental to the justice system, several studies and articles have been published that provide guidance and strategies to reduce implicit bias in the courts. Committee for Equality and Justice & “The Implicit Bias Bench Card”: Minnesota Judicial Counsel’s Committee for Equality and Justice (CEJ) is dedicated to eliminating all forms of bias in Minnesota’s judicial branch. The CEJ recognizes that detecting and eliminating implicit bias is difficult and there is no perfect tool to do so. Studies have shown that in order to combat the effects of our implicit biases, it is crucial to be aware that they exist and to actively question whether they are affecting our rationale. The CEJ offers the “Implicit Bias Bench Card” (see attachment) as a reminder that implicit bias exists in all of us and as a tool to help reduce its influence on our decision-making processes when possible. Please copy and distribute the attached bench card to anyone you think may have an interest. JUDICIAL TRAINING & EDUCATION UPDATE Prior training updates (103) can be accessed by clicking on: Judicial Training Blog JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING Dangers of “Implicit Bias” & “Decision Fatigue” June 25, 2015 MINNESOTA Update 15-12 Hon. Alan F. Pendleton, Anoka County District Court, Anoka, Mn 55303; 763-422-7309

2) DECISION FATIGUE: In Judicial decision-making, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by a judge, after a long session of decision-making. For instance, judges in court have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than early in the day. Why? Judges, being human, were worn down by a day full of mental work. They had, as social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister states, fallen victim to decision fatigue. In other words, if judges don’t learn to manage their reservoir of mental energy, they won’t be able to manage their judicial decisions. That’s a lesson learned from a 2011 study on extraneous factors in judicial decisions, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” ( Jonathan Levav of Columbia University and his colleagues analyzed 1,112 parole hearings for inmates of four Israeli prisons, made by eight experienced judges over a ten-month period. Prisoners who appeared early in the day or right after a food break received parole about 70% of the time, while those that came late in the day or long after scheduled food breaks or lunch had less than 10% chance at landing parole. This pattern is readily evident in the following 2011 graph published as part of the study. The graph is dramatic. It shows that the odds that prisoners will be successfully paroled start off fairly high at around 65% and quickly plummet to nothing over a few hours. After the judges have returned from their breaks, the odds abruptly climb back up to 65%, before resuming their downward slide. These rulings were made by eight Jewish-Israeli judges (two females), with an average of 22 years of judging behind them. Their verdicts represented 40% of all parole requests in the country during the ten months. Every day, each judge considered between 14 and 35 cases. They took two food breaks (a morning snack and lunch) that divided their day into three sessions. Judges had no control over the scheduling of cases. The study found that the three prisoners seen at the start of each “session” were more likely to be paroled than the three who are seen at the end. That was true regardless of the length of their sentence, or whether they had been incarcerated before. The following four findings are highly relevant for judges: 1. All repetitive decision-making tasks drain our mental resources. We start suffering from “choice overload” and we start opting for the easiest choice. For example, shoppers who have already made several decisions are more likely to go for the default offer, whether they’re buying a suit or a car. And when it comes to parole hearings, the default choice is to deny the prisoner’s request. The more decisions a judge has made, the more drained they are, and the more likely they are to make the default choice. Taking a break replenishes them

Judges, even experienced ones, are vulnerable to the same psychological biases as everyone else. They can deliver different rulings in similar cases, under the influence of something as trivial as a food break. Their training, their experience, and the weighty nature of their decisions do not insulate them from the sort of problems that plague our everyday mental abilities. The mental work of ruling on case after case can wear any judge down – even the best ones. This sort of decision fatigue routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.  You can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in one of two ways. a. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?); b. The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing or opt for the easiest choice. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice or the more difficult choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time. BEST JUDICIAL PRACTICE: One purpose for this update is to promote awareness of the increasing body of research that supports the view that all repetitive decision-making tasks drain our mental resources. Thus, when judges make repeated rulings, they show an increased tendency to rule in favor of the status quo (whatever that may be).  Research suggests that this tendency can be overcome by taking a break to eat a meal, or from other benefits derived from a short break, such as rest, physical movement and increased positive mood, all of which promote mental resource replenishment.  However, because none of these studies are definitive, perhaps the best judicial practice is for each individual judge to develop a sense of how much their decisions have fatigued them and to do whatever works best for them to bolster their mental energy supplies.

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NEWLY APPOINTED JUDGES – WHY THE RISK OF MISTAKES ARE HIGH: Judges have an incredibly difficult job. Most judges were appointed to the bench, in part, based on their training, experience and expertise in usually one or two areas of the law. Many judges come from a prosecution or criminal defense background with no significant civil experience. Many judges with a strong civil background have little or no criminal experience. And a large number of judges come onto the bench with no prior family law experience. And even those judges with a particularly broad background, few can boast of experience in areas such as: conciliation court, civil commitments, juvenile, probate, child support contempt and unlawful detainers, etc. This update answers the question why new judges should rely on and learn from their in-court clerks.



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