Do You Know How Judges Decide Cases? Do You Have A Hunch?

          [Image: The center third of "Education" (1890), a stained glass window by Charles Louis Tiffany and Tiffany Studios, located in Linsley-Chittenden Hall at Yale University.  It depicts Science (personified by Devotion, Labor, Truth, Research and Intuition).]

          Writing in the online ABA Journal, Debra Cassens Weiss picks up on a fascinating story from the Legal Blog Watch by Robert J. Ambrogi on an upcoming Cornell Law Review article called "Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Decide Cases."  The article, written by Chris Guthrie of Vanderbilt Law School, Jeffrey J. Rachlinski of Cornell Law School and U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Wistrich of the Central District of California, analyzes how trial judges make decisions.
          Their thesis rests on the dichotomy between  "deliberative" and "intuitive"  decision-making  processes.  Their conclusion? As quoted by Robert Ambrogi, trial judges "are predominantly intuitive decision makers, and intuitive judgments are often flawed," with the result that "millions of litigants each year might be adversely affected by judicial overreliance on intuition."

          The complete article thoroughly describes the characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of deliberative decision making and intuitive decision making, and then explains the testing done by the authors on 295 Florida trial court judges that forms the basis for their conclusions.  Among those tests were the following questions (try all three before checking the answers at the end of this post, below):

          1- A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

          2- If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

          3- In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

          According to the authors, nearly one-third of the judges failed to answer a single question correctly; nearly one-third of them answered only one question correctly; about one-quarter of them answered  two questions correctly; and roughly one in seven answered all three questions correctly.  How did you do?

          Although the judges' scores were comparable to those of other well educated adults, they illustrate the authors' point: while intuition is quicker and often "feels right," it cannot substitute for a careful deliberative process in reaching just and accurate decisions.

          So what does all this have to do with alternative dispute resolution?  A few things occur to me:

        - The parties to a dispute heading towards litigation need to be realistic about what they an expect from the courts at the end of their case.  They typically cannot select their judge, and their judge probably has far more cases to handle than there are hours in the day - the primary reason the article's authors found for most judges' reliance on an intuitive approach.

        - Alternative dispute resolution processes, whether adjudicative (arbitration, evaluation) or facilitative (mediation, negotiation), inherently permit and encourage a more deliberative approach than a trial court's decision.  Time, attention (and sometimes expertise) are brought to bear on the dispute as needed. 

        - The process of "reality testing" that is a major part of most mediations results in the parties and counsel having to confront the intuitive but unsound aspects of their case, and then reshape it accordingly, while there is still time for a fair settlement.

          Of course, some parties may want an "intuitive" decision-maker, and may be convinced that the prospect of a favorable result in that forum far outweighs the risk of a less than perfect decision.  They may even be correct.  But that is just another factor in the mix of issues and interests to be sorted out.

Answers to the questions above:
1- The correct answer is 5 cents, not 10 cents.
2- The correct answer is five minutes, not 100 minutes.
3- The correct answer is 47 days, not 24 days.

Trackbacks (2) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Healthcare Neutral ADR Blog - March 10, 2008 9:50 AM
[Image: Engraving of Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury, from Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, by D. H. Friston, May 1, 1875.] Recently I wrote about the risk of an "intuitive decision" associated with placing the resolution of a...
Healthcare Neutral ADR Blog - August 8, 2008 1:18 PM
Advocates of mediation often point to several advantages of that process over conventional courtroom litigation: the uncertainty (risk) of a litigated outcome; imperfect decision-making by the judge or jury; lack of the parties' control over the proce...
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