The reality behind The Good Wife’s cast of judges

Well some odd weeks later and I’ve caught up (save for the current season) on The Good Wife. I’ll save diving into the finer points of the show for a later post; today we’ll focus on one specific gimmick: the rotating cast of judges.

Like the group of adversarial lawyers Alicia and co. face off against over the years or the ripped-from-the-headlines cases TGW sometimes delved into (Basically anytime the show dabbled with the Iraq war, NSA, or technology cases I had to smother an eye roll) the quirky troupe of judges that trouped through TGW’s courts could sometimes feel a bit too convenient. But one of the best things they did was demonstrate just how differently your case could go depending on your judge.

Within the frame of the show, the move served as a way to complicate our protagonists’ work: Simple cases suddenly required a new angle to appeal to a judge’s politics, complicated cases were diluted through the character’s need to get the judge’s understanding. It’s also a cute way to bring in and mix up the guest stars.

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But outside the show, judges obviously play an important role in the the legal system—even more so since our Congress has log-jammed and the judicial branch has had to pick up the slack. Judges at a local level can make a major difference these days, and where these judges are elected their rulings can sometimes be bought.

It’s a concept that’s not ignored by lobbyists, who in the case of Massey Energy saw 1,600 percent return on investment when his preferred Supreme Court electorate (sponsored by the CEO for $3 million years before) overturned a $50 million verdict against the company. And NPR has found that one-fifth of the prisoners on death row in Alabama are there as a result of judicial override, a process where a judge can override a jury’s decision and sentence criminals to death—a practice only allowed in two other states, with Florida and Delaware being the others. As Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza wrote for NPR judicial overrides accounted for 7 percent of death sentences in a non-election year, but 30 percent in an election year. Some judges even advertise their death sentence numbers in their campaign ads.

Like The West Wing before it, TGW manages to provide some sincere entertainment and drama, while also pulling back the curtain on the inner-workings and workers of the judicial branch. And though their stories may be fictionalized (and sometimes too dramatized, if you ask me) they effectively break down a single player’s role in the setting of legal precedent.

So now for the $50 million question: What do you know about your local judges?

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