Aussie researcher watches judges—very, very closely

The National Center for State Courts recently welcomed Sharyn Roach Anleu, a professor at Flinders University in Australia who collaborates with NCSC researchers David Rottman and Jennifer Elek. Dr. Anleu spoke with @ The Center about her work and her impressions of the United States.

Her work 

In 2007, Dr. Anleu heard David Rottman speak in Australia about his work, and they began collaborating in 2013. The collaboration, which now includes Jennifer Elek, involves studying the effects of stress and emotions on judicial performance. If that sounds like a very difficult and time-consuming thing to measure, that’s because it is. 

Dr. Anleu and a colleague in Australia observed 1,287 court hearings and then studied the transcripts of each of those hearings.  
“We were observing what judges said and did, not how they were feeling, although what they’re saying and their demeanor can be markers of how they’re feeling,” she said. “What they’re truly feeling, we don’t know. And they may not even know what they’re feeling.” 

To gain more understanding, she and her colleague also interviewed some of the judges they observed, but she cautioned that “what they say they do and what they actually do can be quite different.” 

The main finding from their research? 

“Judges are first and foremost judges,” Dr. Anleu said. “They think like judges and behave like judges. There are some variations in their attitudes and views, but not a lot. There are some variations in the way they approach their work, but not a lot.  
“In Australia, there is diversity by gender,” she added. “You can say women judges value interpersonal skills more highly than men, but not by much.” 

She said Australian judges, influenced by British tradition, tend to be reserved and careful with their words. Dr. Anleu said she “was horrified” to hear an Australian judge tell a defendant, “What makes you think the law doesn’t apply to you?” When the defendant replied to the judge, he told her not to interrupt him. “That was very unusual,” she said. 

The Judicial Commission of New South Wales invited her and her Australian colleague to write an article about their work for The Judicial Review. And Australia’s National Judicial College asked Dr. Anleu to submit materials, including a paper she wrote with Dr. Rottman, which might be used in an educational module to help train judges there.  

USA 

Dr. Anleu knew she wanted to go overseas to get her Ph.D., and she knew she wanted to be near an ocean, but she assumed that California was too much like Australia. She liked that Connecticut is near New York and Massachusetts and that the University of Connecticut offered her some money and agreed to pick her up at the airport, so she chose it. She was there from 1982 to 1987, and she said she and Dr. Rottman vaguely recall meeting each other there shortly before she left. 

She has visited the United States several times since her time at UConn, and she said her favorite American city is New York.  
“I like the fact that something is happening there all the time,” she said. “It’s an interesting, vibrant, energetic place. To me, it’s not in the United States. It’s in its own bubble.” 

The thing she likes most about the United States is it’s “a can-do place. There are many possibilities and not a lot of people telling you that you can’t do something.” 

What she likes least about the United States is its “throw-away” culture.  

“I had breakfast the other day, and I used a plastic plate and a plastic fork,” she said. “Nothing gets washed. It all gets thrown away. It seems like not much gets recycled. That’s too bad.”