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Judge, and ye shall be judged

I wish to make it perfectly clear that I believe the majority of people who aspire to be judges do so for the most altruistic and most honourable reasons. What is undeniable though is that some of these same people later lose their way in the highly competitive, emotionally charged arena of today’s dog shows.

Some, while able to recite the standards, are unable to effectively interpret them in the ring, particularly when faced with intimidating personalities. Others begin to believe themselves above reproach or accountability, hiding behind the ‘god syndrome’. Others, courted by sycophants eager to curry favour, fall victim to their celebrity status and begin to crave more adulation and recognition. Still others, enjoying the centre ring limelight, either actively or indirectly begin to curry favours of their own with show chairmen and other judges in an effort to garner more assignments. And, a very few abuse their perceived power through a variety of personal gain misconducts, whether monetary, gifts, or sexual in nature. More common in the UK than in the US are those breeder-specialist judges who exchange wins among themselves or who give wins to dogs connected to their own kennels by either offspring or being progeny.

One of the most common complaints heard is that too many judges are ‘face judges.’ While some of this may be attributed to ‘sore loser syndrome,’ face judging does occur and is believed to transpire on a major scale. Most commonly ‘face judging’ refers to well-known professional handlers and breeders who are known to the judges through years and numbers of dogs shown or having been heavily advertised.

If face judging were not considered to happen and exhibitors did not believe that judges seeing advertisements of dogs winning championship points, breeds, groups or best in shows would not give the exhibitor and their dog an edge in the ring, why would such vast sums of money be spent on advertising? Why would professional handlers have entire sections advertising the dogs they show? And why would an advertising budget be an integral portion - and often part of the contractual obligations - of any heavily campaigned show dog? And, why would the vast majority of advertisements feature the handler prominently by both photo and name? And can we trust that these photographs have not been visually enhanced, giving the viewer false expectations?

Merit

Advertising in itself is not evil or lacking in merit. Done tastefully, and provided the dog is of high enough quality to warrant the advertising for any reason other than attempts to influence votes of judges, it plays an important part in the dog world. Dog publication editors do a good job of ensuring that tasteless ads do not appear in their magazines and papers. The advertisements make it possible, just as ads in any magazine or paper do, for the production of that publication.

However, it is the owners and handlers that have to determine whether the ad is promoting the dog or attempting to influence or manipulate judges. Competent judges of integrity and honour will not be unduly influenced by this advertising spin and will not put up or beat those heavily advertised dogs by prejudging based on the promotions. I believe that advertising has a useful purpose, particularly in those countries where breeders may not actually see or know every dog being shown. Unlike the UK where the majority of same exhibitors are seen at every championship show, advertising makes it possible for a breeder on the East Coast of the US to be aware of and see a dog from the West Coast that may be of value to their breeding program. I am not naïve enough, though, to purport that advertising has not evolved to be part and parcel of win and campaign strategies for all the wrong reasons.

What causes judges to succumb to face judging? Those judges who are not thoroughly familiar with the breed, its purpose and standard will settle on the familiar face, sometimes mistakenly trusting that the professional or well-known face will be a safe placement. There are also those who enjoy seeing their faces in the various dog publications, believing that they are as vital a component as the dog, losing sight of the main premise of dog shows – it should be about the dog and not the handler, judge or show.

Another group believes that the more they are seen in the advertisements, the more popular they will seem and the more judging assignments they will reap. Other judges may be lacking in self-confidence and believe that, particularly if time is pressing, that placing a well-known exhibitor at the front of the line is less likely to cause controversy. There are also those individuals who succumb to manipulation and the intimidating presence of some exhibitors, lacking the intestinal fortitude to put up lesser-known or unknown dogs.

One of AKC’s most famous shows, Westminster Kennel Club, sequesters the Best in Show judge prior to entering the ring, thereby reducing any hint of impropriety since the judge has not mingled with the exhibitors or watched any of the previous judging at that show. Although Crufts does not sequester its Best in Show judge, many exhibitors believe that the judge cannot possibly consider the dogs in the Best in Show line-up with no prejudgement after having watched various breed and group judging over the four days.

Certainly judges should strive to dispel any hint of perceived impropriety seen by the exhibitors, particularly in such a prestigious show as Crufts which is billed as the ‘largest dog show in the world.’ While this is not practical for most shows, there are those judges who maintain a highly professional manner by restricting conversations before and during judging. One of the downsides to this approach however, is that judges may develop paranoia about even basic discourse and refuse to impart valuable knowledge to those exhibitors willing and desiring to be educated.

Sceptical

While judges are not required to justify their decisions, I am always sceptical of those judges who refuse to discuss decisions when approached in a non-confrontational manner. Judges should be willing to discuss with the exhibitor after the judging assignment is over; after all, the judge is supposed to be the ultimate evaluator of the breed. Passing on knowledge and information ultimately helps the exhibitor by not only giving insight into what characteristics of the breed the judge considers important, but also in what areas the individual’s dog is strong and weak.

It is easy for judges or kennel clubs to deny that certain individuals or dogs have an advantage over other competitors and acclaim that the ‘best dog won.’ It should be stated that in many cases, this is absolutely true. Unfortunately though, lack of commonsense displayed by some judges give weight to the claims of partiality and unprofessionalism. It is possible through statistical analysis to uncover trends in face judging. Regrettably such analysis is time-consuming and would require that the AKC, KC and other kennel clubs both acknowledge and take a proactive stance to eradicate or lessen the tendency of face judging.

Judging the wrong end of the lead is not simply awarding wins to professional handlers or well-known exhibitors though. Over the years, judges have been charged with different types of face-judging follies:

l Exchanging wins with exhibitors who will be judging future shows at which the current judge will then be exhibiting. While it may be explainable, judges should endeavour to not show to those judges that exhibit to them. This also validates the AKC’s, and those of other kennel clubs, rule barring judges from soliciting or promoting assignments.

l Granting wins to exhibitors who have sold or given them dogs, some foolish enough to do so without even a respectable interval of time elapsing. What price is that win really worth?

l Using the exhibitor’s dog for stud, either before or shortly after, giving them the win. In some cases, rumours spread rapidly that the win was in exchange for a no-cost stud fee.

l Giving a win to a show committee member in exchange for an assignment at the show committee member’s show.

One of the most visible displays of lack of commonsense here in the UK are those judges who travel to shows with an exhibitor who then goes on to show under them at that same show. How are other exhibitors supposed to react when the travel-mate gets the nod? While the dog may have been the best in the ring, any judge who imprudently fails to maintain a sense of judicial propriety needs to consider the cost to the sport of that shared transportation.

Distasteful as it may be, another daft impropriety involves the exchange of sex for wins. Those foolish enough to barter themselves for a slip of paper or ribbon may wish to consider the fate of an exhibitor who did just that and was given a reserve (fourth) placing here in the UK instead of the promised win. The exhibitor who complained bitterly afterwards is rumoured to have been told that ‘…it hadn’t been worth more.’ Whether the dog or the act itself was of not sufficient quality, or whether the judge regained his integrity with morning tea remains to be revealed!

Each kennel club has its own set of rules pertaining to judges, some more lenient than others. Those who are or aspire to be judges should hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct, setting themselves above the masses as examples of behaviour. Dog show judges are similar in nature to justice court judges in that their behaviour and decisions effect the masses and reflect upon the sport. A recent appellate decision stated: "There are good reasons why our justice court judges must regard scrupulously the nature of their office.

In the first place, most of our citizens have their primary, if not their only, direct contact with the law through the office of the justice court judge…The perception of justice of most of our citizens is forged out of their experiences with our justice court judges. If these judges do not behave with judicial temperament and perform their duties according to the law and by reference to the process of adjudication there seems little hope that our citizenry at large may understand and respect the legal process." Mississippi Comm’n on Judicial Performance v Spencer, 725 So.2d 171, 179 (1998).

It is easy to apply the manner in which legal justices are expected to conduct themselves to the honourable comportment of dog show judges.

Consider some of these applicable canons cited in the above-referenced decision:

l Canon 1 provides ‘An independent and honourable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society." It further provides that a judge "should himself observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.’

l Canon 2 provides that the judge ‘…should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.’

l Canon 4 states that a judge ‘shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not: (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) demean the judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.’

l Canon 5 requires that a judge may engage in ‘avocational activities’ such as writing or lecturing only ‘if such avocational activities do not detract from the dignity of his office…’

l Canon 5 also goes on to state that:

l A judge ‘may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon his impartiality…’

l He should ‘refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on his impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of his judicial duties, exploit his judicial position, or involve him in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which he serves.’

l ‘Neither a judge nor a member of his family residing in his household should accept a gift, bequest, favour, or loan from anyone’ except in very specific circumstances and such gifts, bequests, favours and loans should be disclosed in writing to the governing body.

It is with relative ease that such principles can and should be adhered to by those people entrusted with the task of not only judging the dogs who form the basis for the future, but in doing so with integrity, impartiality and in such a manner that they, the registry body or the sport itself does not come to be viewed adversely by the public.

(To be continued)