New study on judicial sleepiness

While sleepiness among judges and other members of the judiciary is not uncommon, it is viewed unfavorably by the media, society and the judicial system as a whole, according to a study published in the May 1st issue of the journal SLEEP.

Ronald R. Grunstein, MD, PhD, of Sydney, Australia, conducted an in-depth qualitative review of media and Internet reports on judicial sleepiness.

One of the more well-known cases that Grunstein pointed out is a story that was first reported by the Daily Telegraph, a Sydney morning newspaper, in March 2005, which involved Ian Dodd, a 56-year-old judge in Sydney who had been reported to the State Judicial Commission for allegedly repeatedly falling asleep while listening to witness testimony and legal arguments. The Daily Telegraph, in a sequence of investigative articles, reported a lengthy list of Judge Dodd's sleep episodes between 2002-2004 that appeared to affect court proceedings. In late 2004, Judge Dodd obtained a medical consultation regarding his sleepiness, was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and was apparently treated effectively. There were no reported sleep episodes following commencement of treatment. However, the investigation that resulted from the ongoing press reports about his sleepiness during trials ultimately forced the judge to retire, a move that seemed to end the media frenzy.

In April 2005 and July 2006, Grunstein researched and found an additional 14 recent cases of judicial sleepiness similar to the Dodd case had been reported by the media in recent years.

According to Grunstein, these examples highlight the role of the media seeking a disciplinary approach to occupational sleepiness.

"Judicial sleepiness is clearly seen by the community as undermining their confidence in the judicial process. Regulatory processes and health screening to ensure the fitness for duty of the judiciary, legal counsel, and even juries, including the active monitoring of the judiciary for sleepiness and sleep disorders, may be required to ensure that confidence is maintained in the judicial system in the future," said Grunstein.

Experts recommend that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to maintain good health and optimum performance.

Those who think they might have a sleep disorder are urged to discuss their problem with their primary care physician, who will issue a referral to a sleep specialist.

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