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Stern Old Judge

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Being a judge requires both the ability to keep order in a courtroom and significant legal experience. Because of this, fictional judges—at least in the Western world—tend to be stern and fairly old. The British tradition of judges and barristers wearing powdered wigs automatically makes them look extra stern and old.

In American works, this archetype is generally either a no-nonsense black woman or a gruff white man. When there's a tribunal or another situation with more than one judge, both may appear in the role. Sometimes, these templates are mixed, resulting in a black man (often with Bald of Authority) or a white woman playing the part. American Judges are often stereotyped as being from either New England (due to many renowned law schools there) or the South (as an extension of the Simple Country Lawyer archetype). British judges, meanwhile, tend to be stereotyped as rather posh, as a legacy of how the British class system worked until the 1980s. note  The stereotyped British judge is probably also rather out-of-date, having to ask the clerk of the court to explain things such as "rock music" and "the internet". Very unlikely to be black or female.

The Stern Old Judge is generally a Reasonable Authority Figure, though this is by no means guaranteed. May overlap with Grumpy Old Man. When the judge isn't just strict but actively out to get the defendant, see Hanging Judge. Not to be confused with Harsh Talent Show Judge, who is mean to contestants, not people in a courtroom.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: Darius Zackly is an old, bearded white man who wears glasses. He is responsible for passing judgements on conflicts between the military branches and does so with an incredibly impartial demeanor. Later played with, though, as he actually gleefully tortures his captured nobles.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has the elderly Judge Claude Frollo, with a stern demeanor and a gaunt face— as well as an incredibly cruel and evil personality.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ghostbusters II: After accidentally causing a major New York blackout, the Ghostbusters are very dismayed to learn their case will be heard by the Honorable Judge Stephen Wexler. ("They call him 'The Hammer.'") He's a fire-and-brimstone older man who takes sadistic glee in sentencing them to jail (until he's interrupted by a couple old defendants with a grudge, that is).
  • Good Will Hunting has Will attempt to weasel his way out of court, only for the judge, named in the credits as George H. Malone, to sentence him to jail anyway based upon his outstanding record of previous crimes that he managed to get overturned.
  • My Cousin Vinny: The murder trial central to the plot is being presided over by Judge Chamberlain Haller, a stickler for proper procedure and etiquette who repeatedly jails the title character (a lawyer who needed six tries to pass the bar exam) for contempt of court due to his failure to follow said rules and norms. However, once Vinny starts following the rules, Haller turns out to be perfectly fair and reasonable, and even warms up to him by the end.
  • Nothing but Trouble: Exaggerated with Justice of the Peace Alvin Valkenheiser, a 106-year-old Hanging Judge who fought in World War I and maintains a medieval brand of justice in the small town of Valkenvania, NJ. All crimes from speeding, drug possession, and running a stop sign are punishable by death (in this case performed by the JP's personal torture machine, Mr. Bonestripper).
  • The People vs. Larry Flynt has the founder of Hustler magazine being sued for libel by Reverend Falwell in a Cincinnati court. The presiding judge is a corpulent and taciturn fellow, played by the actual Larry Flynt.
  • Judge Gardner in Rimfire. Very much a hardliner on the importance of law and order, and on citizens doing their civic duty, he is nonetheless not a Hanging Judge. It is obvious that he is dissatisfied when the Kangaroo Court hands down a guilty verdict in the Abilene Kid's trial, but a legal verdict has been returned and he has no choice but to see it carried out.
  • In The Trial of the Chicago 7 the proceedings are dominated by the rule of Judge Julius Hoffman, a corpulent old white man who is a stickler for propriety. He seems predisposed against the defendants from the beginning due to his respect for authority — the countercultural values professed by the hippie defendants seems to viscerally offend him, and the proceedings veer into Kangaroo Court territory at times due to his respect for authority. At one point the defense wonder if the judge is senile due to some of the odd decisions he makes. Also, there's the problem of him having a black defendant beaten up and gagged for showing contempt of court.

    Literature 
  • Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None: Judge Lawrence Wargrave is a retired Hanging Judge with a no-nonsense attitude; he is accused of steering a jury into sentencing an accused murderer to death in spite of evidence supporting the accused man's innocence. Some of the characters wonder if he's the murderer due to a lifetime of punishing crimes while convinced he's right, but is proven innocent when he's murdered as well. Except he is the murderer, and faked his death to continue his self-appointed task of killing people who were acquitted of their crimes.
  • In The Stand by Stephen King, Lloyd Henreid, a small-time crook who got in way over his head and is on trial for multiple murders, is told by his lawyer that the judge he's going to draw is a career judge who is over 70 years old. Lloyd is very upset because he knows such a judge is pretty much going to be this trope. The lawyer also informs Lloyd that judges like this, in their younger days, used to make the rounds of their territories on horseback, and standard operating procedure was to have a speedy trial and then break out the rope. Sure enough, Lloyd gets sentenced to the electric chair.
  • The Westing Game: Josie-Jo Ford is the black and female variety of this trope. In fact, it's stated that her strict, serious demeanor helped to make her the first black female judge in her state's history.
  • The Book of Utterly Ridiculous Stupid Lists by the authors of How to Be a Superhero included a list of things you don't associate with British judges, which leaned very heavily into the UK version of the trope (or, rather, the opposite of the trope). One of them was the song "Young, Gifted and Black".

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Amanda Show inverts this with Judge Trudy, a stern child judge who angrily (and disproportionately) punishes adults who discipline their children and refuses to hear out their side.
  • And Then There Were None (2015):
    • Judge Wargrave is just as stern as his book counterpart (amusingly enough, given his actor's more famous role, the judge is of the opinion that the man who passes the sentence should attend its execution), as he methodically plans the murder of other murderers who escaped justice.
    • The series adds a final confrontation at the end between Judge Wargrave and Vera Claythorne where their respective crimes are admitted. Wargrave pulls the chair out from under Vera after she confirms her guilt for the audience, then goes to the dining room to shoot himself, his job done.
  • Boy Meets World: In episode 14 of season 4, Cory is arraigned for speeding but doesn't panic when he is told that the judge that will be preceding over his case has the last name "Lamb". However, the judge in question turns out to be a very strict and intimidating man despite what his name implies.
  • Discussed and subverted on The Good Place, "The Burrito". Tahani says that all judges are extremely serious people who wear long robes and the Judicial Wig. But the Judge turns out to be a flighty, approachable, and dorky woman.
  • Hand of God: Main character Pernell Harris is a state criminal court judge. He fits the gruff older white man model.
  • Hardcastle and McCormick centers on a retired judge and a race car driver. Judge Milton Hardcastle aims to incarcerate criminals who weaseled out of a conviction on technicalities, and Mark McCormick was convicted of stealing a prototype race car (from its designer's murderer). McCormick ends up in the custody of Judge "Hard-case" Hardcastle, where he puts his talents and wits to use as an ersatz detective. Judge Hardcastle is a stickler for the law, even keeping a copy of the Miranda Rights in his boxer shorts.
  • Judge John Deed: Although John is more middle-aged than elderly, he tolerates no nonsense in his court.
  • Judge Judy is the poster child for this trope. Judge Judy is a woman on the higher end of middle age who takes zero crap from any of the parties on her show and is quick to snarkily chew out anyone who she thinks is being dumb.
  • In Law & Order, Judge Walter Bradley is the toughest judge the Manhattan DA's office has to deal with. He's also among the oldest shown on the series.
  • In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Judge Lena Petrovsky usually serves as the series' designated hardass, although she's not the series' oldest judge.
  • The title character on Matlock sometimes runs afoul of older judges who are harsh sticklers for procedure that hamstring him at every turn. This is especially true on the rare times a judge is also the murderer, an example being Carter Addison in the episode "The Judge."
  • The Mighty Boosh: In the episode "The Nightmare of Milky Joe", Howard and Vince go on trial for murder in a society composed of puppets made from coconuts (It Makes Sense in Context). The judge at their trial is a stern old coconut man with a deep, sonorous voice and posh accent, who wears a "judicial wig" made from a white piece of rope.
  • Subverted for comedy in one Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, where two judges who appear old and stern on the surface are revealed to be Camp Gay once they get out of the courtroom. They exchange stories of gavel-banging and stern telling-offs they delivered, reframing the classic stern judge schtick as catty gay sassiness instead.
  • The judges on the 1950s-1960s Perry Mason television show are almost always older (usually male) and (except when the plot requires a Perry Mason Method style denouement) keep a tight rein on the court proceedings.
  • In an episode of Worzel Gummidge, Worzel is put into a Kangaroo Court with the Crow Man, who's already a serious, somewhat cranky (but decent) old man being the judge.
  • In JAG this role belongs to Rear Admiral Lower Half Morris and increasingly, Captain Seabring played by Corbin Benson. Subverted by Admiral Chegwidden who is old and stern, and despite having the position of US Navy Judge Advocate General, is never seen adjudicating a case.

    Music 
  • Pink Floyd: In "The Trial", the penultimate track and climax of The Wall, Pink is placed on trial before Judge Worm, an anthropomorphic butt in a Judicial Wig (with the attitude and language to match) who sentences Pink to be "exposed before [his] peers" before ordering that the titular wall be torn down. Whether he's Pink's distorted perception of an actual judge or all in Pink's head is left deliberately ambiguous.
  • The music video for Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" features an older white man as a judge who has absolutely no tolerance for Sammy's antics.

    Video Games 
  • Saints Row 2: The judge presiding over Johnny Gat's appeal is an older black woman with absolutely no patience for Gat's blatant disregard of court decorum.

    Visual Novels 
  • Subverted with the Judge from the Ace Attorney series. While he certainly looks the part, he's pretty indecisive, easily swayed, and very eccentric. That said, he will not tolerate anyone making a mockery of the court, and he knows how to assert his dominance in the courtroom when the need arises. It should be noted that judges have a different set of stereotypes in Japan from the ones they have in the West.
  • In Daughter for Dessert, the demeanor of the judge at the protagonist's trial stands in stark contrast to Ceciliaís hysteria, Mortelliís intentional buffoonery, and the over-the-top questions and reactions of the prosecutors.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: Parodied with Judge Whitey, an elderly white man who speaks in a posh New England accent and is a parody of the stereotypical White Anglo-Saxon Protestant rich guy who is clueless about anyone under his income bracket. Among other things, he has declared poverty a mental illness.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Judge Roy Spleen is a grumpy old monster judge in the Underworld. In "Keeper of the Reaper," Judge Spleen becomes The Comically Serious as he gets increasingly fed up with Fred Fredburger's immature behavior and constant interruptions.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Judge Roy Snyder is a gruff-voiced, middle-aged black man with a stern and dignified demeanor, who is nevertheless generally reasonable — in fact, he's one of the very few authority figures in the show to be competent at his job.
    • The show's other recurring judge character is Constance Harm, a parody of the above-mentioned Judge Judy. She is not as reasonable as Snyder; in her first appearance, she sentences Homer and Bart to be handcuffed to each other.

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