Court-Ordered Apologies

What is the value of a judge-ordered apology? Last year, we considered a judge’s order that a state official apologize to Flint residents for her role in perpetuating the Flint water crisis.

This week, another Michigan judge has ordered a defendant to apologize, but this time the recipients of the apology are court staff – and the judge himself. The Midland Daily News reports that Midland County Circuit Court Judge Michael Beale ordered Chad Sandlow to write letters of apology to two deputies as well as the sentencing judge himself, as part of his sentence for causing a courtroom scuffle a few months ago. While appearing before Judge Beale in February to be arraigned for his son’s truancy, Mr. Sandlow reportedly refused to remove his hat or approach the bench, then failed to cooperate with court officers as they arrested him. This week he was sentenced on two counts of resisting and obstructing.

An integral component of an effective apology is remorse, which is rarely genuine when a party is compelled to apologize – think of a child who is ordered by an adult to apologize to a sibling. When a court orders an apology, there’s little likelihood of sincere remorse, and more likelihood that the apology is a form of punishment. But does it still have some value?

My parents used to order me to my room, after a sassy remark, “until I was ready to apologize.” Maybe the judge could try a version of this by ordering Mr. Sandlow to stay in jail until he’s ready to apologize. Would that at least make it voluntary? A genuine apology has to come from the heart, and the court cannot order a defendant to have a change of heart. Mr. Sandlow will have to decide that on his own – whether or not he writes those apologies.

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