International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International judicial Academy of the International Law Institute, Washington, D.C.
with circulation assistance from the American Society of International Law

Winter 2018 Issue



Judges Can Learn by Studying Great Trials

The Great Trials
By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor

I have been a subscriber and user of “The Great Courses” offered by The Teaching Company over a period of fifteen years. The Teaching Company, located in Chantilly, Virginia, was founded in 1990 Thomas M. Rollins, a graduate of the Harvard Law School. The Teaching Company offers the Great Courses” using a series of lectures on a selected topic. The topics cover almost the entire range of liberal arts learning, from history and philosophy to physics and astronomy, as well as many courses that deal with practical matters, such as photography, entrepreneurship, woodworking, and painting. A course consists of series of lectures that are usually one-half hour in length. Courses may consist of 12 lectures, or 24 lectures or even 64 lectures. The courses are taught by the best professors or experts in a particular field. The professors are usually those who have been given “Best Teacher” awards from their respective colleges or universities. My usual fare of courses have dealt with history, biography and science.

Recently I came across a new title, “The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us,” taught by Professor Douglas O. Linder of the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law. He has received his law school’s highest teaching award twice. I decided that Professor Linder’s course of 24 lectures would be a good investment for learning more about trials, judges and courts and  ordered it.

The lectures in this particular Great Courses cover trials beginning with that of Socrates in 399 B.C.E. and ending with the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. Professor Linder, in the Introduction to the course guidebook which accompanied the two DVDs, said a constant question in studying the different trials is “Was justice done?” He concludes the introduction with this observation:

The course as a whole will be far-reaching and kaleidoscopic, revealing how societies across the globe throughout history have used trials to resolve key issues and decide the fates of evildoers, abuser of powers, champions of free speech and innocent people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. We will end our tour of great trials with thoughts about how famous trials can educate, entertain and still resolve questions of guilt and innocence – and thus come to an understanding of what makes a trial a great trial.

One may ask at this point, what can judges learn from reading about these great trials. The answer is there are many specific lessons and insights that can be learned by judges about many of the great trials included in the series. They are:

Conducting trials in one day – the Trial of Socrates

The dangers of corruption in the conduct of trials when the citizens of a country have lost confidence in the judicial process-how to conduct a corruption trial - the Trial of Gaius Verres

The conduct of a trial involving false charges made by government or political figures – the Trial of Sir Thomas More

The dangers and pitfalls of religious trials and trials of controversial citizens - the Trial of Giordano Bruno

Trials involving hysterical testimony, dangers of judges biased by religious beliefs or fervor – the Salem Witch Trials

Handling a case where public sentiment is strong against the defendants – the Boston Massacre Trial

Conspiracy as a basis for criminal convictions – the Aaron Burr Conspiracy Trial; the Lincoln Assassination Trial

Handling trials with strong racial or ethnic issues – the Amistad Trials, the Dakota Conflict Trials, the Trial of Louis Riel, the Trial of the Scottsboro Boys, the Mississippi Burning Trial

Trials involving sexual deviancy – the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

A trial in an appellate court - the trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp

Handling a death penalty case – the Leopold and Loeb Trial

Handling a case involving religious convictions and conflict between religion and science – the Scopes Monkey Trial

Cases involving crimes committed while holding government office; individual responsibility for acts taken as government officials; responsibility for acts in violation of international law – the Nuremberg Trials

Trials involving perjury issues – the Alger Hiss Trial

Trials involving allegations of insurrection and violence against government – the Nelson Mandela Trial; the Trial of the Chicago Eight

Handling trials involving child molestation – the McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial

Judges keeping control of notorious cases – the O.J. Simpson Trial

The entire course is ready made for a judge seminar or round-table discussion of the cases and their relevance to judicial life. The course comes with guidebook that provides a synopsis of each lecture, together with a list of questions to consider for those who want to discuss the trials with colleagues or participate in a seminar.

The web site for The Teaching Company and The Great Courses is where information about the 690 courses and their costs can be found. The Teaching Company also offers these courses in a streaming format for computers and tv/video.                     

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2018 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
IJM welcomes comments, suggestions, and submissions.
Please contact the IJM editor at