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Emotion cycles, sensegiving, and sensebreaking in the municipal courtroom

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Municipal courtrooms are brimming with a variety of positive and negative emotions from defendants who are primarily encountering the criminal justice system for the first time. Municipal court judges and

Municipal courtrooms are brimming with a variety of positive and negative emotions from defendants who are primarily encountering the criminal justice system for the first time. Municipal court judges and bailiffs must work together and find ways to communicate important information about courtroom processes to up to 70-120 defendants a day. This dissertation investigates how municipal court judges and bailiffs from two municipal courthouses respond to three organizational challenges associated with emotion--defendant confusion about courtroom processes, handling high caseloads while treating defendants as customers of the court, and managing the serious and tedious emotional moods of the courtroom environment. Using qualitative methods of observation and informal and formal interviews, this dissertation analyzes how emotion cycles between judges and bailiffs help give sense to and break sense of defendants while simultaneously helping them navigate the challenges of their work. Findings detail the nature of work in municipal court--explaining the challenges associated with emotion that judges and bailiffs face on a daily basis. The data also describes the emotional roles that judges and bailiffs employ in the courtroom. The judges' emotional roles include tension relievers, order enforcers, and care takers. Bailiffs' emotional roles comprise rule enforcers, toxin handlers, and do gooders. The heart of the analysis explores how judges and bailiffs give sense to defendants when unexpected situations manifest in the courtroom and break sense of defendants who hold incorrect or less favored beliefs about courtroom procedures. The emotional displays and responses of judges, bailiffs, primary defendants (defendants before the judge), and third party defendants (those watching in the audience) enable sensegiving and sensebreaking to occur. The emotion cycles allow courtroom staff to impact the sensemaking process of defendants in a fast and efficient manner. Theoretical implications include extensions of emotion cycle research through a consideration of the displays and responses of primary agents, intermediate agents, and primary recipients of emotional displays. Practical implications describe how specific training practices and space for employee discussion could enhance the workplace wellness of judges and bailiffs.

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  • 2012