Judge Taylor is a very interesting character. He cares deeply about the justice system. He may look like he’s asleep, but this is his way of distancing himself from the emotional nature of the case. A judge’s job is to stand back and make sure that the trial is fair. Scout describes him as “a sleepy old shark” (ch 16). This is a contradiction. It shows that while he may seem unprepared, he is actually acutely aware of what is going on.
Scout describes Judge Taylor as running his courtroom with “an alarming informality” (ch 16). He puts his feet up, cleans his nails, and seems to be napping. Yet it’s clear that he isn’t, as she shares in the story of the lawyer who purposefully drops the books to wake him up.
So Scout concludes:
He was a man learned in the law, and although he seemed to take his job casually, in reality he kept a firm grip on any proceedings that came before him. (ch 16)
In a larger sense, Judge Taylor’s contradictions are part of the larger theme that things are not what they seem. He seems uninterested and irreverent, when in reality the trial is very important to him. After all, he did appoint Atticus Finch to defend Tom Robinson. That certainly shows he knew what he was doing, and wanted Tom to get the best defense possible.
Judge Taylor appears deceptively lackadaisical and inattentive in the courtroom. Lee describes him in the following way:
"He was a man who ran his court with an alarming informality—he sometimes propped his feet up, he often cleaned his fingernails with his pocket knife. In long equity hearings, especially after dinner, he gave the impression of dozing."
However, the judge is extremely astute. As Lee writes, "although he seemed to take his job casually, in reality he kept a firm grip on any proceedings that came before him." For example, Judge Taylor resolves a nine-hour testimony about land battles between two branches of the Cunninghams (one called the Cunninghams and the other called the Conighams) by throwing the case out of court. He pronounces the case "champertous connivance," which shows that he understands that the two branches of the family are trying to collude in an illicit lawsuit and share the profits. While he seems sleepy and distracted, the judge understands exactly what goes on in his courtroom.
The judge appears distracted on purpose and creates a false impression of being lazy or sleepy in order to make the lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants in his courtroom put their guards down. By allowing the people in his courtroom to be more defenseless, the judge paves the way for them to reveal their true motivations and actions so the judge can come to know the truth about them.