|“||I am very fond of you children, and I feel responsible for your welfare.||”|
— Justice Strauss to the Baudelaires
|“||I'm afraid this dreadful nonsense is the law.||”|
— Justice Strauss, regarding Violet's marriage to Count Olaf
Justice Strauss is a kind and well-intentioned woman. She is seen inviting the Baudelaires to spend time with her, allows them to borrow books from her library, and would like to adopt them.
However, like many of the adults in the series, she is flawed. A major flaw is that, like many adults in the series, she is ridiculously pedantic and follows the law to pedantic extremism, even when it is totally absurd to. For example, she actually (albeit reluctantly) condones Violet's marriage to Olaf in a play because it technically follows the law, even after learning that it was so Olaf could get the Baudelaire fortune. Later, she refuses to flee from a burning hotel because in her eyes, it is "criminal behavior" to flee from the scene of a crime (disregarding if the crime scene is endangering and could kill someone), which may have resulted in her death.
Another flaw of hers is that she is oblivious when it comes to Olaf abusing the children; she is not suspicious enough of him and dismisses the red flags.
According to The Penultimate Peril, as a young woman Justice Strauss stole horses until she realized the error of her ways. No longer a horse thief, she went on to become a judge in the city's High Court.
In the TV series, it is revealed that before she became a judge, she always wanted to be an actress and a mother. However, she had a series of strained platonic relationships instead. She desires to become the Baudelaires' guardian which they accept, but she is unable to adopt them because the Baudelaires' parents will says they must live with their "closest relative".
Justice Strauss lives in a lovely house that boasts well-cleaned bricks and many well-groomed plants, as well as a large collection of books in her library; a stark contrast to her next-door neighbor Count Olaf's dirty, dilapidated house.
The Bad Beginning
She is the first person to greet Mr. Poe and the Baudelaires (Violet, Klaus and Sunny) when they arrive at their new guardian's neighborhood. She comes across as firm, warm, and very kind, and invites the children to come over and help with her gardening. The children mistake her for Count Olaf's wife, but she explains that he's just a neighbor that she doesn't know very well, and directs them to his house. The Baudelaires take a liking to her as soon as they meet.
The Baudelaires begin to wish they lived with her instead of Olaf, after Olaf begins abusing them.
After a couple weeks, at the time when the orphans are ordered to cook for Count Olaf's entire theatre troupe, Justice Strauss goes over to Count Olaf's house to see how the children are getting along. She says to them that she would have liked to come over sooner, but a difficult case involving a poisonous plant and the illegal use of someone's credit card was taking up much of her time. They ask to borrow a cookbook from her and are delighted to discover her cozy private library. Not only does she help them find a cookbook containing the recipe for puttanesca sauce, but she also escorts them to the market to find all the ingredients the children need. She thinks it odd that her neighbor would ask his adopted children to prepare such an enormous meal, but brushes the thought aside and invites the Baudelaires to come over to her home again and make use of her library.
The next day, after a particularly horrible night at Count Olaf's, the children seek the refuge of Justice Strauss's library and choose books on mechanical inventions, North American wolves, and teeth to borrow.
Some time later, Justice Strauss is asked to perform as the judge in Count Olaf's play, The Marvelous Marriage. Certain Count Olaf is up to something dreadful in order to get their fortune, the Baudelaires visit Justice Strauss's library and try to read through the long, dull, and difficult books on inheritance law that she owns. Justice Strauss can't fathom why they would want to read such books, as even she doesn't like reading them and she works in law. Knowing Sunny can't possibly be interested in such reading material, Justice Strauss asks to have her help with the gardening. Sunny's siblings agree and ask that the judge prevent Sunny from eating any dirt. Justice Strauss replies, "Of course. We wouldn't want her to be sick for the big performance." Dismayed, the children find out that she's wanted to perform onstage ever since she was a little girl and is completely starstruck.
Back in his room, Klaus uses a book he swiped from his favorite neighbor's library -Inheritance Law and its Implications- to figure out that Count Olaf plans to marry Violet for real in his dreadful play. If he becomes Violet's legal husband, he can legally control her entire fortune.
The night of the play, Justice Strauss is dressed in her black judge's robe and powdered wig. Count Olaf has convinced her to bring a real law book and read straight from the real wedding ceremony, to make the play as realistic as possible. The children try to persuade her into changing her lines around a bit, but the High Court judge believes it would be best to listen to Count Olaf, who after all is in charge. She then reports to the makeup artist, dreamy at the prospect of getting powders and creams smeared on her face. During the first play she's ever acted in, she performs her part perfectly with starry eyes and a flushed face.
As soon as Violet signs the marriage contract the Justice hands her, Count Olaf reveals his plan to the entire audience. Justice Strauss is horrified and argues that the contract is just a stage prop, but Olaf tells her that if she looks at it closely, she can see it is an official document from City Hall. Justice Strauss closes her eyes and furrows her brow, thinking hard; an expression she often has when serving on the High Court. Regretfully, she confirms that Olaf's marriage to Violet is perfectly valid. She begins to cry, ashamed that she was tricked so easily and sickened that she has unknowingly aided in harming the Baudelaires, whom she cares about very much. She thinks she has no choice but to agree with Count Olaf, and thinks the situation is hopeless.
Luckily, she is proven wrong when Violet explains that she signed with her non-dominant hand. Wiping away her tears, Justice Strauss thinks hard and carefully agrees that Violet did not sign the document in her own hand, and therefore the signature does not fulfill the requirements of the nuptial laws. She declares that Violet is not a countess and Olaf is not in control of the Baudelaire fortune.
Mr. Poe, completely outraged, tells Count Olaf that he will not allow him to continue caring for the Baudelaire children any longer. Count Olaf argues that there is nothing illegal about trying to marry someone, but Justice Strauss counters that there is something illegal about dangling an infant out of a tower window. Count Olaf had stuffed Sunny in a birdcage outside atop his tower to ensure Violet would go through with The Marvelous Marriage. Before Violet explained what hand she had used to sign, Count Olaf had allowed one of his henchman to bring Sunny down to where the play was being held, revealing to everyone that he had kept her in a birdcage all this time.
As that is horribly illegal, Justice Strauss announces that Count Olaf will go to jail and she will become the guardian of the Baudelaires. The children are delighted at the idea of living with Justice Strauss and can't wait to work in her wonderful garden and read in her library every day, but unfortunately, it was not to be. Count Olaf's henchpeople turn off the stage lights and they escape under a cover of darkness, and Mr. Poe regretfully informs them that he cannot allow them to be raised by someone who is not a relative, as that would violate the specifications of the Baudelaire parents' will. Justice Strauss sadly hugs each of the Baudelaires and agrees that Mr. Poe must respect the parents' wishes. Her eyes begin to fill with tears and says that she'll miss the Baudelaires very much, and gives them all one last embrace before they climb into Mr. Poe's car. As they drive away, they look back to see the judge crying and waving goodbye.
Between The Bad Beginning and The Penultimate Peril
As soon as the Baudelaires were driven away, she knew she had done the wrong thing. She began searching for the Baudelaires after the news of the death of Montgomery Montgomery. Later, she says she did so "if only to say how sorry I was", but she may have also hoped to finally gain custody of them.
Eventually, she found other people who were also trying to "battle the wicked villains of this world" as she puts it. She has been researching the Baudelaire case and attempts to bring Count Olaf to justice.
The Penultimate Peril
In the middle of the book Justice Strauss arrives at the Hotel Denouement by taxi at the same time as Jerome Squalor. They encounter the Baudelaires and are very apologetic, although the five of them become entangled in urgent matters.
Her two fellow High Court judges turn out to be Olaf's associates, the Man With a Beard But No Hair and the woman with hair but no beard. Olaf kidnaps Justice Strauss and threatens to harm her unless the Baudelaires open the Vernacularly Fastened Door leading to the laundry room of the Hotel Denouement. She also mentions that when she was about Esmé Squalor's age, she had been a horse thief for years before realizing it was the wrong thing to do.
Klaus opens the door, but the sugar bowl Olaf is looking for is not inside, and Olaf ascends to the roof to escape after setting fire to the hotel. Justice Strauss and the Baudelaires follow Olaf to the roof where a boat is, which they could push off the roof and drop into the nearby sea. Although the Baudelaires try to convince Justice Strauss board the boat, she is reluctant because she doesn't want to run away from the scene of a crime as it is "criminal behavior", despite that the hotel is on fire and they could all die. She attempts to prevent the escape of Count Olaf, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny by holding their boat, but Sunny bites her hand so that she lets go. It is unknown if she survives the hotel fire.
Justice Strauss' role is much more minor in the film. She only appears for about 30 seconds near the beginning, and a few minutes near the end during the play. The Baudelaires never visit her house even once, and the whole part where she offers to adopt the Baudelaires after the play is omitted.
This is somewhat rectified in the video game adaptation of the film, where the Baudelaires visit her, although she does not have an important role in the video game either.
The TV series is much more faithful to the book. Justice Strauss is given more screen time, and the Baudelaires visit her, and she offers to adopt them after the play.
One deviance from the book is that during the play, Justice Strauss is struck with stage fright, and delivers her lines extremely awkwardly and nervously.
Behind the scenes
- In the film, she is portrayed by Catherine O'Hara who later played Georgina Orwell in the TV series.
- In the video game, she is voiced by April Stewart.
- In the TV series, she is portrayed by Joan Cusack.
- "A library is like an island in a vast sea of ignorance."
- "Let me think... I don't know. You should never be afraid to admit that you don't know something. This is a very complicated case. It would take a formidable legal scholar to solve it." (asked whether Violet's marriage to Count Olaf is legal)
- She is one of the multiple characters with the initials J.S.
- The Bad Beginning
- The Miserable Mill (mentioned only)
- The Penultimate Peril
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (film)
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (video game)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV series)