|“||I don't blame you for having doubts, Baudelaires. Count Olaf fooled me once, and I will never forgive myself, but there are two other judges on the High Court, and I've known them for years, and they've always been very concerned whenever I've reported on your case. I hope you can forgive me, Baudelaires, and trust me. But if not, you can trust the law.||”|
— Justice Strauss to the Baudelaires
Justice Strauss is a high court judge who lives right across the street from Count Olaf's house. "Justice" is a title; her first name is unknown. In The Bad Beginning, she desired to become the Baudelaires' guardian, which they gladly accepted, but she was unable to adopt them because of the clause in their parents' wills appointing their "closest relative", geographically, as their legal guardian. Her regret over her naïve actions motivated her to begin a challenging crusade to bring Olaf to justice for good and hopefully be able to legally adopt the Baudelaire orphans.
|“||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 often seen inviting the Baudelaires to spend time with her, allows them to borrow and read books from her library, and desired to adopt them.
However, like many of the adults in the series, she is ridiculously pedantic and follows the law and "authority" figures even when it is absurd to do so. For example, she reluctantly condones Violet's marriage to Olaf in a play because it technically follows the law, even after learning it was under duress. 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, and is presumed dead thereafter. Like most of the adults in the story, she is oblivious of Olaf abusing the children, and dismisses all evidence against him. In the TV series, a frustrated Violet tells her that 'just because something is the law and legal, it does not necessarily make it just or morally right'.
Later, Justice Strauss was able to discover V.F.D. and learn more about Olaf’s crimes. Feeling guilty that she failed the Baudelaires the first time, she searches for them in all the places they went and writes a book filled with the evidence needed to put Count Olaf in jail. Sometime during her travels, Justice Strauss poses as ‘J.S.’ and signaled all VFD members and witnesses in the series to come to the Hotel Denouement, so she could give a proper trial for Count Olaf, and possibly adopt the Baudelaires herself. There, she was forced to acknowledge the crimes the Baudelaires had committed (again, under duress), no happier about it than the Baudelaires were. She was crestfallen when the children reluctantly refused to leave with her.
In the TV series, Justice Strauss escapes the hotel alive, remorseful for failing to help the Baudelaires once again, and handed over a picture of the children to Lemony Snicket. It is unclear if she was able to reunite with the Baudelaires again after they escaped the Island.
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. She was on the high court with the Man with a Beard but No Hair and Woman with Hair but No Beard for many years.
According to the Netflix series, 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.
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 neighbor Count Olaf's dirty, dilapidated house.
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; and directs them to Olaf's house. The Baudelaires take a liking to her as soon as they meet.
When the orphans are ordered to cook for Count Olaf's theatre troupe, Justice Strauss goes 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 and are delighted to discover her private library. 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 wards 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.
Sometime 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, despite her profession. 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 on stage ever since she was a little girl, and is completely starstruck.
Back in his room, Klaus uses a book on -Inheritance Law and its Implications- to figure out that Count Olaf plans to marry Violet for real in his dreadful play, and gain legal 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 from the real wedding ceremony, to make the play as realistic as possible. In spite of the children's warnings, she enjoys preparing for the role, and 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. Regretfully, she confirms that Olaf's marriage to Violet is perfectly valid, and bursts into tears; but when Violet explains that she signed with her non-dominant hand, 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, 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, where Count Olaf had stuffed Sunny in a birdcage outside atop his tower to ensure Violet would go through with The Marvelous Marriage.
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. Count Olaf's henchpeople turn off the stage lights and escape, and Mr. Poe regretfully informs the Baudelaires that their parents' will does not allow them to be raised by someone who is not a relative. 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
She began searching for the Baudelaires after the news of the death of Montgomery Montgomery, "if only to say how sorry I was", but implicitly to gain custody of them. Eventually, she found other people who were also trying to do the same, and attempts to bring Count Olaf to justice.
The Penultimate Peril
Justice Strauss arrives at the Hotel Denouement by taxi at the same time as Jerome Squalor. Strauss is present when Dewey Denouement dies. She tells Esmé Squalor that when she was her age, she had been a horse thief for years before realizing it was the wrong thing to do, in order to persuade Esmé to be a better human being.
During the trial of Olaf and the Baudelaires, 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 her unless the Baudelaires open the Vernacularly Fastened Door leading to the laundry room of the Hotel Denouement. 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 to run away from the scene of a crime. She attempts to prevent the escape of Count Olaf, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny by holding their boat, but Sunny bites her hand so she lets go. It is unknown if she survives the hotel fire.
Justice Strauss only appears near the beginning and a few minutes near the end. The Baudelaires' visit to her house even once, and the offers to adopt the Baudelaires after the play, are 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; except, during the play, Justice Strauss is struck with stage fright, and delivers her lines nervously.
There is an additional scene of Justice Strauss taking the Baudelaires on a trolley ride to find ingredients for Olaf's dinner. She mentions she had dreams of being an actress and a mother, but instead, found herself in a series of strained platonic relationships instead. She tells them what the definition of a "mitzvah" is, and mentions that after all of their suffering, the Baudelaires deserve to be in a happy family with her.
It is later revealed that she searched for the Baudelaires everywhere by tram, but never found them. She even happened to be on the same trolley as Quigley Quagmire, but he departed to join the Snow Scouts and find his siblings. Justice Strauss found a library book, The Incomplete History of Secret Organizations, and learned all about V.F.D. She figured if she could gather V.F.D., the witnesses of Olaf's crimes and Olaf inviting them to Hotel Denouement, she could imprison him. She received help from Jerome and Jacquelyn Scieszka and compiled a book of evidence against Olaf titled Odious Lusting After Finance. This means Justice Strauss is the J.S. who invited everyone to the Hotel Denouement.
In The Penultimate Peril, Justice Strauss is confirmed to survive the Hotel Denouement fire. She is watching the building burn when Lemony Snicket arrives and asks what happened to the Baudelaires: she sadly reports their escape and laments that she had failed to keep them safe. Snicket notices a photo she has of the children and asks if he could take it. She hands it over, claiming it is too painful for her to keep it, but remarks there is not much Snicket can do with it as all evidence and knowledge of their adventures went up in flames, unaware that Snicket is about to start his own mission to piece together the Baudelaires' story.
Behind the scenes
- In the 2003 Multi-Voice Recording of The Bad Beginning, she is voiced by Carolee Goodgold.
- 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)
- "ENOUGH! This trial is about the Baudelaires, not some mysterious event that happened in the past!"
- "That may be so, but I can still give you a home. I can keep you safe! I've been following you for so long, and you've always been out of my grasp, but I have you now and I won't let you go!"
- She is one of the multiple characters with the initials J.S.
- There is, in the TV series, a photo of a framed man (Barry Sonnenfeld) in her library. It is unclear if this is supposed to be her father, a friend, or someone unimportant.
- In the French version, her full name is Judith "Judy" Sibyl Abbott.
- Although it is unknown what inspired her surname "Strauss", Daniel Handler is from San Francisco where the Golden Gate Bridge is, and the designer of the bridge is Joseph Strauss who also happens to be a J.S. However, this is only a hypothesis.
- The surname Strauss is a Germanic surname, strongly implying Justice Strauss is of German descent. The surname is also used by Jewish families, and both Daniel Handler and the Baudelaires are of Jewish descent, so it is possible she is Jewish as well.
- 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)