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DTCI: As attorneys, conflict is our business

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kalamaros-dtciThis is not a call for more “civility.” To be candid, I have heard that so many times from so many people that it has lost all significance to me. It’s not that I think the concept is bad. I think all people should be civil to one another, and most of the time, I believe lawyers are people. But the simple fact of the matter is that our business is adversarial. Lawsuits have at least two sides. Lawsuits are based on disagreement. Not all disagreements are going to be resolved without adjudication. Not all adjudications are going to satisfy the litigants. The litigation process itself is not a fertile ground for holding hands and sharing.

If the participants, be they lawyers, parties, witnesses or even mediators and judges are spirited, intense, opinionated or just plain competitive, chances are pretty likely that the case will not be a tea party with a poetry reading where everyone goes home with inner peace. The courts are not a place for justice. This is an imperfect system in an imperfect world. Dollar damages do not restore a loss to a plaintiff any more than zero judgment delivers absolution to a defendant. Justice comes only from God. That is the nature of the system, which by the way is not a benevolent process, but rather a business.

I think it is pretty well known that I am not always “civil,” as I believe the term is commonly defined. Besides being spirited, intense, opinionated and just plain competitive, I also have more personality quirks than there is room here to print. And so, it is no surprise that I am not one who believes that we need to focus on being more “civil.” What I believe is that we need to work on a lost standard of conduct that is far harder to restore, and far more elusive to describe. We all need to recommit to the fundamental tenant of being honorable servants of a worthy process. If we do that, civility will take care of itself.

It is a difficult concept to describe. I can only tell you that when I was a child, a teen and a law student, I watched my dad and other lawyers and judges of that era do their jobs. They were better examples of what I am talking about than we (myself included) are today.

My practice now spans half my life, and every year behavior in the legal profession has gotten worse. As a result of the degenerating standard of conduct, participants become less “civil,” and this is no surprise. Every year, more and more I see indicia:

• The increasing willingness of lawyers simply to lie. I do not mean artfully advocate, because I love to watch skillful advocacy, even when I am the one getting clobbered by it. I mean lie. Flat out saying “This is A” when it is B. I can’t help myself. I really don’t like that. I react to this “uncivilly” by indicating that the lawyer is either factually mistaken or lying. If it persists, I conclude “uncivilly” that the lawyer is a liar. Some would argue that if this occurs in open court I should report the lawyers to the disciplinary commission. But I don’t want the lawyers to be disciplined; I just want them to stop lying. I want the lawyers to be honorable servants of this worthy process by their own commitment to the tenant because it is the right thing to do. It would be fine with me if those same lawyers just got up and said, “Here is the testimony and I don’t like it or believe it and I don’t think the court should either and here are other facts to show why.” And, if the judge agreed with that position, that’s how it works. I do not accept the notion that lying is advocacy. To me it’s just lying. If a lawyer can’t take the position without lying, the lawyer needs to find something else to talk about.

• Cheating. Alter a photo and not tell anyone. Change an exhibit and not tell anyone. Leave out documents or change the order of production responses to hide things. Conceal a witness. Sandbag. I love and admire strategic practice. I hate cheaters. Amazingly, often the liars and cheaters don’t even need to lie or cheat to do well, and they still do.

• An increased willingness of judges to make rulings that do not follow the law but are result-oriented to compel a preferred outcome. Classic examples include denying a summary judgment to compel settlement or disliking a law enough to avoid applying it and obtaining a preferred result through other procedures. I think courts should be allowed to express their opinions on the direction of the matter. Express disagreement with the law, but let it take its course.

So, instead of calling for more civility, let me urge all of us to strive to be honorable servants of this worthy process. Let’s call for less lying. That way, we don’t have to call liars “liars.” Let’s call for less cheating. That way, we don’t have to call cheaters “cheaters.” Let’s call for fewer cheap shots. That way, we don’t have to call people “cheap shot artists.” Let’s call for a less-abusive litigation style. That way, we don’t have to call people “SOB litigators.” Let’s call for intellectual honesty. That way, we don’t have to call people “intellectually dishonest.”

Think of how much more civil it will be.•

__________

Mr. Kalamaros is a partner in Hunt Suedhoff Kalamaros and is a member of the DTCI Board of Directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  • Advocacy Gone Wild
    Mr. Kalamaros is right here to re-frame the discussion not simply as a call for more "civility," but rather for a return to our "roots" or our "fundamental tenants" as lawyers. Where I struggle, however, is in defining exactly what those "fundamental tenants" are. To the author's credit, he also acknowledges the complexity and difficulty in tying those terms down, and provides his readers with some examples of what constitutes "uncivil" behavior. What each of those examples are, in my opinion, is symptoms of the underlying problem - the lack of respect certain members of the bar in every state seem to be fine with exhibiting towards one another, the courts, and the profession itself. A bit of a shameless plug here, but in a recent posting on my blog, "Dangerfield on Civility, Vol.1," (http://www.lawgicallyspeaking.com/dangerfield-on-civility-vol-1/), I discuss Kalaramos' article and his re-framing of the civility discussion, and hopefully add a bit more to the conversation, by addressing why and how we can encourage more civility in the practice by showing more respect and getting to know other members of the bar better. Thank you Mr. Kalamaros for taking the discussion beyond the usual "call for more civility" and actually identifying specific areas or behavior where we can focus on change and work on bringing back those "good 'ol days."

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  1. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  2. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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