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Indiana Judges Association: Incivility Anonymous - help is available

David J. Dreyer
February 2, 2011
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IJA-Dreyer-David(Meeting Transcript):

Hi. My name is Dave.

Hi, Dave.

I am an uncivil-holic.

Applause.

I don’t know where to begin. I didn’t want to become uncivil. It just kind of happened, I guess. I grew up in an uncivil family. My parents would stay up late at night, both uncivil as a skunk, and not feed us. We kids learned to fend for ourselves, but kids of uncivil parents often repeat the same pattern of abuse: lying to ourselves and others, always carrying that façade of civility, when really we were just waiting for the next opportunity to be mean. So naturally, I became a lawyer.

At first, I would be uncivil just when I was with friends or, you know, at a party where everyone was uncivil. But eventually, I found myself getting uncivil when I was home alone. Sometimes I would call in “sick” to the office, when I actually was so uncivil I couldn’t get out of bed. I even began hiding my incivility at work, sneaking insults, and mocking my colleagues when they couldn’t tell.

But I was lying to myself. I thought everything was alright, that all I needed was just a little confrontation now and then. In reality, I couldn’t go a day without getting totally uncivilized. See, when I was civil, I still felt this overwhelming craving. So I satisfied it in different ways thinking no one would catch on – making spurious arguments, writing rude e-mails, nitpicking discovery requests, or just being generally unfriendly. I needed to be uncivil all the time, the easy way out.

I once woke up and realized that I had been uncivil, on and off, for 47 straight days. No wonder my friends stopped talking to me. Even when I went to a bar association meeting, people looked the other way. Finally, I hit rock bottom. I was in an elevator and a terribly dressed lawyer got on. I needed to get uncivil so bad, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I woke up in an ambulance – I guess I passed out. At that moment, I gave up hope of ever becoming civil again.

I blamed everything and everyone I knew for my incivility: lousy clients, judges who ruled against me, Colts playoff games, everything except me. Then, like a miracle, an old judge friend, who had avoided me for years, called me. He knew I was hopelessly uncivil, and he appointed me as a judge pro tem for a day. He must have thought it might help change me. I was not sure I could pull this off. I had not been civil for a whole day since high school. But something inside me said, “This is your last chance.”

It was a difficult day. I was weak and uncertain. But late in the morning, two lawyers were arguing in open court about where to conduct a deposition, whether their phone calls had been returned, and threatening to counterclaim. Suddenly, I saw myself in them, and realized my incivility had made me a different person. I was lost and needed to get back. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore, and I became committed to be my real self again, to stop putting on a mask, to remain civil. At that moment I realized I was powerless over incivility, and surrendered to a power greater than myself – the law. Now I needed to share my story with uncivil lawyers every day. So naturally, I became a judge.

As a judge, I have been able to remain civil because the system cannot function otherwise. The fate of people who aren’t even lawyers depends on how I manage myself – a responsibility that judges share and fulfill. Indeed, the community at large looks to judges to be the foundation of civil society – otherwise public confidence would erode and common decency might begin to disappear. I used to think civility was a weakness, but I now realize that incivility is the weakness. As I looked around, I began to see civility taking root around the world:

• Marion Superior Court (Indianapolis) issued civility guidelines for family law cases

• North Carolina State Bar Association started an “Ask Atticus” feature in its newsletter to answer anonymous civility questions

• Canada’s Advocate’s Society promulgated 16 civility principles.

I decided I didn’t want to be like the people once described by the philosopher Montaigne, “uncivil by too much civility, and tiresome in their courtesy.” I decided that real civility means not just being polite, but having real respect for my colleagues.

Applause



(End of Transcript)



Note to Reader: If you read this and think you might have a problem, chances are you do. Please do not let your fear or denial get in the way of your recovery.•

__________

Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School, and he is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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