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.


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.


(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. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."