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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. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

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