The Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana and the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association have joined to present a seminar on civility at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law on May 24 titled “Two Parties…One Oath – A Conversation on Civility.” Justice Steven H. David of the Indiana Supreme Court and Judge Larry J. McKinney of the United States District Court of the Southern District of Indiana, both tireless advocates of civility, are featured speakers and will be joined by DTCI’s John Trimble and Donna Fisher and ITLA’s John Feighner and Peter Palmer.
As the title suggests, the program will consist of a frank discussion on concepts of civility in Indiana and an exchange of ideas on how to enhance civility. The program’s theme is derived from our Oath: “I do solemnly swear and affirm that … I will abstain from offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness ...” Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 22.
Members of the defense bar, the plaintiffs bar and the judiciary express concern over the erosion of civility in civil litigation. There are those who respond that the good old days were never quite that good. Indeed, century-old decisions cite to a lack of civility in the Indiana Bar: “Counsel has need of learning the ethics of his profession anew if he believes that vituperation and scurrilous insinuation are useful to him or his client in presenting his case.” Pittsburgh, C., C. St. L. Ry. Co. v. Muncie & Portland Traction Co., 77 N.E. 941 (Ind. 1906).
However, various studies and surveys provide empirical data that contemporary lawyers sense a decline in the level of civility in the practice of law. See “Final Report of the Committee on Civility of the Seventh Federal Judicial Circuit” (West 1992), reprinted in 143 F.R.D. 441 (1992) (42 percent of all attorneys felt incivility to be a problem). As a matter of unscientific clinical observation, nearly every civil litigator in Indiana whose practice spans three decades or more, if pressed, will cite a precipitous decline in civility as perhaps the most significant change in the practice of law. More important, those uniquely positioned to observe and critique the behavior of lawyers publicly comment on the decline of standards of civility in Indiana. U.S. Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields of the Southern District is one of those uniquely positioned, and shortly before retiring from a historic career that spanned a good part of Indiana legal history, she commented on the state of civility in Indiana:
“The magistrate judge, having spent forty years as a judge in this state, recalls a time when law was practiced with civility and grace; a time when simple disputes were resolved by a telephone call and agreements between counsel were sealed with a handshake; a time when disputes not so resolved were brought before the court in a manner that minimized expense and strife, recognizing that reasonable people can, at times, reasonably disagree. As the instant dispute so clearly demonstrates, that time is no more. The magistrate judge mourns its passing.” Paul Harris Stores, Inc. v. Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, No. 1:02-CV-1014-LJM/VSS, slip op. at 1 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 31, 2005).
Scholars and practitioners alike maintain that civil litigation in particular has been infected by incivility. See Raymond M. Ripple, “Learning Outside the Fire: Need for Civility and Instruction in Law School,” 15 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol’y 359 (2001). The root causes of incivility are much debated. To many, the decline in civility in litigation is tied to incivility in society at large. As one judge informed the Committee on Civility:
“Today our talk is coarse and rude, our entertainment is vulgar and violent, our music is hard and loud, our institutions are weakened, our values are superficial, egoism has replaced altruism and cynicism pervades. Amid these surroundings none should be surprised that the courtroom is less tranquil.”