“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”
— T.S. Eliot
Great poets are able to discover great truths—as long as they use language wisely. For example, Mr. Eliot’s observation does not indicate that our wishes will ever come to be, but only “possible.” When I was running for judicial office for the first time in 1995, I was often asked, “Why do you want to be a judge?” Over time, I developed an intentionally disarming response, that is, “Well, one should beware of anyone who wants to be a judge too badly.” It always permitted a promising conversation about modest public service rather than personal ambition. Great judges are sometimes able to discover great rationales – as long as they use language that permits wide consideration. Like all judges, I look for the great judge path, never really getting there, but just trying to get better over time.
As we complete a long, complicated year, my great judge journey leads me to a wish list. While wish lists are not uncommon for gift-giving season, or the start of a new year, this one is intended for regular rumination. I hope it is worthy of Mr. Eliot’s observation.
1. The following phrases will become forbidden in a court of law:
• “It is what it is.” Obviously, but what is it? This seems to have taken root between the Book of Exodus (“I Am Who I Am”) and Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” clown (“That that is is”), although modern origins are derived among sports stars and politicians. During a hearing, it is better to just say, “I have nothing more to say about this,” assuming there even needs to be anything more to say about it.
• “Social media.” This overused catch-phrase is a euphemism for everything from cell phones to the “cloud” to the Internet of Things (not sure what that is). Rather than confuse the record with such general terms, can’t we just say what it is? (But be careful. See above.)
• “Back in the day … ” This is an old phrase used to remember nice things. Why do we now use it for all kinds of things, especially when those things are part of a court case?
• “At the end of the day … ” There is a “Les Miserables” song with this title. Shouldn’t that tell us that this is better left to the 19th century? While the use of poetic references should be respected everywhere, and I am an advocate of the plain English movement, it would make more sense to simply get to the point with a single word, like “overall,” “finally,” or “undoubtedly.”
2. The public image of lawyers will be improved.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 18 percent of the public believe lawyers contribute “a lot” to society (the lowest on their list). An ABC/Washington Post poll found lawyers to be the third most despised profession, just above Congress and car salesmen. We need to aspire to the lawyer-statesmen/women model, that is, practical wisdom, good judgment, and devotion to public good balanced with every client and case. There is a lack of legal literacy in the United States, and everyone would be better off if we work to ensure the public understands why we are the best country in the world – our legal system.
3. The change of judge rule will be amended to require motions be filed within 30 days of service.
Changes of judge allow parties to automatically get different judges from those randomly drawn. So why can’t that happen at first sight instead of two years later, after litigating motions to dismiss or other preliminary matters? Overall, the system efficiency becomes vastly improved by speeding up this process.
4. ESPN will develop a judges-only Web page.
When I became a lawyer more than 35 years ago, I habitually read the sports page from beginning to end every day. I wasn’t always so interested in all that sports information, but I wanted to be literate with colleagues and judges during the course of every day. No less important today, this Web page would afford us judges brief summaries of weekly events, suggested jokes and comments, as well as key statistics. Let’s face it, lawyers will enjoy improved judicial sports acumen, and it all goes to the betterment of the profession.
5. Indiana trial court judges will be invited to sit by designation on appellate cases.
This is a common practice in federal courts. It would clearly enhance the trial courts’ understanding of the appellate courts, as well as providing a broader perspective on select appellate matters.
6. The Indiana Supreme Court’s YouTube channel will add reality TV.
In this day and age, it is appropriate that courts reflect the society in which we live. So, our Supreme Court’s YouTube channel should add a reality TV segment. If cameras could follow the justices during their daily routine, think how much better off we would be. We could see them working, discussing, gossiping, etc.
7. Low-income citizens will gain greater access to advice and representation in Indiana.
This speaks for itself.•
• 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. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.