Civility at Bench and Bar

JurisdictionConnecticut,United States
Publication year2021
CitationVol. 67 Pg. 415
Pages415
Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 67.

67 CBJ 415. Civility at Bench and Bar




415


Civility at Bench and Bar

By JOHN L. BONEE III (fn*)

On March 12, 1993 the Hartford County Bar Association (HCBA) hosted its first Bench/Bar Leadership Conference. (fn1) Its purpose was to focus on issues of civility, the improvement of Bench/Bar relations, and an examination of, and suggestions for, rules for the administration of justice in the State of Connecticut which are in need of improvement or revision.

The Board of Directors of the HCBA named a committee of member attorneys, judges and staff for the purpose of organizing the conference and formulating issues for consideration. (fn2) The Committee concluded at the outset that judicial participation was crucial, not only in terms of supporting the conference and receiving its recommendations, but also in terms of actually participating in the conference and actively germinating creative ideas and proposals as participants. Hence, the location, the new Criminal Courthouse on Lafayette Street in Hartford, was chosen with an eye toward facilitating attendance by judges. Further, the Chief Court Administrator (fn3) permitted any judge who wished to attend to close his or her court for the day. A total of eighteen Superior Court judges and one Supreme Court justice attended. (fn4)

Organized as a one-day affair, ending in the late afternoon, the conference began with breakfast in the jury assembly room of the court. The participants then convened in an initial plenary session to receive general instructions for the conference process from




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the Committee chairs.

Judge Francis X. Hennessy delivered the opening remarks. In his address, judge Hennessey noted that, "the results of a four-year study on gender bias in the courts and the Task Force on Minority Fairness leave me to conclude that the actions of the bench and bar are, to a great extent, a reflection of this society in which we live ... we as participants in this conference will address the concerns of those who question to what extent those violations of civility in our society at large have affected the conduct of those who practice in our courts."

Attendees, who numbered approximately 100 lawyers in addition to the judges already mentioned, then divided into breakout sessions to examine the three topical areas under consideration. The sessions first focused on defining the problems and what worked well and what did not work well. Next, attendees brainstormed in an effort to define what options exist to address the problems. Finally, consensus was sought for options to be endorsed for the future. All attendees participated in two different sessions prior to lunch.

Members of the Committee acted as facilitators for the breakout sessions. (fn5) During lunch, the session volunteer facilitators elected representatives from among their groups of approximately twelve to synthesize all of the options and recommendations from the breakout sessions for each of the three topical areas. These representatives next worked with the professional facilitators to organize a presentation for the plenary session after lunch.

Connecticut Supreme Court Justice David M. Borden addressed the conference during lunch .

... Among the findings of the committee on civility of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Chicago, was the following: "Far more than they were a generation ago, . . . lawyers are rude, belligerent, manipulative and downright deceitful to one another. Brief's and oral arguments are more vituperative... Even judges have gotten into the act, *n opinions to take potshots at subordinates and each other." The inquiry generated by this conference, therefore, is a legitimate search for ways to revitalize something of real value-something that has somehow been lost to some degree and that is worth




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regaining. (fn6)

In terms of causation, justice Borden noted a general growth of coarseness in our society which has spilled over into the profession, coupled with increased competition within the profession. In addition, he noted that the modem view of a lawyer's role as being a commercial enterprise as opposed to a professional performing services for fees has produced a change in attitude as to our purpose. (fn7)

Regarding the bench, justice Borden has seen a shift in the judiciary from a hands-off approach regarding lawyers to managed competition," especially regarding docket control. This shift was out of necessity and in the interest of public policy through the management of public resources. Yet, it has put more pressure on lawyers which in turn may have coarsened the litigation atmosphere and culture.

In terms of our underlying purpose, justice Borden observed that the loss of civility is costly both to the legal and judicial system and to the client. It is also costly in terms of the quality of our lives by increasing stress. Unpleasant, corrosive contention will not enable us to be "happy campers." With mutual...

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