Civility among professional peers

When you open your e-mail inbox and see an after-hours message from an appellate judge, you know something important is on his mind.

Here’s what was on Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Peter O’Connell’s mind yesterday evening: a post from the State Bar of Michigan appellate practice section’s listserve from attorney Howard Lederman. The post, in its entirety, with Mr. Lederman’s kind permission:

Having read the Illinois Supreme Court’s Maksym decision of 1/27/11, I would suggest that someone copy and frame former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Miller’s words in every appellate lawyer’s practice location and in every appellate court:

“‘Judges often disagree about what result the law requires in a particular case. The existence of these disagreements, and the ability of our legal system to thrive on them, are virtues of the judicial process and of our system of government. The terms of the debate, however, must be framed by civility and respect, and not by suspicion and untruths. When rancor eclipses reason, the quality of the debate is diminished, the bonds of collegiality are strained, and the judicial process is demeaned. We cannot prescribe civility to members of the bar when our own opinions are disfigured by comments as offensive as those we have admonished lawyers for making.


“‘We should receive no less from our colleagues than we expect from lawyers who appear before our courts.'”

Maksym v Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, Docket No 111773 (January 27, 2011), p 24, quoting People v Bull, 185 Ill 2d 179, 222 (1998).

The point is that if justices and judges want civility and respect from lawyers, they must show it themselves to each other and to the lawyers practicing before them. Several appellate courts around the country, including the US Supreme Court and the Michigan Supreme Court, have often disregarded their duty to lead by example. I hope that in the future, they can recognize the line between fighting hard for a viewpoint and demeaning each other.

Howard Lederman

Judge O’Connell’s pithy forwarding message to me: “words of wisdom.”