The Importance of Civility and Concessions to the Brevity of Life
By Ted A. Donner
It’s been almost a year now since Chief Judge Kathryn Creswell invited the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism to work with a cross section of judges, court staff, and attorneys to discuss the importance of civility in the courthouse. Jayne Reardon, the Commission’s Executive Director did a remarkable job at the time, with help from the Commission’s Professionalism Counsel, Mark Palmer, and Diversity & Education Director, Michelle Silverthorn.
The program started with a simple sketch, demonstrating how a pro se litigant might be discouraged in some environments, before evolving into a series of roundtable discussions in which all of us were asked to reconsider what role we play in those same environments. Many of us echoed the same sentiment at the time. The DuPage County Judicial Center has encouraged civility among its people for a long time and we’re thus lucky not to work in an environment quite as stifling or difficult as some of those “other” courthouses. All in all, this was an uplifting session which got me thinking at the time and has certainly gotten me thinking anew in the last few weeks.
I’m grateful to former ABA House of Delegates Chair, Patricia Lee Refo, for handling my column last month, a gesture that was particularly helpful because it came, just before Christmas, when I was unexpectedly hospitalized with a heart attack. Now mind you, I’d like to think I’m still pretty young for such a thing but, when I read about what life is generally like for solo practitioners working in litigation around the country, it’s hard not to recognize that, in the end, I probably shouldn’t be all that surprised this happened when it did. What surprised me most, however, is what also made me think back to Judge Creswell’s conference this last year. In the weeks following my attack, as I suffered through one procedure or another, I rarely had to suffer professionally. Every judge was understanding, every opposing attorney was both patient and encouraging, and my friends and colleagues were there for me when I needed them.1
I needed to avoid stress, as you’d expect, and the people I work with were generally pretty darned accommodating in ensuring I could. Of course, I did have to sit through a couple meetings which I wasn’t as up to as I would have preferred, but those were more the exception than the rule. More generally, I was reminded day after day that there’s a commitment to civility around these parts. That’s part and parcel for why I’ve come to believe, if you’re interested in practicing law in this country, there is no better place to do it than DuPage County, Illinois.
When the Commission’s program ended, back in June 2016, I told Jayne Reardon that I thought it was something we should look to pursue further, perhaps through a program open to the general membership. That, of course, turned out to be an effort I haven’t pursued as vigorously as I now realize I should have, but there’s still time. There is still work to do, after all, and we can all use the occasional reminder of the importance of civility.
There may not be much time left to my tenure as president (and I’m still pretty limited in what I can do regardless), but I ain’t quite done yet. So watch this space. Hopefully, we’ll get something scheduled by year end that I can announce here. If not, well, I still have a whole lot of folks to thank for their kindness, their concern and their support these last couple months. I doubt I can get that done between now and June with the number of words I’m allocated here each month but heck, I can at least try...
1. Especially my wife, Melissa Piwowar, who had to handle things both at home and the office for quite a few weeks. Her support through all of this was uplifting, encouraging, and more taxing on her than I would have ever wished.