A friend and client of mine is a Civility expert. Companies hire her to teach civility to their employees and she received a “Civility Star” award earlier this year from the prestigious Association of Image Consultants International.
Knowing all this, I began to think of places where civility is still much in evidence these days. Courtrooms, I decided, with their traditions and protocols, surely had to be hubs of civility in our society. So, I sat in one for a few hours recently and took notes.
When a bailiff advised “everyone sit down”, most did, but there were still people standing along the sides when the judge made his entry. And they stayed there.
He was 20 minutes late and not everyone rose when the “All Rise” was called. The “grand central station” behavior observed before the judge took the bench abated somewhat but did not come to a halt: people moving in and out, crossing from one side of the courtroom to another other – it was chaotic.
The calendar clerk was a mumbler; the lawyers sitting in the front row probably heard him, but moving farther back I am sure the accused and the witnesses had to strain their ears; in the back of the room, he was 90% inaudible.
While before the bench cases were presented and dealt with, throughout the Courtroom lawyers and their clients – or lawyers, their clients and their Court-appointed interpreters – held whispered conversations.
In this particular Courtroom, there were no “Order in the Court” admonitions, there was no gavel concluding the rulings and many accused had their cases adjudicated before they seemingly knew it was all over. Witnesses subpoenaed by the State never met “the State” and looked around bewildered when a case in which they had been ordered to appear to give testimony was concluded in less then two minutes with a plea bargain. It was all very casual and lacking in decorum. Courtesy did not rule here.
I’ll have to go looking for that center of civility elsewhere.
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