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January 03, 2020 National Conference of State Trial Judges

Civility Among Judges

By Hon. Christina Klineman, Marion County, IN

For over two decades, the City of Indianapolis paid lip service to building a new courthouse. Our current facility was built in 1962 when the Indianapolis metropolitan population was less than 700,000 people. Today the metro area is over 2.1 million and growing. To accommodate the new courts, judges and personnel that were added over the years, we built courtrooms and hearing rooms in every nook, cranny and closet we could find. The unfortunate result was less than optimal security, cramped quarters and a system that is difficult to change, even when the need and desire is there, because we have so little room (literally and figuratively) for error. Then came the will of the city to build a new “Community Justice Campus.”

The decision to invest in a campus that houses all the courts and court services was met with gratitude on the one hand and a million questions on the other. With endless possibilities, do we stay the course on our operational model or try to create a more user-friendly system? What about technology? Security? Individual judge staffing or a pool? Assigned courtrooms or a docket-driven approach? Where do we park? Eat? Take a break? I could write a book just on the questions that had to be asked, but the very first question the architects posed to us was, “Do you want to co-locate your Chambers or would you like the Chambers to be located with individual court rooms?” It was asked in a manner that suggested the answer was easy or obvious.  The reason THIS was the very first question was because if the Chambers were co-located on one or two floors, those floors could be built with lower ceilings (akin to any office building you might find) at a significant cost savings. Savings that could go elsewhere like nicer furniture, better carpet or more self-help kiosks. Like all good city projects, it was a question of MONEY! But for those judges, who had been historically separated from each other, tucked away behind individual courtrooms with few “random” encounters with each other, you already know, THIS was more than a question of money. A long and robust conversation ensued.

When we talk about “civility” in the courthouse context, we usually focus on “civility” between opposing parties and lawyers; or between the judge and the parties; or even between the staff and the parties. We so rarely ever discuss “civility” BETWEEN judges. At the State level, it is rare for judges to have to collaborate on legal decisions and most administrative matters (at least in large jurisdictions) are handled by presiding judges and court administrators. In our jurisdiction, each judge has her own staff and courtroom and little reason to interact with other judges (especially for those who choose not to participate in committees or divisional meetings). If you want to come to work, do your job and never see another one of the other 36 judges or 47 magistrates, you can. Now. But what if we decide to co-locate our Chambers? What if there is a judge in an office on either side of you? How then do you avoid them?

So, the question I have for all of you, is this:  would YOU choose to co-locate? And no matter your answer…WHY? As a funny aside, when these discussions began, we referred to this approach as having “collegiate” floors where all our Chambers were located. One judge pointed out that “collegiate” seems to assume that everyone will be “nice” and maybe “co-located” makes more sense. We now say “co-located.”

We asked for feedback via email and have gotten a few responses. We want more! We hope after having more context you will consider reaching out with your opinions so we can include the responses in our next JD Record. You can email me directly at [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you!