Arrogance of attorneys, others a troubling societal development

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Published on 5/4/09

Have you noticed that people are more impatient today than before? Or is this just my perception? I know we're in the midst of a recession. Some economists are admitting it's a deep recession. And, as I've written before, I think it's actually a depression.

Recent news brought forth the tragic suicide of David Kellermann, 41, the chief financial officer of Freddie Mac. Along with this news, however, was the listing of a number of other prominent financial services people who have committed suicide directly as a consequence of the financial failures of our economy.

Wasn't this the scene of many people in the Great Depression of the 1930s? We can parse words all we want, but our systems - from economic to psychological to legal and on and on - are moving forward on a very rocky road. Is this the tsunami or the great temblor?

I've noticed another phenomenon that is quite different from earlier days in our country. Entitlement. Today, few people take responsibility for their own actions and their own mistakes.

Examples abound. In the wake of the 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake, a new interpretation of an old phrase developed: ghost town, meaning that an urban area, hit by a natural disaster, was abandoned. Most property owners said it wasn't their fault. They looked to the insurance companies (even if they didn't have earthquake insurance); to the lenders, from whom they asked forbearance of the debt (even though lenders had no stake in the event); and to the government (for one of our early bailouts).

But few took the reins and said, "I'll fix my property and re-create a nice place for my tenants." And when property after property stood fallow - with no occupancy, the city was forced to board up the apartments - to keep drug addicts, prostitutes and others to a minimum, we had "ghost towns."

Lamenting loss of civility

Yesterday, while driving, I saw a large SUV stop in the middle lane. I thought there was a problem for the driver. Not so. She wanted to make a right turn but had failed to move over in a timely manner. Thus, instead of going around the block to make up for her mistake, she stopped traffic behind her. No amount of honking from legitimately irritated drivers budged her until she was able to make the right turn - an illegal turn that would have resulted in a moving traffic violation if an officer had witnessed the event.

A neighbor has a dog, a young, very energetic, hyperactive pup. The dog barks without reprimand, to the consternation of neighboring inhabitants. The dog often roams without being on a leash. The dog is entitled to be free of rein and voice. The neighbor has no sense of control of the dog and now awareness of the dog's impact on others. Oh, the owner is a lawyer. Therefore, in his mind, he's entitled. And we wonder, sometimes, why others view lawyers as arrogant.

In law school, we're taught to parse words, to find openings in legislation, to persuade triers of fact that our clients' positions are reasonable and appropriate. After all, it's not our job to determine justice, only to present evidence. The system depends on the presentation of evidence in the best light, each side having access to all relevant information.

For an officer of the court, isn't there also a higher duty? How is it, then, that a prosecutor can intentionally fail to disclose information in his possession that would clearly exonerate the accused, whether that information is scientific (as in DNA results) or a potentially exculpatory memo (as in the case of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens?

Our society was founded by men and women who believed in the sanctity of honesty, open discussion and personal responsibility and integrity. Why is it that we have difficulty finding true scholars, philosophers, pragmatists, negotiators and people with common sense to run for political office? Why can so few with stand journalistic scrutiny, or even want to?

Why is it that, in today's world, it seems impossible to have civil interaction with others when we disagree? Partisanship is no longer helpful either in politics or law, and our courts and bar associations recognize this all too well when they develop and promote "codes of civility."

As said in a different context: "Where have all the flowers gone?"