I’ve been thinking about civility. Without a doubt, my thinking has been prompted in part by the unique character of this election cycle. But for all the boorishness coming from political circles, recently there have been some fine examples of civility from the legal profession.

Early last month, it was my honor to attend and participate in the induction of David Goldstein to the Contra Costa Superior Court. The mood was light and refreshing, even among the attendees. The newly minted judge and his wife, Angela Goldstein, warmly welcomed their guests while many young people, including Judge Goldstein’s son, daughter and presumably his many nieces and nephews, filled the chamber with giggles and smiles. The court staff mingled comfortably with the crowd of attorneys, retired judges and county supervisors.

Doug MacMaster and Jonathan Laba sat together and chatted easily before the ceremony began, despite the fact that they are frequent adversaries. And the Presiding Judge held court with that inimitable twinkle in his eye … maybe because he was considering the merits of hiring a humor interpreter for the court. It was a delightful mix of young and old, defense and prosecutor, lawyers and judges … all taking a moment to appreciate the achievements of Judge Goldstein.

Hon. David E. Goldstein
Hon. David E. Goldstein
Doug MacMaster

The program included speakers from all corners of the court and was infused with much good humor. Bill Green, Director of our Criminal Conflict Panel and a criminal defense attorney himself, served as Master of Ceremonies. Emily Gunston, Special Counsel to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, got the ball rolling with some friendly ribbing of her former colleague and recalled the warmth of his home and family life.

She was followed by Doug MacMaster, Contra Costa’s Chief Assistant District Attorney, who recounted his support for Judge Goldstein during his application for appointment to the court. Jonathan Laba and Judge Bowen, both contemporaries of Judge Goldstein early in his career at the Public Defender’s Office, completed the picture with intimate descriptions of his work style. It was clear from the speakers’ humor-infused stories that Judge Goldstein has a knack for building strong professional and personal relationships.

But Judge Goldstein’s induction has not been the only recent example of civility among adversaries. Recently, there has been much attention on the friendship between the late Justice Scalia, the famously staunch conservative, and Ruth Ginsburg, the reliable liberal. While they were fundamentally opposed on many issues, they also shared many interests, particularly a love of opera. At a memorial after Scalia’s funeral, Ginsburg remembered their shared love of opera, his gestures of friendship and his quick wit. While it is easy to focus on differences and foment discord, Ginsburg emphasized areas of shared appreciation through which they built a relationship of mutual respect.

They also both appreciated the other’s intellect and ability to form thoughtful arguments. When Scalia was once asked, just before Ginsburg was appointed to the court, whether he would prefer Mario Cuomo or Lawrence Tribe as a colleague on the court, he replied “Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Such was his respect for her analytic abilities, despite their different interpretations of the Constitution.

Back at Scalia’s memorial, to a deep roar of laughs, Ginsburg recalled a moment when Scalia had been asked how he could be friends with her, given their significant differences of opinion. She recalled him replying, “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas.” In times like ours, and particularly in our profession, it is worth dwelling on and incorporating Scalia’s approach into our every day practices.