Inside: Guest Editor’s Column, March 2016

According to the Contra Costa County Historical Society, the first courthouse in Martinez was completed in 1855. A pair of tall, grand Ionic columns rose from its front steps and a specially cast courthouse bell tolled to call the court to session and to announce jury verdicts. The bell had been brought to Martinez from a foundry on the East Coast.

As long as there have been such grand courthouse edifices, there have been lawyers plying their trade in them, and as long as lawyers have been matching wits in the courtroom, there has been the question of fair play and respect between adversaries and for the legal system they serve.

John Forrest Dillon, a federal judge in the late 19th century and president of the American Bar Association, wrote in “The Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America,” published in 1894, that “ethical considerations can no more be excluded from the administration of justice, which is the end and purpose of all civil laws, than one can exclude the vital air from his room and live.”1

It is as true today as it was then—civility, respect and the way lawyers comport themselves reflect directly on the rule of law and the role of our legal institutions as a process and means toward the goal of fair and equal justice for all.

As observed by the California Court of Appeal in People v. Chong, “[I]t is vital to the integrity of our adversary legal process that attorneys strive to maintain the highest standards of ethics, civility and professionalism in the practice of law. In order to instill public confidence in the legal profession and our judicial system, an attorney must be an example of lawfulness, not lawlessness.”2

For me, the imposing grandeur of our courthouses, old and new, is a reminder of these obligations. Each time we walk through their doors, we, as attorneys, should strive to add to, and not detract from, the concept of law as a noble, respectful and dignified institution and process.

Several of this month’s articles deal with ethical issues. Vahishta Falahati’s article “How to Avoid Discovery Sanctions” advises counsel on the boundaries of attorney conduct in discovery and the rules that apply.

Steven Knuppel explores ethical issues relating to the interplay of jurors and social media. On a similar thread, Angela Habibi contributes her article on the ramifications of tracking consumer habits through the interconnectivity of their Internet devices.

Being mindful of the rules is also a theme of Geoffrey Steele’s piece about things for which civil litigators new to probate litigation ought to be on the lookout.

The articles are rounded out by Roger Hughes’ article on cross-examining a forensic expert and Nick Casper’s primer on bringing a police excessive force case. Many thanks to each of the contributing authors for their great articles.

[1] See People v. Chong (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 232, 243.

[2] People v. Chong, supra, 76 Cal.App.4th at 243.