In addition to the usual trappings of a regular public library, a law library offers services to its members such as free internet, heavy law books for the technological hold-outs, and meeting rooms. The Dayton Law Library, located on the 5th Floor of the Dayton-Montgomery County Courthouse, 41 North Perry Street, Dayton, Ohio, (just beyond the Second District Court of Appeals) provides a conference room that I have come to appreciate for reasons other than as a pit stop between cases or a place for leisurely research and writing tasks.
Depositions are a part of many civil cases. In a divorce matter, a deposition requires an estranged husband and wife, each of their attorneys, a court reporter, and possibly an outside witness, to sit together, often for hours, in the same room. The opposing attorney questions the other side’s witness under oath about the facts of the case.
Suffice it to say that tensions can escalate. Suffice it to say that attorneys are control freaks. Further suffice it to say that who ever owns the office containing the conference room where these joyous activities takes place starts with a very real, or at least perceived, advantage.
In my salad days, back when I worked for the Air Force, I would routinely travel cross-country or beyond to conduct depositions. I learned how to walk into the “hostile territory” of the contractor’s office for the simple reason that the contractor was never required to travel to the Air Force offices in Fairborn Ohio. Sometimes things got argumentative, but for the most part everyone behaved well. Of course, the fact that nobody had any of their own money, or the future of their family, at stake may have helped keep the peace.
Domestic relations depositions can be wild. When I was first starting out on my own, I made a convenient young female target. Opposing counsel would call me names, disrupt my questions, instruct their clients not to answer questions, and sigh, moan and sputter loudly to distract me. I had a couple of nose-to-nose shouting matches. I had a lawyer refuse to produce his client after he agreed to because I had not filed a “formal” notice of deposition. Overall, it reminded me of roller-derby.
As I got older and more experienced, things got a little easier. Certain attorneys, though, are chronic offenders and the drama they create in depositions is a lifestyle choice they’ve consciously made. The state bar has recognized this reality and sends us all off to school every two years to study “professionalism.” Of course the hard-core offenders are unfazed. Working under these conditions takes its toll. I sometimes refuse cases based only upon who represents the other side.
One day this year my brain made a startling connection. I routinely tell my clients to meet with their spouses at Panera Bread or Bob Evan’s or some such place for two reasons. First, people behave better in public places. They could be arrested for disorderly conduct if they behaved in public the same as some of them behave at home. Second, there is no time limit at those restaurants. They can sit for hours and quietly conduct their business.
Voila! Depositions are not limited to either lawyers’ office. Neutral territory would put everyone on an equal playing field. Lawyers are going to act better in public for the same reason as everyone else–it’s more daunting to make an ass of yourself where people can judge you than inside your privately owned property. Bullies love secrecy.
The choice of place was a little more difficult, because restaurants charge money to guarantee any level of privacy. The law library offers all that we need: neutral territory, a public yet private place, and no cover charge. There is a gigantic conference table, picture windows showing the sprawling metro view of Dayton, and plenty of spiffy oak chairs with arm rests.
The resistance I have met from other lawyers to this simple arrangement been astounding. I have been accused of being the perpetrator of confrontations in depositions. I have been accused of “dragging” a down-town attorney all the way to the court building where he has walked to from his office every day for the past twenty years. I had one lawyer actually pull the books to research the issue–not surprisingly, he found no controlling precedent on the burning societal issue of where lawyers should conduct depositions.
I remember a funny story. A federal judge on a particular case had pages of motions and legal memoranda from two sets of lawyers about who got to host the depositions. This genius of a man ordered the lawyers to conduct a rousing game of “rock scissors paper” in the courtroom, on the record, in the presence of their clients, the winner to decide. Those lawyers reportedly complied, went home and then promptly settled the case. Word got around, and that judge never had to order another pair of legal combatants to play that game.
Asking for neutral public territory gives me credibility (at least in my own mind) against the accusations of the legal bullies in southwest Ohio. While reflecting on this whole topic, I realized something obvious: it’s not about control of the conference room. It’s actually about some lawyers simply being too good for the Dayton law library.