“It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”
(Henry David Thoreau, American Philosopher and Writer)
As a general rule, a gentleman prefers to avoid the court system. First of all, if possible, disagreements should be solved in a reasonable, cooperative way. Secondly, a gentleman never seeks what he doesn’t deserve, and much of the traffic of the court system is essentially, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, people taking a speculation on a lawsuit. Thirdly, the court system is slow, long, and expensive, often making the lawyers the prime, or only, beneficiary of any legal contest. (Our old friend Dickens was once again right on the money, as can be seen in Bleak House’s Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce. You don’t want to end up like Richard Jarndyce.) Cornelius Vanderbilt once said, “I will not sue you – that takes too long – I will crush you.” If you agree, and your object is to crush your opponent, I would suggest a duel, or perhaps hit men – both cheaper, faster, and more reliable than litigation.
On the other hand, a man is a man, and must stick up for what he thinks is right. If you have tried reason and persuasion without any results, you may have no choice but to go to court. As in any other dispute, there is no reason to vilify your opponent unless they truly deserve such treatment. You can have an adversary without pledging yourself to the eternal damnation of your enemy. There are those who spend thousands of dollars contesting a speeding ticket, and while we admire such dedication to principle, we also detest such a waste of time, energy, and money.
Some specific rules:
- A gentleman only files suit if he truly believes he is in the right; he does not use the court system as a bludgeon to get his way by overwhelming his opponent with legal fees, or as a delaying tactic.
- In the discovery process, he asks only for the documents that are actually pertinent to the case; he does not ask for irrelevant documents or bank records simply to embarrass or intimidate his opponent, or drown them in paperwork.
- In deposition, as in discovery, his questions are designed to get facts necessary to the case, not to harass the person being deposed.
- He seeks damages that are realistic, based on the facts of the case. He does not ask for millions as compensation for trivial injuries.
- He joins class action cases only when he has studied and concurs with the issues under litigation. He does not join a class action simply because it’s a chance to make some money at the expense of a large corporation.
- He does not seek punitive damages except when they truly appear to be necessary to deter future misconduct.
Since almost everyone spends some time in court these days, either as plaintiff, defendant, accuser, witness, lawyer, judge, or jury member, it’s good to know how to dress. As for judges, we like to hope they are wearing a suit and tie, or a dress, as may be appropriate to their gender. At the very least, they should have underwear on under that robe. Defendants should dress as if they worked for IBM, back in the day. A white shirt, dark suit, and quiet tie can make the difference between probation and hard time. Jury duty is a serious business, and dress should reflect that you are in an important position as a citizen to determine someone’s fate; don’t do this in Dockers. In any courtroom, the alleged crime, whether it be murder, décolleté staring, or grand theft embezzlement, should take center stage – without any competition from your tie.