12/10/09: Judge Spence

Yesterday I was honored to attend and be a speaker at the Lexington County Bar‘s Annual Conference. Presenters were The Honorable James O. Spence, Master-in-Equity; Desa Ballard, Private Attorney; The Honorable Richard C. Collins, Magistrate;  The Honorable Daniel R. Eckstrom, Probate Court; and me.

The Topic?   Ethical Issues with Pro Se Litigants

Judge Spence opened the session. He noted that how judges and attorneys interact with self-represented litigants (SRLs) depends on them first making a philosophical decision. He showed film clips from The Green Mile and 300.

From The Green Mile:

Paul Edgecomb: What do you want me to do John? You want me to let you run out of here, see how far you can get?
John Coffey: Why would you do such a foolish thing?
Paul Edgecomb: On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That is was my job? My job?

From 300 we learn:

300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Persians under the rule of King Xerxes have already taken over some of the Hellenic city-states, and now threaten Sparta and Athens. King Leonidas of Sparta is left with two options: he will either have to sacrifice himself for the well-being of Sparta or watch it burn to the ground. Choosing the former, Leonidas forms an army of 300 Spartan warriors to block the narrow passage of Thermopylae where Xerxes intends to reach Hellas. On the road they meet some allies, who are shocked that the Spartans are sending such a small force. Leonidas asks the professions of the allied army, who are craftsmen and artisans. He points out that he has brought more soldiers than they.

Judge Spence also offered 3 other points for us:

  1. Mom’s Advice: Be Nice and Play Fair!
  2. Viewing Norman Rockwell’s 1961: Do Unto Others
  3. A snippet from The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn” aka Ecclesiastes 3:1


  • We learn that as attorneys and human beings, we are each responsible for how we treat others.
  • As judges and attorneys, we are officers of the court. We are responsible for public trust in us. We gain this trust through respect, dignity and patience. We should be judicious with Summary Judgment motions.
  • We should schedule status conferences and explain standards clearly.
  • We should use Court Reporters to ensure that our words are recorded. This also reminds us that we are “on the record.”
  • SRLs are not one size fits all. They cannot be characterized with broad strokes. Instead they come in all shapes and sizes, like the Armour Hot Dog song.
  • If you are having a hard time, go back to the basics – why did you go into law? It probably wasn’t to take advantage of others. Revisit your motives.

Next installment: Desa Ballard.