“Justice is nothing other than the interest of the stronger,” said Plato.
Being the heirs of the legacy of Jefferson, we tend to think that there is equal justice for all; but is this true in America today? Before you answer that question think of the trials of O.J. Simpson and the tribulations of Paula Jones.
As a lawyer, I must admit my admiration for the skills of F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran. Said admiration, notwithstanding, I think it is fair to say that O.J. would be in prison today had he not had a bankroll attractive to Cochran and Bailey.
Ms. Jones’ case is a classic example of the inequality and injustice of the contemporary legal system. Theoretically, no man is above the law, and all parties to a suit are afforded equal redress in our courts of law. Yet, Paula has had to endure the attack of all the President’s men, men who are supposedly the servants of the people. To add insult to injury, the Jones’ case was thrown out of court by virtue of the perjury of the defendant.
The ruling of the United States Supreme Court to the contrary, it appears that Bill may be able to run out the clock on Paula or force her into a low-ball settlement. Regardless of the outcome if the maxim, “justice delayed is justice denied,” is true then justice will not be had in this case. In fact, the President’s conduct in the litigation of this case has been a further abuse of the judicial system.
However, the larger question is, has justice become nothing more than a figment of the mythology of the American Revolution? Like the Ten Commandments, have the Bill of Rights become passe, irrelevant in modern day America? This is a frightening prospect. Our Constitution and the first 10 amendments thereto are the greatest products of human thought. It made us the most advanced society in the history of civilization. It is despicable that the president’s spin artists now point to Europe, the continent of repressive laws from which our ancestors escaped, and say we should be more tolerant of our rulers like the Europeans.
A while back, I attended a luncheon with a federal appellate judge. The judge had recently returned from Europe, having studied the failing judicial system of the crumbling Soviet Empire. In that system, there are no juries — just omnipotent magistrates who decide a person’s fate. I assume that the judge intended to cite the differences between the American and European systems of justice. What struck me were the similarities.
Increasingly in the United States there is a trend toward trial by commissioners and magistrates rather than by a jury of one’s peers. In fact in Tennessee, a worker injured on the job has no right to a trial by jury. An injured person suing the state of Tennessee must have his trial heard by a political hack commissioned by the governor.
In regard to this dismantling of the judicial system, the Republicans, the party of the multi-national corporations and insurance companies, are far worse than are the Democrats. If the multi-national corporations and the insurance companies get their way, no one will have a right to a jury trial in a case of personal injury.
Perhaps a reading of the novels of John Grisham reveals the best assessment of the American judicial system. Invariably the insurance defense lawyers hire private detectives and otherwise violate every ethical rule imaginable to insure that the plaintiffs do not get a fair trial. Unfortunately, in real life, the judges are much less favorably disposed toward plaintiffs than in Grisham’s novels. It is interesting to note that most judges get sizable donations from the insurance defense firms when they run to retain their seats on the bench. It is no wonder that they pressure plaintiffs to settle their cases for a dime on the dollar or throw out plaintiffs’ cases on unjust summary judgments.
One need only look to the Ruby Ridge incident to realize that the criminal justice system is trending away from fairness and reason toward the implementation of an all-powerful police state.
Slowly but surely our Bill of Rights is being eroded by decisions of the Rehnquist Court. I realize that it is fashionable to favor law and order, but my advice is to be careful what you wish for.
In the early nineties, the Rehnquist Court ruled that it was not detrimental to the prosecution’s case for a policeman to lose exculpatory evidence. Recently at a Nashville Bar Association dinner, I brought up the exculpatory evidence case with a Federal District Judge and a State Court of Criminal Appeals Judge. I asked, “Am I the only one who has a problem with that ruling?”
The court of criminal appeals judge, a former prosecutor, launched into a pantomime of a cop throwing away exculpatory evidence. “We don’t need no stinking exculpatory evidence,” he joked. Obviously, the judge realized that the natural inclination of the cop would be to cover his ass and get rid of any evidence that would prove that he had jailed the wrong man.
Worse than the judge’s scenario would be a case where a cop has a personal vendetta against you and chooses to frame you for a crime that you did not commit. With the aforementioned Supreme Court decision, there is no law standing in the way of the crooked cop.
Be careful what you ask for. But for the grace of God. …
Leo Haffey is a lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee specializing in cases of corporate or government abuses.