Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Should Pro-Bono work be Mandatory for Attorneys-at-Law?

My visceral response to this question as to whether an attorney at law should be required to provide at least SOME "billable" hours free of charge was "hell, yes!". But, considering the details and implications of such a mandate, and in so doing clarifying my own thoughts such that, to this citizen's satisfaction anyway, that instinct must stand up to scrutiny and yield to reason, has pushed me to discover that I do NOT believe a lawyer is obligated to work for nothing, but that my conviction is nonetheless as hard and permanent as ever that it is an absolute *right* of all citizens to have *adequate* and competent access to all services necessary to successfully navigate and utilize the legal and/or criminal justice systems completely and at our will.

But, on whom, then, does this responsibiity fall? It falls on US. It falls upon we the people. We pay for the government to govern - to do the job of keeping the country and the states and municipalities within it running things according to values that make us who we are. Some of your "law and order" folk would say that that means we expect the law to come down hard on those folks who would violate these standards. And they would by and large be correct. But - we the *PEOPLE* means that as humans we are fallible and vulnerable to many frailties. Among these is the confusion and bias and subconscious impressions we often have, not only of the government, but of each other.

That is precisely WHY we have law and order - and a legal and criminal justice system designed to ensure that it works. We NEED it. And that means that we all need it - and we all need equal and unfettered ability to pursue and protect our lives, liberty and happiness. To then say that in order to utilize this monolithic and gargantuan body of law, you will need to pay EXTRA money - as an INDIVIDUAL! - is not only a breach of the promise of this country, but of the very values we claim to live by.

It is therefore also unfair to expect that an INDIVIDUAL attorney should bear the burden one case at a time, one client at a time, one performing of the duty of an administrator of the due process to which all citizens are entitled. It is a fiscal responsibility. It is a social and moral responsibility.

It is a collective responsibility.

As a *people*, that is as a community of human beings who are in fact bound by some greater Law, as only our own consciences can discern and compel, we are morally and ethically bound to some idea of treating each other with respect and dignity. But, it seems we haven't yet figured out how to get the Golden Rule to pass through the bureaucracy and the "sausage making" that is law-making, and get said articulated principle of decency signed into law once and for all. If we as a society - as a democracy and a freedom-loving people! - cannot afford to serve ALL the tax-paying governed, then we absolutely cannot afford to impose the obligation of obedience and compliance with the myriad rules and ordinances upon those folks we cannot or will not represent.

Pinning a badge on the chest (and a gun at the waist!) of somebody who "promises" to protect and serve, bestowing a robe and gavel unto he or she who has "sworn" to be subserviant to the rule of law and to interpret it soberly, consistently, and fairly does NOT guarantee that these oaths will be upheld *each* and *every* time for *EACH* and *EVERY* citizen! But, as one of those citizens, you can be damned well certain that I am indeed entitled to NOTHING LESS. And so are you. The constitution provides no doctrine indicating that our forefathers intended for the constitution and the laws of the United States of America to apply to and protect only those individuals who can afford to pay a legal scholar some $400 an hour to see that the law of the land is upheld.

Until the law can protect and govern every single citizen equally and always, it should apply to none. Were said anarchy to become a reality, you watch how quickly our fiscal conservatives and "law and order" politicians would reach a workable consensus and get the job done.

To expect the citizenry to pay for the principles of our Constitution and then not have access to all the privileges and representation promised therein, is nothing short of tyranny, and is absolutely unAmerican.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

With Liberty and Justice for One and All
An editorial on why we should not have to pay to have our rights protected and the law interpretted and administered fairly.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

When the Legal System Fails You

America's legal system is probably going to fail you. It is designed that way. That is not a typographical oops. The system is clogged and the only self-regulation that occurs is motivated by controlling this flow, in *both* directions. Think about it - it is the folly, flaws and failures of human nature, and especially of certain participants in the government, particularly the executive branch, that guarantees the continued use of, no, the embarrassingly extravagant "need" and thus survival of this mechanism of societal control (law), and the parasites who depend on it as a venue in which to "earn" their daily bread.

When the legal system fails you, when your ideals and trust is undermined by the very system that is supposed to protect you, when you do not have to commit a crime to end up in the criminal justice roach-filled mosh pit, justice, and the very ideals promised and held high by our democracy (that very system being part of the problem!) are severly undermined and cheapened. "Mosh pit"? Yes, because when it comes to actually protecting, preserving and ensuring your own rights, you are indeed on your own. You have to have eyes behind your head, and that won't even help you. Honestly, if my experience resembles anything close to the norm, your best bet is to be as rude and willful and insistent and stubborn as the so-called public servants whose salary YOU pay! And if you're ever in the position to seek justice - most likely you've discovered that that isn't in a courtroom or anywhere near the legal system, where lady liberty can be every bit as deaf as she is supposed to be blind.

I am taking the bold step of predicting that what I am doing right now IS the best justice - and as such that your best bet is to know the Bill of Rights all on your own - or at least that prized Amendment One - Freedom of Speech. The following is my effort to lead by that example:

In the interest of attempting to best serve the most immediate need of anyone who finds himself pondering obtaining legal counsel, or who is in the unenviable position of facing a court appearance to answer for some charge, be it a traffic/moving violation, or something defined by the law as criminal - even misdemeanor - you're doing yourself a tremendous disservice and severely compromising your disposition and potential outcome if you expect to be treated fairly.

Read that again. I mean exactly what the words say. Do NOT expect to see in real life the manifestation of society's highest ideals and principals anywhere NEAR the legal system. What counts all the way through due process is the ease with which you and your case can be handled. If you ask questions, if you have a hearing loss or some other compromising condition that limits your ability to access any information or participate fully in the process, if you have any need that would "put out" anyone in the process whose services you haven't hired out, or who does not have a vested interest in your better welfare, you are treated as a liability - as somebody who is potentially a drain on the human resources of an already severely clogged system.

In short - the individual doesn't matter to the system one iota. Do not stop reading. I know this sounds terribly biased and cynical. The hard and very sad truth - a truth you MUST accept if you are to have even the slightest chance of a positive outcome - is that you - YOU must prove your innocence. This is an "anti-lesson" begrudgingly and reluctantly learned from hard experience. I can tell you personally that the process - from law enforcement personnel, to the station staff and (you have to see this to believe this) the guffawing, donut-eating fellow officers, to the "processing" staff and bondsman - your rights do not matter. The facts at that point do not matter. The one and only chance you may have to argue your case is with the officer at the scene BEFORE any arrest. Obviously this advise and situation does not apply to the real criminal who is out there hurting soceity. I'm talking to the guy who really is innocent. You're treated like dirt - be it from the guy at the courthouse metal detector, to the staff in the probation and cashiers' offices, right through to the D.A. and his/her office, as well as the courtroom personnel - all the way through to the person sitting on the bench,

This lesson is of SUCH importance that, effective writing and article development be damned, I repeat it once more - YOU DO NOT MATTER. I mean - of course you matter in most aspects of your daily life, and this sentiment is pure venting in most aspects of our lives. BUT IT IS THE DEAD STRAIGHT-ON TRUTH if you're caught up in the legal system. You, the individual, are NOT important.

Whether you obtain legal counsel is a decision I am not about to preach to the affirmative or the negative in an article targetted to an audience I will most likely never meet. Lawyers are expensive. They are *expensive*! Unless you are designated as "indigent" - basically you need to be bringing home less than $300 a week of you're a single male, in Massachusetts, anyway -you're not going to secure the services of any member of the bar for less than low to mid four figures.

But, the decision, the plusses and minuses of going it alone versus hiring a lawyer, need to be negotiated long and hard. Sometimes you do not get that chance. If you're already in the process, you already know that time is of the essence. If the charges are at all serious - get a lawyer and worry about money later. If they are less so - and that surely describes most traffic offences outside of DUI, vehicular manslaughter, or leaving the scene - then it is indeed a tough decision. Make it carefully. Anyone who tells you that it's a piece of cake, or that it's "always" best to hire a lawyer "no matter what" - basically if the advice or comment seems too simple or vague - it is. It's garbage.

The plain truth - and one I am still very pained to acknowledge - is that you have to be "hard". You cannot expect shiny, happy people. You cannot expect anything you learned in Kindergarten to get you through this. It's hard. It's fast. It's insensitive. It does NOT care about you.

You must do everything you can to take care of yourself. This is not the time to fudge or kick back. Do your homework. Call who you need to call. If you hire a lawyer - you make sure s/he is in touch with you AT LEAST daily. Whether you're defending yourself, or you're thinking of or have in fact hired a lawyer - the work needs to be done, and you have to tell folks what you want. In order to do that with any authority, you need to know your rights. If you do not - and the stakes are that high - again, get the legal counsel and cross that financial bridge when you get to it.

The bottom line is that justice is expensive. Justice is work. Justice is NOT a guarantee - in America or anywhere else. While the best of humanity may care about and even act to ensure and compel justice, the "system" is not so motivated or designed. The only thing that matters in real terms, is expediency. The system grabs you up to make sure it has it's rations, but then throws you out, truth and justice be damned, when it needs to get rid of you. Sometimes moral outrage puts a check on this tendency, and the pen and camera shine a temporary light under which people tend to behave a little better.

But then, life gets in the way again, for all of us, and we the people drop the ball. We have to care. We have to care enough to say "no more!". We have to demand that "the system" has better habits than your average human being has "on the clock" when he thinks no one is looking.

Failure is guaranteed until we do.