Russian Roulette: The American Judicial System

    c.310bw justice hopefulClarification: The following post was an assignment for a speech class I took many years ago. Note, this is a fictionalized account of real legal mal-issues. Bottom line, do what you can to avoid the judicial system.

    Your day in court is finally here. You’re dressed for success and ready to go forth. Confidently you enter the courtroom, certain “Justice will prevail.” Unbeknownst to you, you’re entering Real-Time Russian Roulette–a place where truth and justice are mere words, arbitrary and capricious results common, and facts have little to do with outcome. Welcome to the American Judicial System.

    Truth? The truth is Aunt Bertha and Uncle Clive ate a meatball sandwich at the California Mid-State Fair in the late 1980s which contained an unexpected special ingredient…hepatitis. To vindicate their death (and provide for their three young children to whom I am guardian), I sued the State. The case was summarily dismissed. “Why?” you ask. Governmental Immunity. The government has to grant permission before I (or anyone else) can bring suit. Translation: There was no statute under which to sue.

    Justice? My nephew broke his leg. I rushed him to the County Hospital expecting x-rays and a cast. Instead they severed his limb–amputated right below the knee. Eight months into the one-year statute of limitations I met with an attorney to discuss the case. She told me it was solid. She requested I bring her a copy of the government claim. “What’s that?” I asked. “According to the Claim Statute,” she answered, “you have to submit a claim to the correct government agency within six months of the incident. Failing that, you can’t sue.” (She went on to say if I had picked the wrong agency, I was out of luck and couldn’t proceeded anyway. But, obviously, by then it didn’t matter.)

    Arbitrary? Rather than uproot my nieces and nephews I moved in with them. Shortly thereafter we were served with eviction notices. Being current on taxes and with the title free and clear, I brought suit on behalf of my wards. It turned out a four-lane highway was “needed.” In the name of eminent domain–the right of the many overrides the right of the few–the land was confiscated. The pittance received from the Feds wasn’t even in the ballpark of fair-market value.

    c.310w justice sadCapricious? Wanting to invest my wards’ money, I tracked down Uncle Clive’s best friend and accountant, Ray. The man Uncle Clive trusted with his life wasn’t trustworthy with his money. Ray did my uncle (and other clients) wrong by embezzling millions. After a three-year chase, the Feds caught him. Ray was sentenced to 18 months in a minimum security institution. When you ask Ray about the money, he says, “It’s gone.” When you ask how he maintains his lavish and comfortable lifestyle without working, he changes the subject.

    Facts? One day while drinking coffee with my neighbor, her ex pounded on the front door. She grabbed the phone to call 9-1-1 as we ran out the back. Earlier she had a restraining order against him. I made it through the fence separating our property. She didn’t. He caught her and, as I watched in horror through the slats, pummeled her to death. Certain he’d be put away for life, I testified against him at trial. However, his attorney plea bargained. With the ex’s Asian mob connections, he gave enough information to incarcerate three high-ranking members. Because my friend’s demise wasn’t murder, rather involuntary manslaughter aka “an unfortunate accident,” her ex was sentenced to mandatory anger management counseling and put on probation.

    Knowing every case has the right of appeal, I appealed. I wanted another pair of eyes looking over the evidence. Appeal denied. The courts’ backlog makes rush hour traffic appear to flow like NASCAR. The “system” is set up so those appealing death row convictions receive first priority. According to the California Department of Corrections Death Row Tracking System, as of July 7, 2014 California had 748 death row inmates.

    c.311w justice r.i.p

    An attorney told me he liked the jury system because the public at large had more common sense than a judge. There were better odds of a jury returning a reasonable verdict. I disagree. When called to serve, I told the judge I didn’t believe I could be a fair and impartial juror because the presumption of innocence until proven guilty contradicts human nature. If the defendant were innocent, he wouldn’t need a lawyer. And, if for the sake of argument he needed an attorney, the defendant would at least be present during jury selection. His absence proved his guilt. The judge just looked at me and smiled. The prosecuting attorney looked at me and smiled. The public appointed defense attorney nodded off and didn’t challenge me–peremptorily or for cause. I was furious when “selected.” (As if I had a choice.) Then, the testimony was so boring, and the courtroom so hot, I fell asleep. In the end, the other jurors agreed with me and convicted the guy.

    So, good luck in court today. You’ll need it.

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    Tammy - August 6, 2014 - 5:40 pm

    No faith in the “legal” system whatsoever. I know there is no fairness to be found. Having dealt for 3 years with a stalker issue that caused me to move among other things, I was told that I was not allowed to know anything about his past offenses etc. as it was not “pertinent”. Yet any and all details about my life was brought forth for dispute. It would have been good for the jury to know that the defendant beat his common law wife nearly to death, don’t you think? Or that that he had never camped a day in his life so the plastic tarp, hunting knife and bottled water were not for that purpose. Yeah. If your going to court, count yourself a loser once you step in those doors. Any other outcome will be a welcome miracle.

    Sheila Bergquist - August 7, 2014 - 12:47 am

    My God, Tana, you have been through it! I have no faith in the justice system either and have had experiences to justify this, but not like yours. I’m so sorry you have had to go through all of this. It is sickening what the courts are allowing and not allowing. And, definitely, if you are going to court you are going to need all the luck you can get…and unfortunately it’s not usually enough if you’re the innocent one.

    Tana Bevan - August 7, 2014 - 3:39 pm

    Sheila~So sorry for the confusion regarding this post. I’ve added a clarification. Turns out while I knew this was an assignment I’d written for a speech class many years ago (the facts are true, however I wrote as if I were referring to family), no one else did. All the events I listed have happened–multiple times–to multiple persons who have the misfortune of having to be a party to the judicial system.

    Tana Bevan - August 7, 2014 - 3:47 pm

    Tammy~ I so feel your pain my friend. Dealing with this day in and day out, it never ceases to amaze me the absurdity of what happens in the name of “justice.” Once a person makes an anonymous accusation against you, you can find yourself fighting (at times quite literally) for your life, children, and property. You, of course, will be told who made the accusation. Not be told it was a jilted lover. A family member who wants to control your estate. A spouse who is ticked at you and wants to hurt you by taking your children away. Regardless of whether it is right or wrong, it is understandable why some resort to vigilante justice. The author Fern Michaels wrote a series of fictional books on just that subject. The protagonists refer to themselves as “the Sisterhood.”

    Sheila Bergquist - August 8, 2014 - 12:50 am

    Tana, I’m just relieved to hear all that didn’t happen to you!