The right to a jury trial, access to the courts, and funding of the judiciary
is a nation's promise to its citizens.
It is fundamental that even the least of us, the mentally ill, the carpenter,
the criminal, the businessman, the consumer, the husband, the wife, the
child have equal opportunity to a jury trial if they have been wronged
or acused. The founding fathers knew the importance of a jury of peers.
"This right shall be invoilate." The right to a jury trial is
the right upon which the enforcement of all other rights and responsibilities
depends. We must never underestimate the importance of the courts and
the right to trial by jury.
During economic hard times, and even in good times, local, state and federal
governments are faced with the question of how important court and jury
trial funding is in the larger scheme of things. Many of their supporters
argue there are too many frivilous lawsuits, too many laws and regulations,
and juries cannot be trusted. They argue we need drastic legal reform
and caps on damages. Trial attorneys represent everything wrong with America.
The jury system is broken. Many States throughout the nation have gone
down this road, and the tort reform movement is strengthening. The anti-rights
movement is strong. Their arguments can be compelling. We should be proud
that Washington has not gone down this road yet.
What do you tell the least among us, a mentally ill person who is being
placed in a mental institute with no right to a hearing, a person accused
of a crime who has only a hanging judge to hear his case, a mother who
has lost her only child and she must settle her case for arbitrary financial
limits because a jury is powerless to fully compensate her or a person
in wheel chair whose loss is only worth what the legislature tells him
it is worth. You tell them the jury will not be able to hear your story
and determine your rights. What type of Washington do you want to practice
law in? Why did you enter the profession? Would the founding fathers weep
about the tort reform movement sweeping the nation? We are all endangered.
We must all fight vigorously to protect the rights of the least among us,
for in fighting for the least among us, we maintain our own rights to
justice and the right to always tell our story. Whether you are a defense
or plaintiff lawyer these rights belong to us all, and to diminish those
rights, diminishes us all. We are human beings first and lawyers second.
Even if our peers reject us, we know we had a fair shot at justice or
at least the whole process was not rigged. We can better accept the result
and move on. There is something comforting about a decision by our peers,
rather than a person in a black robe, who, after years of processing cases
as if they were on an assembly line, feels no pain, and even if he does,
his eyes never show it.
As officers of the court and citizens we must always support the right
of each citizen to present his entire case or story to a jury of his/her
peers, without limitations on voir dire, without arbitrary time limits
on testimony, without undue delays, without forced arbitration, and without
favortism. This should bind us together, rather than pull us apart.
And of course, a little civility in the process can make the system more
efficient, more noble, and in the end, more rewarding.
I love being a lawyer. I hope you do too.