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.