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President's Column

Simplifying the justice system?

By Bruce B. Weyhrauch

?One man?s justice is another?s injustice.?

?Ralph Waldo Emerson

Efforts to simplify the ?Justice System? for some, may add increased complexity for others. Moreover, the ?need? for simplification may not be the ?wants? of those subjected to the change. What our profession should aspire to do is to attempt to articulate a vision to achieve simplification of the Justice System, and effectively disseminate solutions and information to those in the System. Simplification of the System of Justice must overcome major obstacles before implementation of change may be possible. Among these obstacles are rhetoric that suggests change but actions that oppose it; the perception that Justice belongs to the wealthy; and the alienation of individuals who perceive that the Justice System has failed, but individual actions dispensing ?justice? will not.

This last notion may be the most subtle and pernicious to our society and our System of Justice. It ranges from the sublime to the deadly. From knowingly accepting a $10 bill from the store clerk who intended to give you only a dollar?s change, to a small white lie on your income tax form, to taking a gun out of the glove box and shooting at someone who makes an abrupt lane change in front of you.

In each case, the individual justifies the act as simple justice. The store charged me too much anyway, the IRS takes too much, I will teach someone else a lesson because no one will help me and I will act on my own definition of justice.

The need to simplify the Justice System is apparent in order to keep us all in a society of laws that are adhered to and fairly applied. The method to simplify that system, however, is elusive.

Too many who make a lot of money off the current system perceive change as a threat to their economic status. Too many who have been dealt ?bad? justice or no justice at all from the current system, have no incentive to participate in actions that may change, or simplify, the system for the better.

Therefore, anything that ?needs? to be done must involve all segments of society, must set realistic, achievable goals, and must, in fact, demonstrate a simplification of the Justice System that brings in those who fear alienation and economic harm and those who have been alienated, in order to achieve economic benefits for both.

Ultimately this will involve not just our political leadership, but teachers, businesses, religious leaders, labor unions, and of course lawyers, judges, and law schools.

Lawyers, as the primary players in the Justice System, can and should be instruments for simplification. They must guide others whose concept of justice is that it is too foreign, too complex, and too expensive.

Suggestions and opinions for simplifying the Justice System abound.

Kentucky Federal District Court Judge William Bertelsen underscored the important role of judges to ensure the public?s right to a speedy trial. Former American Bar Association President John Curtin suggests that professionalism be a mandatory component of each law school?s curriculum. Another former ABA President, Michael McWilliams, underscored the importance of alternative forums to resolve disputes.

If all these are well thought out ideas of simplification and improvement of the Justice System, they must go beyond the confines of speeches and articles and into the courts, offices, schools, and workplaces of society.

Even then, there will be problems. A story helps illustrate.

Once upon a time, a boy seeking knowledge set upon a journey to discover the true meaning of Truth and God. He climbed the highest mountain seeking out the oldest and wisest of men. Upon his meeting, the young man asked the wise man, ?what is God?? The wise man replied: ?The answer is simple, everything is God.?

Serene and confident in his knowledge, the boy descended the mountain to return home. On his way, he was walking down a narrow road when he saw a man on the back of an elephant approaching him. The man on the elephant began yelling at the young man in the road to step aside, as there was no turnoff on the narrow road. The now-enlightened boy continued confidently on his way, secure in the knowledge that since everything was God, the elephant was therefore God, and that surely God would not harm him. The man on the back of the elephant continued to yell and wildly gesture at the boy to get out of the way. But the boy continued on until he was run over by the elephant.

Dazed, bruised, and bewildered, the boy made his way back to the old man to tell him that his definition of God left much to be desired. Upon his assent up the mountain and his explanation about being trampled by the elephant, the boy questioned the wise man how everything could be God, since God in the form of the elephant had just run over him. ?Surely,? the boy said, ?if God were the elephant, he would not have harmed me.?

After listening to the story, the wise man replied to the boy, ?But my son, did you not hear God on top of the elephant yelling at you to get out of the way??

Ideas to simplify the Justice System come from all quarters. All should be considered and bravely implemented, experimented with, and then cast off if better ways exist to achieve simplification. But no one idea of simplicity, or no one source of ideas about simplification, should be considered a panacea.

Frederic Bastiat, in The Law, wrote: ?The nature of law is to maintain justice. ? This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are ?just? because law makes them so.?

Bastiat?s conception of law and justice are like the parable of the boy trampled by the elephant. The public may have the belief that because we have laws, we have justice. Those same people may be trampled by the laws and then pick themselves up believing there is no justice. Certainly justice existed somewhere. What was needed was either better listening to those who could have guided them through the law, or better guides to help them avoid being trampled.

Our System of Justice and our civilization will not soon become simpler. All of us must adapt to the changing and increasing complexities of society. But lest we become trampled ourselves, we must strive to make the Justice System simpler for those who might someday trample us.

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