Saturday, December 26, 2009

Small Law

The Bad Lawyer has lived around the world, and has practiced law, after a fashion, in some pretty glamorous venues, including at least one mayor's court that was in a converted garage. 

One of my pet peeves over time has been the obsession of law journals, major newspapers, and in the digital age, legal-centric websites with Big Firm law, federal and felony level litigation.  For the average person, the attention given to this sort of legal mattter is utterly unhelpful unless they are called to jury duty.  While traffic, municipal court, and justice of the peace offices are boring, this is in reality where the action is for most law-abiding citizens.  And despite what I just said, what happens in these courts is not boring.   Sometimes, what happens in these courts is not justice as the New York Times series called "Broken Bench" on New York's Justice Court system demonstrated convincingly, in 2006.  This last year we had the Lousiana Justice of the Peace who refused to perform an interracial marriage, as reported by CNN.

Frequently the "judges" in these small courts are not lawyers, and are not otherwise trained in the law.  OurState decided to raise revenue by instituting a "red light camera."  The "super lawyer" that shares a house with the Bad Lawyer tends to get invoices arising out of driving through these lights and speeding through these speed zones.  Being the Bad Lawyer that I am, I perceive some issues that make these seelf-actuating tickets problematic, for instance where's the expert to certify that these machines are accurate.  On the "super lawyer's" behalf, we contested a few of the citations that arrived in the mail.  Who heard the case?  Not a lawyer.  Where did this traffic magistrate obtain his training in the rules of evidence, rules of civil or criminal procedure, traffic laws?  He did not.  The due process infirmity underlying this revenue-generating business for municipalities may continue to be a issue in the law for a long time. 

The bigger point is that when we tote up our experiences over the course of a year, this major trial, that Supreme Court decision, this scandal, that verdict in the news, on television, or the web--really doesn't effect most citizens.  We take our collective eyes off the ball, when we neglect small law.  Small law is where most people most of the time interact and obtain their impressions of justice in America.  Small law matters most to most people, but you would not know it from the important day-to-day coverage of Balloon Boy's parents, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Michael Jackson's doctor's case, Anna Nicole Smith's paternity, the Fort Hood Shooting, and on and on. 

You want to know what's happening in the law, go sit in the local municipal courtroom for an hour or so on a Monday morning.   If your lucky you will see good and bad lawyers, you will see good and bad judges, if you live near a Mayor's court, you might get to watch non-lawyers pretend to be judges.  Trust me this is far more entertaining that Judge Judy.  These are your neighbors, businesses, bar patrons, and town druggies.  This is highly entertaining stuff, it's free; it better be open to you; don't take popcorn; and take your hat off, please.   Ladies and gentlemen, it is your government, for better or worse in action.

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