Justice for all who can afford it

I’ve got about two atoms of trust left in the political process, but I was trying to maintain some kind of hope in the legal system. Yesterday didn’t do that trust any good.

I’m training to be a guardian ad litem, and I was in court completing my required four hours of court observation before my swearing in. The first matter proceeded smoothly enough. But in the second case, the attorney for the mother screwed up. Badly. He stood up in court and made some kind of argument that left everyone in the courtroom scratching their heads. It had no apparent bearing on the case.

 Turns out that everyone was so confused because the argument truly didn’t have any bearing on the case. He was talking about someone else. The court-appointed lawyer didn’t know anything worth knowing about the woman that he was supposed to be representing.

 Later on in the day, another court-appointed lawyer showed up 45 minutes late to an adjudication. She hadn’t contacted her client in over 60 days, and she didn’t recognize him when she walked into the courtroom. To her credit, she did seem to know something about him and his case once she got going, but she got off to a rough start.

 In theory, our legal system sounds like it should work pretty well. Put both sides of the story in one place with equal representation, and the truth is most likely to emerge. But in reality, the system founders badly when qualified representation is frequently only available to those who can afford to hire it. I have no doubt that somewhere there are court-appointed lawyers that care and work hard to represent their clients as well as they possibly can. But too many people get a lawyer who is only working for the court because (s)he can’t get a job anywhere else.

Justice isn’t for sale here as overtly as it is in other countries. But it’s for sale nonetheless.

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3 responses to “Justice for all who can afford it

  1. I wonder how many of those court-appointed attorneys actually are qualified and desirous of doing a good job, but are so over-worked that they aren’t able to invest as much time in each case as they want to/should do.

    Just tossing out an idea…. You’re probably more familiar with the system than I am, so perhaps you could tell me whether that’s the case or not.

    As for not being able to get a job as something other than a court-appointed lawyer–based on the front-page article of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (“Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers: Growth of Legal Sector Lags Broader Economy; Law Schools Proliferate”), I would guess that there are quite a few new attorneys out there who are in that situation.

  2. I have no doubt that there are times when the court-appointed attorneys are so over-worked that they can’t spend as much time as they would like to on each individual case. But the GAL attorney who was in court that day told us that at one point he was carrying over 500 cases. And somehow he managed to be prepared.

    I can understand being less prepared than you would want to be in a perfect world. But there’s no excuse for being so confused that you actually stand up in court and make an argument that has nothing to do with your case. Or for never meeting the client before their day in court.

    I’m just really disgusted with the whole thing. 😦

  3. I saw the same thing in court sometimes–from paid attorneys! It boggles my mind. It’s a hard job, but if you’re that burned out you should take a sabbatical or something and recharge. You’re not doing anyone a favor, and you’re putting your license on the line for ethical violations. You’re only “lucky” that none of your clients have the resources or knowledge to file a malpractice claim.

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