Saturday, April 02, 2005

Human Fallibility in the Legal System

51. My dad has been fighting a civil court case with an individual who faked his records and lied in court. The dispute was over his breach of a contract to build a house; my dad built it for three years and the other party decided not to pay when it was finished, yet that slime ball benefited from the three hundred thousand dollar increase in value by selling the house to my dad. From my judgment based on my law school education, I was sure that the evidence was on my dad's side. I looked at the receipts and the claims on both sides, and I was sure the court would see through the opponent's lies, especially because in trial my dad's lawyer disproved almost every piece of evidence he brought.

Yet the verdict came in last week and my dad was crushed. I just heard about the news tonight. The court accepted into evidence every false piece of evidence that the opponent brought to trial. In other words, not only did my dad lose, but he ended up having to pay over a year's salary when he did everything in good faith. He had the truth behind him, but the truth set the other guy free.

This brings me to my hurt feelings with the blind justice system; after events like this, I find it so difficult to trust the law, not because it itself is unjust, but because of the human flaw inherent in the system. People have their own agendas, and it is sad when the law system fails because of the mental failings of an individual administering justice. This makes me wonder whether I am becoming a servant of a corrupt system, and whether law is more of a game of chance and luck where the victor may be the untruthful party.

I have always been seeking to live a life of honesty and truth, and one of the beliefs I had was that in a legal system with rules of evidence, years of common law, rules, a bicameral legislative branch, and jurisprudence, the system should be infallible. I so often read cases where people do not get a fair trial because the right holding was not reached because the justices were advancing a policy or were afraid of opening the floodgates to more litigation; it hurts me more deeply when even with these policy hindrances, a person is unable to get a fair trial because the judge discards the rules of evidence and decides the case based on his own opinions versus the law's proper holdings.

More generally, I understand that this world is not a hunky-dory place with floating fat cupid babies who don arrows of love. Our world is not a world of music, joy, dancing, and justice, although all of these are part of it and make up a piece of its whole. Even Judaism says this is a world of falsehood; not that one should give up and give in to the external pressures to do wrong. Rather, one should spend their life revealing the sparks of holiness that are so obviously concealed within the drab reality that surrounds us. There are so many things that seem to go against us that we might but shouldn't ask, "Where is G-d?” One of my readers [whose comments I have found very valuable] basically told me to get the answer to life I should smell the roses, get filled with awe about the universe, and get mystified with G-d's great creation. What kind of great creation has one person striking down his neighbor and killing him, financially, emotionally, or otherwise while he prospers despite his evil?

I know that the answer is that we cannot possibly know what is really occurring on the spiritual levels, and we should be happy that if on some level, the sufferings we deal with from time to time cleanse us and purge us of our sins. People by their nature are relatively evil, not because they want to do bad, but they are driven by their own desires. Society forces them with the law to act properly and not to wreak havoc on the world, so it becomes more difficult to do what is wrong. What is legal, what is lawful, and what is moral are three separate factors, each which need to be weighed when contemplating a path of action.

I say that as terrible as the world is, there still are wonderful things within it; a smile, a sunrise, a puffy cloud, a hand to be held, a song to sing, a person to give your love to, and a creator that is good, who sees every deed and misdeed and judges every individual with reward and punishment in his or her deserved measure based on the acts that individual has done or has abstained from. Sometimes our creator gives reward to the evil person in this world, so that the individual can get what is coming to him in the next world. It hurts to see an evil person prevail. But then again, because this world is so finite in its physicality compared to the spiritual existence that I understand that we are in a temporary slumber from, I feel calm knowing that it is not me that needs to keep an accounting for the other person's misdeeds. There is a G-d, and if you ever doubt that, read the quarter in your pocket which says, "In G-d we trust". The government got something right.


ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

Hey there Hirsch,

With regard to the legal issue (by the way, I feel very badly for your father and hope all turns out relatively well for your family despite the verdict) you outlined early in this post, as well as the judiciary system:

It's a sad fact that law is not a noble cause where justice prevails for "the good guy/woman and the deserving". If this were the case, then "the bad guy/woman" wouldn't even be able to find or be appointed representation, because a lawyer dedicated solely to upholding rules of some noble cause would not want to represent someone who was "wrong". with most professional like an intense chess match between grandmasters: Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky duking it out across a sea of black and white tiles. It is a game of rules in which the shrewdest mind sets up an argument that is most persuasive in the context of the external variables in the equation presented by the case (i.e., the judge, the jury, and so forth). Solid evidence either "pro" or "con"? That is tangential to the big picture. As the saying goes, "It isn't whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game".

I am sincerely NOT saying this as a blow-off sort of comment in the least; it is actually my perception based on relatives who are lawyers and...though in a different manner...the political maneuvering I see daily in the world of scientific research.

You take care and email when you can, my friend,

if not now, when? said...

While reading this post, I immediately thought of pirkei avot (ethics of the fathers)
a few passages seemed particularly relevant:

4:9 - he who avoids being a judge avoids false swearing (it seems that the great rabbis of the mishna accepted as a fact that there will be falseness in court - but they set the system up inspite of that fact. in truth, justice systems are absolutely necessary for society to function - inspite of there fallibility, they are one of the 7 mitzvot of b'nei noach).

1:8 after litigants have accepted the courts judgment, they should be viewed as innocent
but i think this is tempered by 2 other quotes, one immediately before and one immeidately after.
1:9 carefully question the witnesses, lest they learn to lie.
1:7 never forget (divine) retribution.

I think for a justice system to benefit society as discussed above, society must have faith in it and so we should view the court's rulings as correct. (1:8)however courts need to earn that deference by being professional (1:9). and finally there is always the possibility of appeal (1:7) whether that means going to the appeals court here on earth or the appeals court in heaven.

[incidentally, check out the beginning of the kol nidrei service for an equating of the heavenly courts to those here on earth]

Legally speaking, In evidential questions, appeals courts generally uphold lower courts decisions because there is a lot of discretion involved - but where (as you indicate in you post) there is an actual legal error on the part of the trial judge, appeals courts will not be afraid to reverse. (humble law student's point of view).

lastly, one other quote from pirke avot seemed appropriate 5:26 according to the effort, so is the reward.

I think if your dad's case has as much merit as you indicate, then he will surely prevail on some level.

Zoe Strickman said...

I think my dad will need to rely on G-d to be the ultimate judge over his case, because he doesn't know what to do and cannot afford emotionally / financially another attorney. Personally, I have a feeling that something karmic is going on and that either he is paying for a past wrong or his brother is being given a reward now for a punishment later. Nevertheless, my dad is pretty down about it all and is now trying to figure out how to cope. Poor guy. I can only hope that divine providence is at work here.