Inalienable rights…for sale?

The ABA Journal recently posted an article about affordable legal representation or, mejor dicho, the lack thereof for the middle class. 

This article got me thinking.  First, if a person cannot afford representation, then they cannot afford justice.  If this is true, then aren’t our “inalienable rights” really just a commodity, a luxury item? 

There is an old saying, “a man who defends himself, has a fool for a client,” but what if self-defense is a plaintiff/defendant’s only option? 

Most potential litigants go from attorney to attorney, a hope-killing, demoralizing experience.  They are shown, like a Neiman Marcus store window, beautiful things by the sales clerk (attorney)- like “freedom” and “justice.”  The customer’s eyes light up, their heart begins to feel light.  Someone is about to come in to their corner, someone who will make everything better, turn the wrongs into rights.  Then, just as the light at the end of a proverbial tunnel is starting to emerge, the sales clerk snatches these hopes, dreams… justice, from the customer’s anxious, desperate hands and says, “That’ll be $200 an hour please, with a $5,000 retainer upfront.” 

Suddenly, that light which seemed almost within grasp, fades as the customer’s heart sinks. “But…I was wronged!  This isn’t fair! What am I supposed to do now?” or, arguably worse, “But, I’ll go to jail,” or “lose my kids,” or “lose everything I’ve worked my entire life for.”  And, then, desolation sinks in as the customer leaves yet another law firm that they can’t afford and, along with the law firm, leaves their rights, their property, and the future that they’ve been told they can’t afford.

This has happened to me- can you tell?  I’ve been wronged.  I’ve been faced with losing everything I had spent my life building.  I’ve been devastated.  I’ve searched for help in an attempt to protect everything I knew was right and fair.  And I’ve been told by my, supposed, potential, protectors, “You’re right.  You have rights that can and should be protected.  We could fight for you and win. But you can’t afford our protection.”

This is outrageous.  And it is not justice.

Our courts, our police, our laws, our jails all operate under the fiction that every individual who crosses their paths will have access to the protections guaranteed in our founding documents. Without being able to afford these protections, our system of justice does not function the way that it is supposed to.  Innocent people lose their homes, their children, their livelihoods, their freedom. 

This is not “truth, justice, and the American Way.” At least, it shouldn’t be.

Published in: on August 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow, this is a great post. I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks for being so awesome and for sharing this with us.

  2. Great blog, Joy.

    I remember when the U.S. once had legal aid for the poor who had been harmed, cheated, or extorted by slumlords or “businesses” which preyed on the poor. I also remember that that wasn’t always the case, that despite the constitution, federal funding to assure legal aid to the poor wasn’t around until the after the middle of last century.

    An undergrad, liberal Sociology professor of mine was a real champion of equal rights and protections under the Law, and we learned some of the history of the legal aid services in his classes. That more than thirty years ago (gulp), but I remember several references to Reginald H. Smith’s “Justice and the Poor,” which challenged the legal system of post WW I U.S. to consider that access to justice should be available to all, without regard to who could pay. Thanks to Google, I found a famous quote from his book: “Without equal access to the law, the system not only robs the poor of their only protection, but it places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever invented.”

    Federally funded legal assistance worked in with what the public schools said “defined American society.” During the Johnson Administration, some of my friends older siblings would get involved with Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) legal jobs after passing the bar. That continued, even through Nixon, and I recall, after returning from Taiwan in 1976, a couple of friends who worked for a Congressional established called LSC (Legal Services Corporation). Sadly, I distinctly recall that the Reagan administration was calling for cuts in the legal aid program, making services more difficult to obtain for a population increase in the poverty level which that Administration created.

    It was during Clinton’s Administration, when Newt Gingrich assumed the House Speakership after the 1996 midterm Republican victory, that I started to see a vicious Newt and his Newtzies dismantle Legal Aid, Welfare, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and so many other federal programs to assist individuals and help insure their health, safety, and security. Newt, the malparido, actually used two books which he handed out to his fellow Republicans in Congress. One was a translation of Anton Drexler’s manual for the organization of the German Nazi Party, and the other was “Chimpanzee Politics”by Franz de Waal. The latter book examined Chimpanzee social organization and dominance. Chinpanzees are selfish, competitive, and power-hungry, and Newt wanted his Freshmen Repubs to use chimp society for a model to dominate the more cooperative democrats. (these book recommendations were part of a 1997 article from the New Yorker – an article on Newt).

    One thing I’ve learned by knee-jerk association with Newt’s Contract With America, is that anytime I hear a Republican sponsored bill containing the words Restoration, Reform, Responsibility, and Enhancement, I know that corporations will benefit greatly, but the individuals will be left with rectums the size of the Carlsbad Caverns. Between the Contract With America, and the Bush/Chenney Administration, there’s nothing about the Great American Myth, which was inculcated into my world view through public education, that still exists today. It’s as though with Bush’s Supreme Court appointment to the Presidency, we have entered a hostile, parallel universe. (sorry, I can’t keep from ranting when I start writing/talking about this political aberration).

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