Tags: Our | Overgrown | Legal | System

Our Overgrown Legal System

Monday, 02 June 2003 12:00 AM

Recently a Los Angeles Times editorial urged everyone to do jury duty when called. Who could disagree?

One might ask when the editors of the Times last served on a jury. But one wouldn’t get an answer. Journalists dig up personal details about others, but they respect the privacy of themselves and their colleagues.

The editorial noted that no one gets an automatic exemption anymore, including those we depend on for health and safety. Physicians, psychotherapists, nurses, medical technicians, firefighters and paramedics are no longer excused.

A physician asked to be excused, stating, "My waiting room is full of sick people who need me." The paper retorted, "Oh, puhleeze."

The editorial claimed that Los Angeles "needs" as many as 10,000 people to report for jury duty every day to keep its 583 courtrooms "humming."

This raises serious questions:

In 1970 the number of lawyers in America (per 1,000 population) passed the number of doctors, and since then it has tripled. This is not a comforting thought.

We now have over a million lawyers, by far the most of any nation. But all the litigation they generate can’t make up for the "men" who abandon their families, the business people who cheat their customers, and all the rest who neglect their obligations.

If lawyers are like vultures, it’s still not their fault that we produce so much decay for them to clean up.

Some people don’t care if tobacco companies, gun makers and fast-food chains go broke. But many people do care. And what’s next — drug companies? What if they go broke, or fear to develop new medicines? Then you’ll care, but it will be too late.

When the trial finally begins, there are interminable motions to be ruled on. Then each side presents "expert" witnesses, who are paid for opinions favorable to those who pay them. But at least witnesses are under oath. Lawyers can mischaracterize testimony and evidence and spin inventive theories, and judges let them get away with it.

In 1901 President McKinley was shot and the assassin was executed 53 days after the crime. In 1901 the homicide rate was low. That’s "humming."

These people opposed the war in Iraq and oppose executing murderers. Their respect for life extends to tyrants and killers, but not to ordinary citizens — who might need the doctors, paramedics or firefighters away on jury duty.

As increasing numbers of civil and criminal cases require more and more jurors, will we tolerate more and more doctors, nurses, paramedics and firefighters sitting in courtrooms instead of doing their own vital jobs?

Health and safety personnel are being buried under mountains of paperwork. If you doubt this, ask police how much time they take away from catching bad guys while watching each other and filling out forms to please judges.

Ask doctors how much time they take away from patient care while filling out forms and serving on hospital committees to avoid lawsuits.

Ask nurses how much time they take away from bedside duties while doing paperwork and performing other activities to please administrators.

Now add jury duty.

Then try to get your doctor when you’re feeling sick. Try to get a nurse when you push the call button. Try to find an endodontist if you need a root canal. Try to find a psychotherapist if you feel suicidal.

The paper described the doctor who asked to be excused as saying, "I’m too important for jury duty." Maybe he was that conceited. But maybe he was saying, "My medical duties are too important for me to abandon them."

What the paper and the judicial system see as a conflict of personalities is really a conflict of duties. It is, in fact, a fundamental disagreement on which is more important — human life or the legal system.

Juries are safeguards against tyranny. But alarm bells should ring when medical personnel are pulled away from patients. The justice system has become a legal system. Like a cancer, it has grown until it is choking off essential activities.

Los Angeles County is forcing health and safety professionals to leave their duties and sit on juries, but its hospital system is on the verge of collapse. The number of uninsured residents and immigrants increases daily, but the county plans to close hospitals and clinics due to lack of funds.

Meanwhile, the homicide rate is rising, but the Los Angeles City Council voted down a request for more police because of lack of funds.

What do you call people who have money for courts and lawyers, but not for hospitals and cops?

What do you call people who devote scarce resources to the legal system rather than to public health and safety?

What do you call people who tolerate a system that destroys jobs in a time of closing businesses and rising unemployment?

I call them self-destructive fools.

In short, if A cheats his customers, Dr. B has to serve on his jury. When A gets sick, he can’t get a doctor. Perhaps A deserves this. But C can’t get a doctor either. Finally C calls 911, but the response is too slow, because Paramedic D is also on the jury.

In despair C blows out the pilot and turns on the gas stove. The explosion causes a fire, but the fire department is late arriving, because the local firehouse was closed for lack of funds.

As a result, C burns to death. So his cousin E sues the landlord, the stove maker and the city. The city settles for a large sum and has to cut police patrols.

This allows cousin E to be burglarized by F, who steals his new BMW. When F is arrested, his lawyer has him plead innocent, so Dr. B is called for jury duty again. And so it goes.

Let’s fulfill our obligations to others. Then we’ll need fewer lawyers and courts. Let’s produce less decay. When vultures begin to go hungry, fewer young vultures will be hatched.

And let the legal system fix its own greed and inefficiency. Then it can justifiably require our participation. Let it remove the two-by-four from its own eye. Then it can complain about the speck of dust in ours.

The editorial was titled "Everyone Into the Jury Box." That sums things up nicely. But then who’ll mind the store?

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Recently a Los Angeles Times editorial urged everyone to do jury duty when called. Who could disagree? One might ask when the editors of the Times last served on a jury. But one wouldn't get an answer. Journalists dig up personal details about others, but they respect the...
Monday, 02 June 2003 12:00 AM
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