Ponder This Question

July 14, 2011

Please ponder this question seriously.

What do you think of the justice system of America?

I’d like for you to take the time to reflect and even respond at my website www.billcunninghamonline.com.  At the very least, I hope you take a moment and ponder the subject.  It is not only important that our system be just in this country.  It is also equally important that it appear just.

Your opinion of our justice system rests upon your own personal experience.  It depends in large part on whether you have been a party in a criminal or civil case; whether you have served as a juror or witness; and if you have not experienced any direct involvement in the justice system, whether you rely only on what you’ve read, seen, or heard through the media.

If you have been a person who has had a case in our Kentucky court system, the chances of you being satisfied with the system will depend in large part on the result.  But your impression of the process is also important to you.  When I visit the yard of a prison in our state and talk to inmates, I usually ask them point blank, “Did the judge treat you fairly?”  You might be surprised at how often prisoners who have been sentenced by a judge to incarceration will—in a manly way—profess that the judge was fair.  The jury may not have been fair.  The prosecutor may have been a rascal and his lawyer may have been deficient.  But almost always, they have no complaint with the judge.  Responses of inmates can be a little humorous and insightful.  One older convicted felon once told me: “Bill, I’m not guilty of what I’m serving time for.  But, I’ve done so much in my life and got away with it . . . who am I to complain?”

Do The Scales of Justice Always Prevail?

Unfortunately, the people who are the most dissatisfied with our justice system are the parties to civil lawsuits.  The case took too long.  The judge was prejudiced, or lazy, or curt and impolite, or did not give them enough time or listen to them.  Or all of the above.  Some complain of their lawyers.  Their attorneys almost bankrupt them with their fees, would not return phone calls, would not explain things, failed to talk to certain witnesses, or were incompetent.

Most of the lawsuits today involve divorce, property line disputes, contract enforcement, eviction, personal injury, litigation over an estate, personal injury, or any number of other possible private disagreements.  More and more of our cases are going to mediation.  People and lawyers are giving up on the court system.  It takes too long.  It’s too expensive.

Who’s to blame?  People like me.  Lawyers and judges.  We have our work cut out for us. We must strive to streamline our system and make it more affordable.  In short, it needs to be made more user friendly.

If you have served as a juror, your experience will most likely depend on where you served.  If you served in a heavily populated urban area, your time may have been unpleasant.  There, because of the size of the docket, there will be a large number of cases and numerous lawyers and judges involved in the process on a single day.  Jurors are likely to be given a cold and impersonal number and herded like cattle from one room to the next and spend much wasted time waiting in colorless rooms.

Almost all jurors I talk to in rural areas have had a good experience in serving on a jury. The judge and lawyers were courteous and considerate of their time.  The court started on time and the roles of the jurors were clearly explained.  Wasted motion and time were minimal. The cases were interesting and the experience positive.  Judges, lawyers, and clerks in Kentucky have made great efforts over the past 20 years to take better care of jurors.  In the final analysis, they are the most important people in the system.  With next to no pay, they are randomly summonsed from their busy lives to come and serve the thankless, but critical, job of passing judgment on their fellow human beings. I’ve often said that if you paid jurors what they are worth, it would bankrupt the state.

Judged By A Jury of Your Peers

Some of the most abused people in our justice system today are witnesses.  Sometimes they do not know why they are being summoned to court.  The lawyers have not talked to them.  They have to take off work and be at the courthouse at a precise time. They lose money by coming and, unlike jurors, do not even get a pittance for their time. Yet, they may sit there in a room with other witnesses for hours, even days on end, without being called.  Sometimes, when the trial is winding up on the third day, someone—a lawyer, bailiff, or clerk—will come and tell them they can leave. They will not be needed. This is shabby and inexcusable treatment.

Judges are responsible for running their courtrooms. But they have limited control over witnesses. The court, through the clerk’s office, is the authority which forces witnesses to appear through the summoning process.  But the responsibility of how witnesses are treated primarily belongs to the party who subpoenas them.  And that function is carried on by lawyers.  Good lawyers want happy witnesses testifying in behalf of their cases.  The summons must state a particular time. But when they will actually need to take the stand and testify varies greatly with how the trial progresses.  Considerate lawyers will   have their secretaries or investigators notify their witnesses of a more precise time closer to when they will actually be needed.  This will keep them from wasting a lot of time at the courthouse waiting to testify. The lawyers or their investigators will have always talked to their witnesses prior to trial and will have advised them as to what to expect.  In most instances, they will even discuss the questions expected on cross examination. They are sensitive to the witnesses’ job demands, their families, and their time.  Good lawyers will carefully nurture and take care of witnesses just as the judge does jurors.

At last, if your only impression of our justice system is what you’ve read in the paper, heard on the radio, or seen on television, I’ve got news for you.  You’ve got a lot to learn. The O.J. Simpson case and the most recent Casey Anthony trial kidnapped the country via television. The Simpson case went on for months and the Anthony trial for far too long.  In a Kentucky courtroom, these cases would have lasted for ten days at the most.  Good judges do not let one trial take over the docket, shouldering other important cases onto the back burner, simply because they may not be as sensational.  Neither the state nor criminal defendants with all their cherished rights have the right to commandeer a court system, calling an unlimited number of witnesses and asking an unlimited number of questions.  If Judge Ito had to be in the next county starting a case on Monday, the O.J. Simpson trial would not have turned into a circus.

Unfortunately, only the aberrations in our justice system—courtroom battles dealing with sex, violence or public figures with bizarre, maybe even ridiculous, results—get major network gavel to gavel television coverage.  For the most part, thousands of trials are conducted across this land without fanfare and, for the most part, with reasonable outcomes.

So, don’t trust your opinion of America’s justice system by what you see on television.  When trials have commercials, greed has stuck its uncaring hands into the justice jar.

So, I’m back to where I started.  What do you think about the American justice system?

2 Responses to “Ponder This Question”

  1. Victim of DV said

    Before I answer your question, I’d like to ask you a few questions. What do you think of the Justice System in Muhlenberg County, KY? Paul Harvey has voiced his opinion a few times and of course, I’m no one of importance (until election time), but I’d like to give you a little ‘first hand’ insight on Muhlenberg County Justice. I’m a victim of Domestic Violence and I know how it feels to stand up to your abuser via the legal system and I know how it feels when that legal system knocks you back down and drains almost every ounce of self-dignity out of you. I know how it feels when a Judge tells you he doesn’t believe your abuser ever laid a hand on you while your ER photographs and medical bills are spread out on the table in front of him. I know how it feels when your standing in a courtroom full of people and the judge repeatedly be-littles you and calls you a liar, even after he realizes the mistake was his own. And I know how it feels when the KY Bar Association decides to turn a blind-eye to a judges’ inappropiate behavior when the complaint is laid upon their table. I also know how it feels to continually push an attorney to do their job when their job is to uphold the law, which is already in place. The Office of Jack Conway offered me a piece of advise, ‘Don’t provoke your abuser’. Needless to say, I have little (if any) faith in the Justice System. I had enough courage to do what the courts imply I should do, I stood up for my family’s rights and in return, the Justice System knocked me right back down and drained almost every ounce of self dignity out of me. So, I know how it feels when the ‘Good-Ole Boy’ syndrome of our justice system out-weighs the law. How do you feel about it?

  2. Roger Phelps said

    Mr.Cunningham,I saw first hand how corrupt the Kentucky Judicial System is from the Judge to the prosecutor ND THE STATE APPOINTED DEFENSE.tHEY ALL WORK TOGETHER AND ARE PAID BY THE STATE OF Kentucky.When a prosecutor comes up to the defense after a person is convicted and the prosecutor tells the defense that he knows his client didn’t kill someone I say misconduct. Steve Beshears and Jack Conway and apparently you can know that you put an innocent person in prison for 25 years.I would like to know if this is just a show or will you help clear an innocent person of murder.Contact me for more detailson this case. Sincerely Roger Phelps 275 Echo Valley Road Fredonia ,Kentucky 42411 2706010582 or 2705459237

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