But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal – Atticus Finch
One of my top ten favorite books is To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Interestingly enough, it’s also in my top ten favorite movies. When was the last time a movie based on a novel wasn’t an absolute affront to the book? I love the character’s names – Boo Radley, Scout, Jem, Eula May. But my favorite was Atticus. I will forever associate the name with the heroic, wise and principaled attorney played so perfectly by Gregory Peck. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think that in real life, his character is about as real as The Tooth Fairy.
Let me do a little damage control by saying that I have good friends that are practicing attorneys, and most of them have an excellent moral compass. But they tend to be more pragmatic than heroic – the way the system is set up, they kind of have to be. Although far from a proven hypothesis, my guess would be this moral but pragmatic group is still a significant minority of lawyers out their practicing law. The rest of them…well let’s just say I am 99 percent certain that Satan doesn’t really exists, but if he did, I am also 99 percent certain he would be an attorney.
Believe it or not, I didn’t always feel this way, As a matter of fact, for a minute or two in college I actually toyed with the idea of going to law school. I still love the concept of law, but I’m really glad I didn’t pursue it – otherwise I might have ended up just another soulless pariah with a business suit.
When did my opinion begin to change on the nobility of practicing law? Well, like a lot of people, it probably began with the OJ Simpson trial. If you think that money doesn’t influence the outcome of both criminal and civil matters, well than I have a timeshare in Bakersfield I’d like to tell you about. Dream Team? I’d say a more accurate description would be the Ream Team, because they took the concept of justice and shoved it up our collective asses.
Do you honestly believe if OJ wasn’t rich and famous he would have been found innocent? Puleeze. He had attorneys smart enough to pick jurors that had an ax to grind, and theatrical enough to deliver catch phrases like “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit!” Not to mention, one of the attorneys was none other than Robert Kardashian, and if his contributions to getting a murderer off scott free weren’t bad enough, he also spawned the 3Ks that will no doubt curse humanity for generations to come. (I prefer not to say their actual names because – much like uttering the name Voldemort – it simply gives them more power.) And don’t get me started on Judge Ito.
I also think that class-action attorneys haven’t really made the world better or safer, just more expensive. There are exceptions of course, and although I think in theory the concept makes sense, in practice it fails to deliver. The idea was that a single individual could not possibly be on a fair playing field when going up against a multi-million or billion dollar corporation – which is undoubtedly true. Collectively they have more power.
A hypothetical example: (Hypothetical in this instance meaning it occurs about as often as the sun rises and sets on any given day.) If a mega bank defrauded their customers, charging them a bogus fee for a particular transaction, and a single individual files a lawsuit to complain about how they essentially stole a hundred dollars from him, or whatever the amount might be, do you think he would pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to take the bank on? Of course he wouldn’t. And even if he was dumb enough to do so, he would quickly be swatted away like a pesky fly that alights on a horses ass. But if you take said individual and multiply him by the thousands, well now you’ve got their attention.
The problem with this concept is that the veryattorneys that are supposed to be fighting for the little guy, are no less greedy than the corporations they litigate against. Case in point -the class action lawsuit brought by the law firm Milberg LLP against Nvidia, a chip maker, for making a faulty computer chip. The roughly 28 thousand claimants divvied up a 10 million dollar settlement. That’s about 350 dollars toward repairs or a computer swap per claimant. And the attorneys? Well they split 13 million dollars in attorney’s fees. According to Milberg’s website, they employ 75 attorneys nationwide. Assuming every single one of their attorneys worked on this case (which is inconceivable since they have several different practice areas other than mass tort litigation), that would mean over $170,000 in fees per attorney. When it comes to fucking their customers, Nvidia is a bunch of amateurs compared to these guys.
Here in Sacramento, we also have a little problem with the filing of frivolous ADA lawsuits by attorney Scott Johnson and attorney Lynn Hubbard. Between the two of them, they filed 182 ADA lawsuits in Sacramento in 2005 alone. Johnson has filed well over a thousand in the past few years, basically terrorizing small business owners throughout the region. If you see this pleasant looking fellow and his cute dog coming toward the front door of your establishment, my advice would be to a) find a crucifix and some garlic, stat; b) start hurling stacks of hundred dollar bills at him until he turns around and leaves; or c) immediately close your doors and lay off all your employees, because it’s futile to take on the ADA mafia. Of course not all ADA lawsuits are frivolous, but I suspect that most of the ones filed by this guy are little more than legalized extortion, plain and simple.
Is this post funny? Sorry, no – unless one believes in an inherently dark genre of humor that can ease the pain of realizing the full extent of man’s corruption, and upon hearing the final death knell of one’s ideals. Do I have a moral to this story? Unfortunately no – other than to tell you that if you think the scales of justice are balanced, and that for most attorneys, integrity comes first and money second, then you are either blessed beyond belief to have had zero need for an attorney in your life thus far, or you’re a plucky little orphan girl with ringlets in your hair and a song in your heart. Either way, I envy your innocence.