8B Legal Lottery
January 15, 2008
Please Read 8A before you read this.
As I’ve mentioned, about 15 years ago my wife and I were plaintiffs in a big civil trial in Oregon.
Our trial was a civil trial, though it was in a sense an “OJ” trial. That is, my wife and I felt the defendants had engaged in criminal behavior (white collar crimes rather than murder or other violent crimes) over the course of 20 years. I had tried to get the law enforcement authorities to take action. They refused on the grounds that the whole affair was too weird and strange and unlikely to ever happen again. They only wanted to pursue cases where a conviction would send a deterring message to similar criminals. The department of justice attorney I talked to gave the example of used car dealers who rip off poor migrant workers. I understood his point of view. My wife and I in a sense (perfectly legal) became vigilantes who took justice in our own hands.
When my wife and I were preparing for the trial, our lawyer discussed the various judges we might get. Of one judge, he said, “It would be very bad fortune for us to get him. He pressures the attorneys to get their clients to agree to a settlement quickly so he can go play golf. If someone refuses to settle quickly, he treats them very badly during the trial.”
Of the head judge of the Court, he said, “He is a close friend of the opposing attorney. During a preliminary hearing, I made a reasonable motion about something inappropriate the opposing counsel was asking for. The judge said, “I can’t believe he [opposing attorney] would ask for anything inappropriate. I rule against you.”
We were assigned a judge my attorney was unfamiliar with. He asked some attorneys in an office next door to him about this judge. They said the judge was rather biased, and they had bad experiences with him. My attorney was very disheartened.
When our case went to trial we discovered:
1: The judge was very courteous to everyone in the court and insisted that everyone in the court be courteous not only to him, but to each other.
2. The judge was very careful and methodical in how he conducted the trial. However, as the trial went on (and it went on for three weeks, which is about a year in dog years) it became clear to us that the judge had a definite bias in favor of us and against the people we were suing. He left no obvious trail that this was so. The verdict (strongly in our favor) was appealed to an Appeals Court and then to the Oregon Supreme Court and was upheld at every stage of the appeals process.
3. Our attorney discovered that the attorneys who had given this judge a “bad rap” (so to speak) mostly defended criminal defendants and found that his judge had a strong bias against criminals. Is that a bad thing? Honestly, I don’t know. Were his criminal trials fair but severe in a fair way?
However, in our case, once the judge perceived that we were using a civil case to take action against people who were engaged in criminal behavior, he slid over to our side, but too carefully and subtly for it to be seen in the record. I can’t prove any of this.
Even though we won, and I think properly so, the whole experience left me very dubious about the idea of justice in the justice system. I feel like a person who walked into a casino, placed one bet on the roulette wheel, won, and walked out with the money, careful never to bet again.