Economic crisis freezes civil justice system
My neighbor passed my house in Seattle on skis today. People don't know what to do here when it snows more than three inches. In light of the stormy weather, I thought this article's title, Even jury hiring is frozen, was particularly timely. But what really got my attention from the article is the following:
The economic storm has come to this: Justice is being delayed or disrupted in state courtrooms across the country.
...At least 19 other states [in addition to New Hampshire, described as the "poster child" state for this problem] have slashed court budgets and other government services as their economies have tanked, said Daniel Hall, vice president of the National Center for State Courts, a nonprofit in Williamsburg, Va.
"Courts are there to provide a fair and impartial resolution of disputes," Hall said. "When you start affecting that, you affect who we are."
The article then references different states in which budget constraints have led to serious cuts in spending for the judiciary. As a result of these cuts, the civil justice system gets the short shrift so that criminal cases can continue being processed. Says the author, "cascading bankruptcies, foreclosures and business disputes have only increased the backlog" of civil cases. Of course, many of these civil claims wouldn't even exist were it not for the severely hands-off approach to regulation that has allowed lending institutions and other corporations to behave so irresponsibly and callously.
Quoted in the article, here's what some have had to say about this budget freeze in state civil justice systems:
"In my 36 years here as a lawyer and judge, I've never felt as insecure about the state courts in terms of operations and resources as I do now"--John T. Broderick, chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
"There is some element of 'justice delayed, justice denied,' no doubt about it"--Robert J. Lynn, chief justice of the New Hampshire superior courts, which conduct all New Hampshire jury trials.
"You're talking about erosion of our fundamental civic fabric"--Ellen J. Shemitz, executive director of the New Hampshire Assn. for Justice.
My two cents: interestingly, the same groups whose misdeeds likely contributed to the financial mess we're in now stand to benefit from the wreckage, which has made it less possible to hold corporations accountable through the courts. An indirect bailout for big business and yet another way that the public is being forced to pay for corporate misbehavior. Now that's cold.