The Cost of Justice

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Rising Costs

Rising Costs

As if stress, paying attorney fees, and other costs of going to court weren’t enough to cope with, those wanting justice are now facing increased fees for nearly everything court-related.

The purpose of the court system is to interpret and apply laws enacted by the legislature. At least, that is what students are told starting in elementary school, reiterated throughout several years of social studies and government classes. In fact, its actual purpose is to provide citizens with a method for seeking justice, whether a neutral party to settle a dispute or redress for an injury or grievance.

However, the state of Alaska, among other states, has assigned the court system another role: that of generating revenue.

Just this month, Alaska increased its fees for anyone filing a case or a form with the court system, as well as for copies of any documents. The State reports that some of the fees have not been increased since around 1990, indicating that the increase is long overdue. This is, of course, a red herring.

There is little dispute that there are costs associated with maintaining a court system, as with any State or Federal office. Forms, copies, clerks of court, judges, (sometimes elaborate) court houses – these all cost money. Increased costs related to inflation and decreased State revenue are also factors that might be considered.

These are not, however, the only – or even the main – reasons for the increased fees. The State wants more revenue. It wants to make money off of its citizens’ troubles. Rather than going to cover rising costs of the administration of court business, the additional money from the increased fees will be going towards the State’s general fund.

The general fund is the overall fund through which the State supports services such as Medicaid, social services, and some road maintenance. For those who subscribe to the idea of government providing services, these may not necessarily be bad expenditures. They are not, however, expenditures related to the running of the court system, a system supposedly guaranteed to be accessible to all.

If courts exist to provide citizens with a method of redress and/or to interpret law, and the costs for accessing the court are rising, citizens with limited resources are necessarily restricted or prohibited from accessing the system meant to protect them. Justice becomes a privilege of the well-off.

As anyone who has attempted to hire an attorney knows, knowledgeable representation is in reality only a viable option for those with thousands of dollars on hand. The average Joe, and even more so the low-income Joe barely pulling in minimum wage, must often do his best by accessing self-help centers and trying to navigate forms and statutes peppered with legalese and archaic writing forms. If he is lucky, his case is assigned a judge that will take into consideration his lack of a law degree and paralegal staff. If he is not, his case can be lost on an obscure technicality such as not using a correct legal term.

And now the State wants to make it even more difficult for our Joe. In order to effectively represent himself, he will need to have (more of) enough cash or credit on hand to even begin filing required court documents. At some point, he will almost undoubtedly need to obtain copies of documents filed with the court; for example, when he files with the court, and the court clerk stamps his forms with the “received on” date, he will want to have a copy of those himself. If for any reason he does not have the required funds (quite plausible), he will not be able to file, nor possibly to even respond to a filing against himself. The court, receiving nothing from Joe, will determine that he is either in agreement, not interested, a deadbeat, or has no case, and in a vast majority of cases will rule against him – thus his case is lost before he even has an opportunity to present his side.

Depending on the type of case, his income, and his willingness to report it to the court, Joe may be able to apply for waivers of some of the fees. Some would argue that this solves the dilemma. It does not. Even if Joe knows about the option to apply for a waiver, how is justice served if he must report his income in order to access the courts, but Wealthy Will does not? Will’s privacy, his representation by a person conversant with law and legal nuance, and his basic right and ability to seek judicial satisfaction are all but guaranteed by his greater economic resources.

For Average Joe, this is not equal access to the law. It is one more way he cannot fight a system already skewed against him.

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What “They” Fear

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“In a world that wants us to be angry, bitter, selfish and vile, I realized that the truest form of rebellion is uncompromising righteousness. In this day and age, I believe that a true rebel does not run the streets with a weapon yelling stuff. True rebels live the life they believe is right, no matter the consequences. Those in power do not fear some random person with a weapon. They can easily control that. Those in power fear those that are not corruptible, not buy-able, not brainwash-able, and not scare-able.”  ~Vigilant Citizen

Bullies and Heros

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As we continue on in this world rife with conflicts and military “actions” (fka “wars”), a thinking person must consider the question: “What would I do in situation X?” A more aware person asks, “What will I do?”

We all want to believe that we hold deep within ourselves the potential for heroism. Faced with an unfathomable evil, a Hero will bravely stand his ground, roaring a challenge of Truth and Righteousness. A brief battle ensues, the Righteous Person’s strength flags…still he presses on… he falls back… it looks as though hope is lost..he rallies… he rises up in a sudden burst of Knowledge, Righteousness, and Truth, and the Hero overcomes the Evil, defeating it forever – or at least until the sequel comes out. His (our) superior character is victorious – and he gets the girl, exiting the scene tired, smiling, and content that all is good again. Hollywood has the formula down pat.

The media’s formula is similar, albeit slightly different. Each time an evil is vanquished, another rises up to take its place. When was the last world news cast that did not devote a significant amount of time to denouncing a particularly “evil” nation? The target is always moving. Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Viet Nam, Korea… Of the currently 195 independent nations in the world, the U.S. has openly participated in conflicts against at least one-fourth of them. This does not include covert operations, or wars fought within its own borders.

To put this in perspective, consider the amount of attention bullying in schools is garnering. The National Center for Educational Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov) states that 27.8% of school students reported being bullied at school in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available). This has resulted in a nation-wide push for bullying prevention strategies, interventions, and curricula to be instituted in public schools. Effects of bullying can include “depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness….loss of activities they used to enjoy…Health complaints…Decreased academic achievement” (www.stopbullying.gov). Further, “A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures.”

According to stopbullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Let’s apply that definition to a wider population: “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among nations that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

If history over the last century or two is examined, it becomes apparent which nation has held the greatest amount of real and perceived power, both monetary (such as holding the recognized world reserve currency) and military (maintaining the largest military, the most [and most destructive] weapons, and the greatest number of military bases worldwide). That nation has repeatedly inserted itself into the politics, economics, and policies of nations worldwide, often calling for sanctions (punishments) for those nations who do not comply with its will. This has happened with approximately 25% of the world – statistically similar to the percentage of bullied children that has so galvanized the American educational system to action. As a result, the world perception of the U.S. is not a positive one, despite the American media’s declarations to the contrary.

Unfortunately for the average citizen bystander, the same holds true for nation victims of bullying as for child victims of bullying: A small number might (read: will) retaliate through extremely violent measures. When a nation decides that enough is enough, the results could be more catastrophic than most realize.

When that happens, and the realities of war are on our doorsteps, it would be wise to remember the words of Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor:

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Any moment can be one in which we practice the building blocks of heroism. Every day can be one in which we choose peace. Peaceful interaction is not always easy; it requires effort and practice to become habit. As Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:1-4)

The choice is ours, in every situation – how will we respond? Will we practice perseverance, practice peace, and build character into our lives? Or will we be overcome by every plight because we have neglected intentional resolve and forbearance in our lives?

Circumstances don’t make the man; they reveal his character.

Everyone Has to Practice Nonviolence. Now. by Rev. John Dear

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Well-stated examination of non-violence in our real world

Dandelion Salad

"Nonviolence means not only avoiding external physical violence but also internal violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, you refuse to hate him" Sign (Washington, DC) Image by takomabibelot via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

by Rev. John Dear
originally published on Common Dreams
May 14, 2015

The death of unarmed Freddie Gray in police custody and the subsequent riots in Baltimore demonstrate the profound systemic injustice in our country, as well as the complete misunderstanding and widespread hypocrisy about nonviolence.

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“Honor” doesn’t mean what we think

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A certain “news” cast recently ridiculed a soldier who had gone missing or AWOL, repeatedly criticizing a friend’s defending him as “honorable.” In this media head’s eyes, a man’s refusal to kill indiscriminately, and subsequent choice to walk away from a life and situation that demanded he do so, can be nothing but dishonorable. Such a viewpoint, expounded by a person purported to be a Christian, calls for some examination.

The definition of honor, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, is “high moral standards of behavior.” Dictionary.com defines it as “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs or actions.” Oxford American English Dictionary: “adherence to what is right…quality of knowing and doing what is morally right.”

In other words, honor is the choice to follow and do what one knows is right, regardless of the consequences for oneself.

Now of course humans are fallible. I would venture to say that not one person in the history of the world (excepting, of course, Jesus, who was – and is – so much more than human) has been completely honorable in every aspect of life. However, for this newscaster, while vociferously proclaiming “Christianity,” to condemn another for refusing to kill is both disheartening and at odds with the teaching of the one he claims as a Savior. It would be funny if only there weren’t tens of thousands more doing the same.

Some would argue that this soldier gone AWOL had an obligation, a contract to fulfill. He joined the military; he chose this life. But perhaps it is not so black and white.

Military recruiters, by virtue of the position, are salesmen. Their one job is to fill the ranks of their field with as many willing and, they hope, capable young men and women as they can. And they are given many advantages in order to do so. Their offices are often in shopping malls where teenagers meet and hang out. Commercials abound on television, the internet, and the radio, depicting an exciting life of adventure and bravery. The typical recruiter builds on this same platform, talking with the potential recruit about travel, benefits such as college tuition, and choice in training and station. He paints a picture of excitement, prestige, and security, all rolled into an impressively uniformed package.

Recruiters have another advantage. They are given access to students in public – and some private – schools. A ripe captive audience largely anesthetized by video games that glorify the killing of faceless enemies, who miraculously jump back up for more the next time the game is loaded. The reality, when these young students find themselves graduated to active duty combat, is altogether different.

I don’t believe that recruiters are monsters. Of the ones that I have met, I can say that they have been people who care about their families and who want to defend their loved ones from a perceived threat. They believe the words they speak about defending their country, and are respected for following their convictions.

Why, then, is another man who follows his convictions publicly denounced and vilified? Simply because his convictions don’t mesh with public opinion? This man could not silence his conscience and do what he believed to be morally wrong.

Thankfully, neither did Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or Jesus.