July 2016 Bar Bulletin
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July 2016 Bar Bulletin

Declaring Independence from a Flawed Legal System

By Larry G. Johnson


History seems to have times when revolution is in the air and everyone feels it. It certainly was in the air in 1776 when stalwart citizens felt it necessary not only to declare their independence from a distant and unfair mother country, but they also chose to launch a revolution in how they would govern themselves going forward. Thanks to their courage and foresight we enjoy the blessings of freedom we too often take for granted.

Many people feel that revolutionary spirit is abroad again in the political campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Their supporters share a common theme: The time has come to upend a status quo that has become so sclerotic that it benefits only a tiny few, as out of touch with their fellow citizens as King George III was with his colonies back in 1776.

So, why don’t we as lawyers take this moment to look at our legal system afresh and do what the Founding Fathers did in Philadelphia when they took blank sheets of paper and declared fundamental principles for what would become the United States of America? What changes would you like to see? What would you get rid of in our legal system and what would you add?

I asked myself those questions and what follows is my own Declaration of Independence from the dully accepted norms of our current legal system and from those in charge of it.

First Off, What Isn’t Working?

Here are some common complaints I hear often and happen to agree with:

• Justice costs too much, i.e., lawyers are too expensive.

• The courts are too slow and inefficient. It’s too easy for lawyers to plod, delay, obfuscate and game the system.

• Lawyers do not do enough pro bono work.

• Most judges do not work hard enough.

• State court judges subject to election are too prone to political influence.

• There is too much waste and absurdity in civil motions and, above all, unchecked discovery.

• Criminalization of drug use has swamped and corrupted the criminal justice system.

• The threat of draconian sentences from overzealous prosecutors forces too many unfair plea bargains.

Thoughts for Reform

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