July 2013 Bar Bulletin
 
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From the Desk of the Presiding Judge

Trust: More than Just a Five-Letter Word

By Judge Richard McDermott

 

This month's theme is Trust. Many thoughts come to mind when I think of that word. First is my trust that we live with the very best system of justice in the world.

As presiding judge, I see many representatives from foreign countries who visit our court and they constantly express amazement at our system. They ask how we can have a system of justice that allows 12 strangers who come from different places and backgrounds to actually have the power to make final decisions that affect people in the most profound ways. I mention that it is precisely that background that makes the system work. I remind them that they have to be able to trust that the jurors will want to do the right thing.

Next, I teach my students at Seattle University's School of Law that trust is the most important concept in establishing the basic attorney/client relationship. If a client trusts his or her lawyer, they will be more likely to openly discuss their case and disclose their most sensitive confidences, which will allow their lawyer to do the best job possible to represent them. In order to earn that trust, attorneys have to keep confidences.

Then, I think about the courtroom, which I consider to be almost as sacred as the most beautiful sanctuary of the most spectacular church. It is a place where trust should flourish without any question. But that is not always the case. Witnesses take oaths, but often we encounter two totally opposite versions of the same incident. Judges and juries are tasked with the job of deciding which story to believe, to determine who is telling the truth. That is not often easy, but it is always frustrating. Can something be done to curb this ridiculous trend?

I wonder why the crime of perjury is not charged or pursued very often. The prosecutors say that it is too difficult to prove. Really? There is an oath. There is a record for posterity. Either it is true or it is not true. Let me be clear. I am not talking about criminal cases involving the testimony of the defendant. The finder of fact has to decide the credibility of the defendant.

I am speaking about those cases where parties are fighting over property or custody of the children or the performance of a contract or even a bogus alibi witness in a criminal case. I am sure there are many examples that our bench could expand on.


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