|In my first presidents column, I wrote that our judicial system was under
attack and that the State Bar of California and its members should be principal players
supporting and improving our judicial system. This is part of our professional duties, and
in a speech at our last Annual Meeting, Chief Justice Ronald George cited the following
ABA Model Rule:
As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek
improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered
by the legal profession.
What are the attacks on our judicial system and our courts, and how
can we help?
In our system of government, courts, and only courts, have the
important but uncomfortable duty of protecting constitutional freedoms from majority rule.
Further, courts and lawyers operate in an adversary system of justice whose systemic and
philosophical underpinnings often seem too subtle for many to understand. This often leads
to unfair attacks on courts and our judicial system. It is constitutionally absurd to
attack court decisions against school prayer simply because the majority wants such
prayer. Yet such arguments are regularly made in attacks on the courts by citizens and
even lawyers who should know better.
Courts can continue to protect our freedoms only as long as we honor
and support our courts. As my Constitutional Law Professor Reginald Alleyne noted, the
courthouse guards at the United States Supreme Court would not do very well against any
state militia opposed to Brown v. Board of Education. Courts are effective only through
the informed respect of citizens. Lawyers and bar associations must keep aware of threats
to our courts and be prepared to stand up for our courts. We must also seek to inform
citizens about our system, maybe even by writing articles like this!
The judicial system is
also tarnished by unfair attacks in plays, movies, television shows, and other media. Too
often, journalists incorrectly charge that this negative trend started with the
Shakespeare quote from King Henry VI, Part 2: The
first thing we do, lets kill all the lawyers. In fact, these words are spoken
by a riotous, anarchistic demagogue. People need to be informed that Shakespeare is here
complimenting lawyers as protectors of the social order. Other inaccurate portrayals of
the legal system abound. The system does not operate as depicted in The Insider and Ally
McBeal. And judges do a far better job of courteously and professionally dispensing
justice than depicted on Judge Judy. Again, lawyers and bar associations must respond by
educating citizens about how our system operates.
For our judicial system to work, we need highly qualified judges.
Some have argued that court unification might discourage good lawyers from seeking
judgeships, and private judging lures good judges away from the bench. It does seem that
the only way for a judge to protest poor pay is to vote with judicial footsteps walking to
the nearest private judging company! In
response, we must work to uphold the honor and importance of judicial service. Our judges
and the system they serve deserve our respect. Unfortunately, there is an alarming trend
in our profession to view participants as players in the pursuit of profits, and the more
you make, the better you are. It has been noted that this destructively diminishes and
dismisses lawyers pursuing public service over profits. Even more so, it also denies
judges the respect they deserve. We must fight this trend by recognizing the importance
and honor of serving as a judge.
A more direct response to the dilemma of underpaid judges is to pay
them more! Salary increases are particularly timely now that unification has been imposed
with its promised savings. Moreover, recent headlines herald a brave new world where first
year associates are making close to $150,000! We cannot let judicial salaries fall too far
behind, and judges should not be paid less than public lawyers appearing before them! We
should follow the example of lawyers like Don Gray who are working to improve our justice
system by increasing judicial salaries. It is particularly important for lawyers and bar
associations to do this since it is difficult for judges to do so.
Other shortfalls tarnish the image and effectiveness of our judicial
system. We need more judges and a sufficient number of court personnel and research
clerks. We also need courthouses that are safe, accessible, and suitable for the important
role of our judicial system. Those believing our societal values are reflected in the
structures we erect would have to conclude that sports and shopping and stadiums and malls
are far more important to us that justice in our courtrooms.
Another factor tarnishing the image of our courts is that citizens
dislike their experience with the court institution that impacts them most frequently:
jury service. The solution here is jury reform, such as simplifying jury instructions and
increasing juror pay in California, which is the lowest in the country. Lawyers and bar
associations should take advantage of opportunities to help with juror reform.
Clearly there is a constant need to support and improve our justice
system. The State Bar and its more than 168,000 lawyers, one out of every eight in the
United States, should play a key role in this important professional obligation. The
Conference of Delegates, the sections and State Bar committees all provide great
opportunities to help. So turn off Judge Judy, tune in to bar activities, and dont