California Bar Journal
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The Constitution protects even our enemies

In the April edition, Peter Riga opined that the al Qaeda fighters held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere are not entitled to the full protection of our Constitution because "[t]he Constitution was made for those at least who shared some of our values

. . ., not for those who for religious reasons want our death and the death of our way of life. . . ." To the contrary, our Constitution does not create an exception for those who do not share "some of our values," and in fact, provides people with the freedom of religion.

I am an attorney with Middle Eastern parents and I lived the early years of my life in the Middle East. What made me want to become an attorney and what I admire most about our great country is how far we go, compared with other countries, to make sure that our judicial system and the criminal and civil penalties that it passes down onto its citizens are fair and just. Contrary to Mr. Riga's opinion, our Constitution does not provide any exceptions to the freedoms that it provides.

Let's not in a moment of anger and confusion throw away over 200 years of beliefs and traditions that separate our great country from others. Now is exactly the time for us to show other countries around the world what separates us from them, our Constitutional protections even to our own enemies.

Anthony P. Azemika

Not just a piece of paper

It appears that for Mr. Riga, the Constitution is a "piece of paper," a concept that all tyrannies can ascribe to. It appears also that all international treaties are by implication pieces of paper that the United States can ignore.

It appears that Mr. Riga believes that the United States cannot defend our lives and existence through constitutional and legal means. If this is so, the Constitution is dead. If we survive without the Constitution, what are we surviving for? To live in fear of our enemies, real or imagined? To live under a homeland security, where to criticize its policies is treason? To live with a shadow government, without checks and balances or where checks and balances are ignored?

Felix de Quesada

Is guilt relevant?

Peter J. Riga puts his cartful of punishment ahead of the horse of guilt: "President Bush's idea of military tribunals judging these men with less than the full protection of constitutional freedoms is fully justified and in order." John Ashcroft has more succinctly spun the same presumption of guilt: "Foreign terrorists . . . do not deserve the protections of the American Constitution."

Mr. Riga says "I have come to this conclusion only after much thought and agony because it seems to contradict everything I believe in as an American." I guess he didn't really believe those American things after all.

Aren't real trials a bedrock of civilization? Messrs. Riga and Ashcroft seem quite sure every single prisoner is guilty. They also seem quite fearful that fair trials might not confirm their personal rush to judgment. They sure do distrust the American way of doing things.

Mr. Ashcroft has recently proposed dispensing with evidence altogether and convicting the prisoners just because they were there. That should take care of Mr. Riga's concern that the American way might not convict regardless of guilt.

Reber Boult
Albuquerque, N.M.

Scary times

With all due respect to Peter J. Riga, the protections he would have us sacrifice for the terror defendants are necessary precisely because of the issues he raises. We are living in truly scary times.

A year ago, I'm certain Mr. Riga would have agreed with the motto that the laws must protect the worst of us in order to protect the best of us. Apparently, he has now invented a theory of law that allows for us to circumvent otherwise "inalienable" rights when the suspect perpetrators are not merely bad, but really, really bad. Does he propose some standards, or elements, to determine who is really, really bad?

It's not a question of merit. We deserve a system that recognizes certain rights as inalienable to anyone born to the parents of homo sapiens species. In his argument, Mr. Riga appeals to the very passions from which the processes mandated by these rights attempt to protect the search for truth. We have these processes because hundreds of years of legal evolution have shown them to provide the balances that give us the best possibilities for arriving at a truth. In other words, the overall process is protected by these rights, not just the defendant. The horrific nature of these crimes make these rights and processes more pertinent, not less.

Eric V. Kirk

Ridiculous awards

While perusing the "Trials Digest" section in May, my jaw dropped: a $725,000 award in Stanislaus County to a Wal-Mart shopper who fractured her knee slipping and falling on a French fry dropped by another customer? Did the concept of "notice" disappear in Stanislaus? This is why trial attorneys beat their heads against their desks when a client rejects a settlement, stating, "Well, I heard about someone who was given . . . ."

Martin Zaehringer

Help for those school loans

I am a 1996 graduate of California Western who gained admission to the California bar in June 1997. Far and away the biggest and universal complaint among all of my colleagues in my age group is the enormous and never-ending law school loan debt with companies such as SallieMae.

I was recently speaking to my aunt, who informed me about a government tax credit program for educators who volunteer their services. I thought to myself, why couldn't that work in the legal profession?

What if the IRS offered a tax credit to SallieMae and these other loan companies if they allowed their borrowers to "pay down" their law school loans by performing pro bono services? The community benefits by being provided much-needed legal services for free; the loan companies don't suffer due to the tax credit, which could be invested for profit, and the attorneys' massive debt finally begins to diminish.

Scott Secor
Los Angeles

Lack of reciprocity hurts rather than protects

As a licensed California attorney having recently relocated to Pennsylvania, I think it is definitely time to relax the requirements for admission to practice in California. I recently had the privilege of sitting for Pennsylvania's bar examination. Why? Because Pennsylvania would not allow me to waive in. Why? Be-cause California will not allow Pennsylvania attorneys to waive in to California. Thus, California's refusal to allow out-of-state attorneys some sort of reciprocity is not only a bar to entry, but also a great hurdle to leaving California.

Pennsylvania's bar examination tests on 14 subjects, in addition to the multistate subjects, as well as Pennsylvania distinctions in the multistate subjects. It also requires applicants to take a performance test similar to the one given as part of California's bar exam. The bar exam here was far more difficult than California's , and covered a lot more of the information required to be an informed and competent practitioner.

It's time for California to acknowledge the realities of practice today and get over its misguided notion that the California bar examination is that difficult. It hurts California attorneys as much as it "protects" them from outside competition.

Amy Brownstein