The Constitution protects even
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
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.
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
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 . . . ."
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
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.
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.