California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - April 1999
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Legal specialist exam set Aug. 19
Sullivan to take reins at Stanford Law School
Only two appointed members remaining on State Bar board
Legal services board has five vacancies
Davis taps Michael Kahn
State Bar honors Justice Mosk with Witkin Medal
Board tentatively approves budget based on dues of $384
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If it distracts, so be it
Let's cut back on jury service
Limit bar to admissions and discipline
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From the President - Door to justice must be open
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Letters to the Editor
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Law Practice - Preparing for a successful mediation
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Appointments - Apply to serve on a bar committee
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Legal Tech - DSL speeds up Internet - at a reasonable price
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New Products & Services
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MCLE Self-Study
Taxes and long-term care
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Trials Digest
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Ethics Byte - Fiduciary duties basis for all rules
Attorney nabbed at State Bar offices for soliciting murders
Attorney Discipline
Ethics for the 21st Century - A canon for the future
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Public Comment
Survey measures confidence in system
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Surveyof 1,000 adults which was conducted last August.

Among the other findings:

78 percent believe the jury system is the fairest way to determine guilt or innocence and 69 percent think juries are the most important part of the American justice system.

Only 14 percent could identify William H. Rehnquist as the chief justice of the United States, and only one-quarter of those surveyed could identify even one of the three branches of government.

Just over half think convicted criminals are not punished severely enough, and 68 percent think too many are set free on technicalities.

Despite the survey's key finding that eight out of 10 adults believe the American justice system is the best in the world, ABA President Philip S. Anderson said he was troubled that 47 percent of those questioned feel that courts do not treat all racial and ethnic groups the same.

Philip S. Anderson"This is a very serious problem and it is one that we cannot afford to ignore," Anderson said. He noted that only 16 percent of white lawyers said they had witnessed racial bias in the justice system in the last three years, while 67 percent of black lawyers said they had.

"This raises the obvious question that if people believe the justice system is tainted with bias, how long can they expect the courts to remedy bias elsewhere in our system? . . . We are concerned that the current perception of bias will eventually erode confidence in our system of justice."

Respondents were asked the same questions about confidence that were posed in a 1978 survey, and found significant increases in the public's confidence in key components of the justice system.

The levels of confidence in all kinds of courts - the U.S. Supreme Court, other federal courts, and state and local courts - have increased, although in some cases the level of confidence remains low. Half of those polled said they were "extremely or very confident" in the U.S. Supreme Court, compared with 36 percent in 1978. Thirty-four percent showed strong support in other federal courts and 28 percent expressed strong confidence in state courts.

In contrast, only 18 percent ex-pressed strong confidence in the U.S. Congress, and 14 percent expressed strong confidence in lawyers.

Pollsters also questioned people about their confidence in other professions. The news media is at the bottom of the heap, with only 8 percent expressing strong confidence in news organizations. Confidence in doctors, organized religion and public schools declined in the past 20 years.

When it comes to information about the law itself, those questioned demonstrated large gaps in their knowledge. More than one-third (37 percent) believe incorrectly that a criminal defendant has to prove his or her innocence. At the same time, 99 percent know that "anyone accused of a crime has the right to be represented in court by a lawyer."

A surprising 96 percent know that a criminal defendant who is found not guilty still can be sued in civil court. The survey speculated that such a high degree of knowledge about a "relatively obscure concept" can most likely be attributed to publicity about the O.J. Simpson murder trial and subsequent wrongful death civil case.

Although the questions were different, a "legal literacy" survey conducted by the State Bar of California in 1991 also found a general dearth of legal knowledge in the state. However, while the ABA survey found that 63 percent of respondents believe a defendant must prove his or her innocence, the California poll found that 48 percent of those questioned held the same incorrect belief.

Because nearly two-thirds of those questioned said they want to know more about the courts, Anderson used the poll results to call on the Supreme Court to open its chambers to cameras.

"One television camera in the Supreme Court will educate more people more effectively in one morning than the traditional methods can reach in one year," he said.

The survey was conducted by M/A/R/C Research, an independent research firm in Chicago, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.