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Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California July2003
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Return to ‘ritual’ a pain in the bum

I am an inactive attorney who has never practiced, but had occasion recently to handle a minor personal litigation. I was appalled at the amount of silly, extraneous, formalistic and ritualistic encrustation that persists in the legal system. When I was in law school in the early ’60s, it was my impression that this morass was slowly being cleared — beginning with the abolition of the requirement of seals on contracts and simplification of pleadings. Apparently the effort died.

For example, I had occasion to request a change of date for a scheduled case management conference. This simple, perfunctory procedure generated over 20 pieces of paper, and that was just at my end! Cover letters, declarations, proofs of service, affidavits of mailings, stipulations, etc., and all this just to handle a consensual detail. Every baby step taken in a California court evokes a Dickensian nightmare.

Whose fault is it that this is perpetuated? Yours! Attorneys pay sheep-like obeisance to these legalistic formalities — even exacerbate it by creatively throwing in an additional notarization or affidavit for safe measure now and then.

All this wasted energy converts to billable hours that are passed on to consumers of legal services and contributes to the fact that most people rate a visit to an attorney right up there with rectal surgery.

Only you can change it. Experiment by streamlining your communications and strip away some of the formalities. If an officious little piss-ant from the court clerk’s office sends it back, challenge him.

Write to the chief judge or court administrator about simplifying local practice procedures. That is, unless you cherish all this crap as part of an attorney’s Full Employment Act.

Joe Rution
Santa Barbara

Better security is answer

Your cover article about the 10th anniversary of the murders at 101 California Street in San Francisco (June) reminded me of being at my own firm a block away the next day, in a meeting called to consider ways of improving security.

I pointed out that, when I worked at military office buildings like the Pentagon, we had metal detectors, X-ray inspection of bags and armed guards, and had not had an attack inside the building by an armed gunman.

In light of the millions of handguns that already exist in the United States, the inherent inability to completely stem illegal traffic in firearms, and the fact that people intent on murder don’t mind violating gun laws, the only way to prevent these attacks is to establish real security, including armed guards. If we fail to take collective responsibility for ensuring that each office building is a gun-free zone, then the paradoxical next best alternative is to enable our responsible coworkers who are willing to do so to carry their own personal firearms.

A lawfully armed employee of Pettit & Martin could have disabled the killer and saved some of those many innocent lives.

Raymond Takashi Swenson
Idaho Falls, Idaho

Twisted numbers

You twist the statistics to suit your obvious ideological tilt. You cite a roughly accurate number of 29,000 firearm deaths nationally, but omit the critical facts that 16,586 of the 28,863 deaths were self-inflicted, 776 were accidental, 270 were due to “legal intervention” and the remaining 10,801 were due to “assault.”

Also, you lump all firearm-related deaths into the phrase, “guns are used to kill 29,000 Americans annually.” Technically accurate but misleading and intellectually dishonest. The article also displays a certain degree of megalomania by claiming that one admittedly horrific event had “far reaching repercussions” that included legislation probably in the works for years before the July 1, 1993, tragedy, but passed in the following year.

Charles Funaro
Pasadena

Firearms can prevent crime

Consider two sets of facts. First, despite Draconian anti-gun laws, venues like New York City, Washing-ton, D.C., and California have not reduced illegal firearm violence one whit. Ask the residents of Oakland and South Central LA. England’s recent near total ban on possession of civilian firearms and punishment for their use in self-defense have resulted in violence against the public escalating at an exponential rate.

Second, if only one person with a CCW permit had been present at the commission of the demented crimes at 101 California, Killeen, Texas, and Columbine High School, deaths might have been prevented as they were at Appalachian School of Law in Janu-ary 2002 when armed students brought a quick end to a potentially disastrous event.

There is credible research showing that firearms are used regularly to prevent crimes. The adage that society is safer when criminals do not know who is armed is supported by logic and experience.

Frederic Keith Varni
San Bernardino

Guns and government

Armed citizens are a vital aspect of free societies because they keep governments in check. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you compare the 20th century histories of Europe and North America. You will notice a little discrepancy: In Europe, governments killed about 100 million innocent people. In America, zero. Amazingly, America beats Europe even if you count shooting sprees committed by lunatics in law offices!

I don’t have time to go through your article to point out every pathetic instance of bias. By way of example, you describe the knee-jerk anti-self-defense lobbying by traumatized crime victims as “anti-violence advocacy.” I would describe the activities you refer to as “anti-civil rights idiocy.” A non-biased reporter might describe it as “firearm regulation advocacy.”

I suggest you move to Europe. There, only government agents have guns. Just make sure you’re not

Joseph P. Whitcombe
Davis

Laws and lawsuits

The notion that the answer to gun violence lies in suing gun manufacturers out of existence, or in adding a string of new laws to an already pervasive system of firearms regulation is, however well-meaning, absurd.

I am against gun violence. But I cannot support the efforts of groups such as LCAV. Rather than acknowledging the simple truth that criminals will not respect or be inhibited by additional gun laws, and that our focus should properly be on enhanced penalties and stricter enforcement of existing statutes, gun control advocates too often exhibit a troubling indifference to the Second Amend-ment, relying on an impossibly tortured interpretation of the law in pursuit of their goals.

On at least one point, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and I agree — California is indeed fast becoming a “nightmare” for legitimate gun owners.

John Kelly Astor
Orange

Help for the vulnerable

The June article on predatory loans” is wonderful and inspiring, especially to all elder law attorneys, and those who serve vulnerable minorities.

On Friday, Sept. 6, at the State Bar Annual Meeting, the program “Home-Sweet-Home: Fighting Predatory Lending” will present remedies and show how to develop appropriate strategies for successful litigation.

Mary Pat Toups
Laguna Woods

A vote for court reporters

As a deputy public defender in Ventura County for 14 years I, and my colleagues, have had a chance to compare court reporters to tape recorders. Felony cases are reported by court reporters while misdemeanors are recorded on tape or now sometimes on CD.

In general the tape recordings are terrible and often cannot be transcribed. Some of my cases have been reversed because there is no record due to equipment failure or human error. Trying to save money by eliminating court reporters is shortsighted and will end up costing more in the long run. I just want to have it on record so I can say, “I told you so.”

D. Zane Smith
Ventura

Irrational verdicts

As I scanned Trials Digest (June), I had to wonder what is happening to our jury system when awards such as $14,456,000 and $84,750,000 are handed out for the loss of an eye and medical malpractice in the care of a newborn.

Absent a reduction in damages by the court or the grant of new trials on the damage claims, awards of this size don’t compensate — they reward like a lotto pay-off.
Were both claims traumatic and tragic to the victims? Of course, yes. Do they warrant shifting nearly one- tenth of a billion dollars to those same victims? Hardly. Of the 42 awards reported, fully 19 were for more than a million dollars. That’s an astounding 45 percent.

If our civil jury system is to be preserved, the tort verdicts it generates simply have got to have a more rational relationship to fair compensation for losses than the state lottery system has to the earnings of the few winners it produces.

Richard G. Heston
Newport Beach

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