Greeting, salutations, and recriminations! To celebrate my long period of, “Whatever, man, I’m not being paid for this,” I am returning with a longer post about a serious topic. And, unlike almost every other post, I will start by giving you a quick, easy, answer to the question posed.
Is the legal system about justice?
HA HA! No.
Sometimes, it is best not to sugarcoat it. However, in the spirit of the answers I typically give here, I will spend the rest of this post partially contradicting my previously-given, entirely correct answer.
The goal of the American legal system is not to provide justice. Justice, and it’s misbegotten sibling, truth, sometimes emerge from the justice system, but they are accidental by-products of it. The justice system is about the resolution of conflict. Whether it’s conflict between the state and the individual (criminal law), or between individuals (civil law, family law, etc.). That’s it. The justice system has multiple, competing, goals when resolving these conflicts, including these:
Let’s examine these-
Finality. This can be overlooked by many people, but is the basis for a number of seemingly “unjust” decisions. When you hear terms like, “Double jeopardy,” and “res judicata,” and “collateral estoppel,” and your attorney explains why you can appeal some things, but not appeal the fact that the jury was just, like, wrong and stupid, the reason is finality. Life goes on, cases end, and judges eventually need to get their golf game on. The wheels of justice may turn slowly, but they need to stop at some point. Given what we all know about snail’s pace of a court case, this may seem funny, but finality is one of the truly prized virtues of the justice system. In the immortal words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “All litigation ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” Pretty sure he said that in Cocktail.
Efficiency. Everyone gets their day in court, right? Well ... no. I mean, everyone could get their day in court. But if every criminal and civil litigant actually went to trial, then your penny-ante case wouldn’t be heard until sometime in 2195. Courts are like sharks, always moving forward and eating new cases and excreting settlements and plea bargains. This desire for efficiency is clear in evidence and civil procedure; no matter how slow the wheels of justice may be turning, the courts know that if they just allow everything in, they wouldn’t turn at all.
Fairness. This comes closest to the idea of justice and/or truth, but it’s not exactly the same. Think of this more in terms of due process; you get the opportunity to be heard (and lose). If the other side’s idiot attorney files a motion, your idiot attorney gets to respond to that motion. And (except in federal court), both of the idiot attorneys get to argue in front of a judge, who must be impartial (in other words, isn’t your dad, and doesn’t owe the other guy a lot of money).
The reason that I put this post up is because I often get questions like, “Loki13, why you so mean,” and “Loki13, why do you only care about money,” and, “Loki13, what should I do about my divorce?” And my answers are, in order-
1. Because I was raised that way. And it’s fun. But I don’t blame my upbringing. It made me stronger! I still remember how my parents taught me to swim; they just threw me in the river and expected I would learn. It wasn’t that hard, either, once I got out of the bag.
2. Because if money doesn’t buy happiness, I’ll rent it.
3. Remember that it’s just about the money (and/or child custody, if applicable). It’s not about justice. Or being “right.” Setting aside the kids, contentious divorces are essentially about two people paying attorneys out of the same fixed sum to argue about how that fixed sum should be divided up between those two people. The more you argue, the more you pay attorneys, and the less money there is to divide.
The judge in that case doesn’t care about your life. The judge is not there to make you feel better, or worse. The case will not end with the judge saying, “You, you are right and the other person is wrong. S/he treated you badly during this relationship, and I award you ALL THE JUSTICE.” No. The judge simply divides up the assets and/or awards continuing support (child/spousal). All the perceived and actual wrongs don’t matter. Which is why, to the extent possible, it’s always best to resolve as much as possible amicably. Put more simply- you should never spend $1000 on an attorney to argue over a $20 pasta pot that you both like.
(Please note that this is generic advice for many people. In cases involving abuse where you might need a TRO, please contact an attorney and avail yourself of other appropriate resources - many of which should be no-cost. Or, if this a high-asset divorce, and there are issues with ... identifying the assets, attorneys are wonderful. Finally, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If your soon-to-be former partner wants to fight it out, or is opposed to dividing the assets in a fair manner, you have to defend your rights. This isn’t an argument against attorneys; just a reminder that this is really about the money, not about winning.)