Sunday, June 3, 2007

Is "Your Honor" Really Honorable?

Imagine you are at a baseball game. You have traveled about 200 miles to watch your team play a road game.

In the top of the first inning, it seems to be a normal game. Your team gets a couple of men on base but fails to score. The umpires make the usual calls that are left to their discretion by the rules of the game. Is a pitch a ball or a strike? Is a runner safe or out? Is a batted ball fair or foul?

In the bottom of the first, things start getting strange. The home team's leadoff man swings and misses at three straight pitches. He begins to walk back to the dugout, but the home-plate umpire calls him back and tells him to get back in the batter's box.

Your manager runs out of the dugout. "That's three strikes, he's out," the manager says.

"He's not out till I say he's out," the umpire says. "If you say one more word, you're out of the game." The manager returns to the dugout with a baffled look on his face.

After swinging and missing at eight pitches, the leadoff man finally lines a single to center field. The next three batters hit easy fly balls for outs. As your team starts to run off the field, the first base umpire tells them to get back to their positions. "This inning isn't over," he says.

Your manager runs out of the dugout again, this time armed with a rule book. "Look, it says right here, three strikes and you're out. Three outs and the inning is over. What's going on?"

The first-base ump walks away. The manager turns to see the home-plate umpire lifting a thumb into the air. "You're out of the game," the ump says.

"You can't throw me out of the game for trying to have the game played by the rules," the manager says.

"I just did," the umpire says. "Now get out of here."

"But you can't just make up the rules," the manager says.

"If you don't like how you're being treated, go find somewhere else to play," the umpire says.

The manager pulls his team from the field in protest. The umpires declare the game a forfeit. "The home team wins," they say.

The manager apologizes to his players, but says he will file an appeal with the league office. "This will have to be overturned," he says. "The game will have to be replayed, hopefully with honest umpires."

But 10 days after filing an appeal, he receives a one-sentence response from the league office. "The umpires' decisions are upheld." No explanation.

If you saw this scene unfold on a baseball field, what would you think? What terms would you use to describe the umpires? Corrupt? Cheats? Frauds?

I saw a similar scene unfold in an Alabama courtroom. In fact, the "If you don't like how you're being treated . . . " quote came almost verbatim from the mouth of an Alabama judge. Only he ended it with ". . . you can get on I-65 and drive to Montgomery (home of Alabama's appellate courts)."

My research indicates that such scenes happen in courtrooms across the country on a regular basis. And my guess is that parties usually don't even know they are being cheated. I only became aware of my own victimhood after numerous bizarre judicial rulings, followed by limp and nonsensical explanations from my attorney. After many lunchtime trips to the nearest county law library, it became clear I was being, to use a high-tech legal term, "screwed."

I used to think that I probably would never be involved in a court case. And if I was somehow involved, I figured the judge (or judges) surely would rule according to the law. After all, they wear robes, we call them "your honor," we rise when they come into the courtroom. Of all people, surely a judge would be honest.

This blog will show you how wrong I was. It will show you how judges and attorneys conspire to cheat some people and favor others. It will show you how politics raises its ugly head in our courtrooms. It will show you how you can figure out if you are being cheated by a judge or an attorney (even your own!). And it will show you what you can do about it.

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