WHAT HAPPENED? DETERIORATION OF JUSTICE
Many of you have accused me of being anti-police. I assure you nothing is further from the truth. I used to view the police as part of a team, united in a common goal. That was before, not now. I don’t have any love for or respect for some I have encountered in the last few decades. I believe that I am entitled to this opinion, not based upon prejudice, ignorance or other subjective factors, based upon my current research, evidence and experience and from having criminal cases in 20 states in both state and Federal courts. What t I have experienced and observed has negatively affected me. I am angry because I have seen a police state develop in the last few decades and the development is against all belief, logic and morals. I am angry because I have experienced working with good cops and administrators. I am angry because what I see and experience today is totally reprehensive and avoidable, but for the stupidity and pandering of unprincipled politicians who jump to the tune of a controlled, greedy media who operate out of profit motive, deliberate ignorance, prejudice, and total lack of honor.
I know because I was trained as an observer, social scientist, lawyer, judge and politician. I know because I have seen things exist differently and have watched the justice system deteriorate over the last five and one half decades. I know because I have experienced a better system and discuss these issues with a whole spectrum of people.
In college, I saw police brutalize hobos on Larimer Street, where Vista volunteers trained. I knew many involved in the Denver Police scandal. I have been shot at, held for an hour at knifepoint, beaten by police in south, helped train police in Chicago, and seen all kinds of police conduct that can only be described as reprehensible. I have had ten years of education beyond high school. In other words, I am a monumental waste of formal educational resources. However, having lived through all that I prefer that era to what I am observing today. I saw the present situation develop and tried to slow it or stop it before it steamrolled itself into a totalitarian state. In this series, from my manuscript “March to Martial Law,” I will tell my view, my opinion, my reality of how and why we have had these changes unique to the United States and fundamentalist Moslem states causing the highest incarceration rate in the world. (715 per 100,000 in US vs 102 per 100,000 in Moslem states,vs 135 per 100,000 the EU).
When I first started practicing law, there was a war raging in Viet Nam and a war raging against poverty. We lost both of those wars. However, the loss didn’t signal the end of Western Civilization and Capitalism as predicted by the John Birch Society and others. It did cause embarrassment to the Jingoists and dummies who thought that war was like a sporting event and not one of the many tools in the implementation of policy. To these people, policy was incidental. Winning and stopping communism at Hanoi was everything. Unfortunately, the enemy was only labeled as communist to drum up support to make war. Ho Chi Minh didn’t intend to prosthelatize and spread anti-capitalism to the free world. There was civil unrest caused by disagreement on war and race relations, both threatening to many Americans who weren’t trained to evaluate and think. Protestors questioned policy of the Government leaders and demanded justification for their action rather than the platitude that we must stop communism in SE Asia instead of on the West Coast. Slogans and blind obedience didn’t cut it anymore. There was a generation ready for change
In this Milieu, I started a solo law practice. It was heady. It was exciting. I felt relevant and part of Government and social change. I was part of a process where ideas were enumerated, discussed and acted upon among policy makers. However, some preferred to bash heads and demonize alternative views. These people didn’t understand the world around them and were extremely resistant to change or progress. I, however, I was extremely fortunate to have started in a progressive community.
The climate in midst of all this turmoil was corroboration. The prosecutor and I were from different political parties, but there was mutual respect. Defense attorneys, police, prosecutors and others involved were viewed as part of the system. We might have different views, but all accepted the premise that everyone had the best interest of society and the public as the main goal. I chose to work in Criminal defense and Constitutional law. The main arena for this area was in drug enforcement. There was no clear cut policy then, but with the war on poverty in force, economic consequences were the main considerations.
When I took on a client, no matter the charge, I would make an appointment with the prosecutor in charge of that case. We would then meet and discuss the case, not only in terms of facts and evidence, but also in terms of policy, attempting to evaluate the impact on both a defendant and society. The view was long term, not the time between quarters. Admittedly, some of the discussions were heated or passionate, but respect was always there. Both sides recognized the training and sincerity of the other. Both sides felt an obligation to educate others and fight vigilante tendencies. Police allowed input, but did not set policy. It was recognized that they had a certain perspective and faced dangers and problems that the rest of us didn’t. However, that was also why we could be more objective. No one in my experience at that time was a “mouthpiece” for either police or criminal. A local District Attorney caused a search and seizure manual to be written especially for police, explaining the law, the Constitution and the goals of the system.
In law school I helped train Chicago police officers under O. W. Wilson’s watch after a police scandal caused some changes. It was a fun job. We lined up the police and yelled at them, insulted them, called them names (most of which we learned from Southern cops in the 60’s) If we could survive mistreatment by Birmingham police, they could survive taunting by hippies and black panthers. It seemed to have worked. Prosecutors, even in cities like Chicago had small non-criminal practices. There was core of career professional prosecutors. There were career lawyers. Judges were recruited from the legal community, not from government service. There was a culture of co-operation, even if opinions differed on the war, the draft, drugs, minorities, etc.
However, with the Chicago democratic convention, and the subsequent election of Richard Nixon and his “law and order” platform, things changes. The attitude was get tough on crime. Although most lawyers knew that this was a wrong approach, it didn’t matter. Prosecutor’s job was to convict and not make policy. His job was to move cases. The judge was judged upon ability to manage his cases and move them through the system. The day of management by objective had come to the third branch of government and decisions were based on expediency and efficiency. Somehow, justice, fairness, and societal benefit became collateral damage on the war on crime. Prosecutors with a professional global view were weeded out of the system in favor of zealots who had an apocalyptic view of the world and of crime. Of course, as anybody knows, the Constitution is generally in the way of efficiency. Besides, most people are guilty or they wouldn’t be arrested. Bail allowed criminals to leave jail after cops risked life and limb to catch them. Lawyers were an impediment to justice. Those of us who studied corrections were obsolete. The purpose of law and the courts was to convict. Trial was replaced by inquisition. There was a complete cultural change.
Procedures were designed to make Courts more efficient and to process more cases without any increase in manpower. Policy was dictated by media relations, not evidence. Reporters would find their jobs much easier reading press releases drafted by the police rather than actually investigating and interviewing witnesses. The dramatic increase with the change in the concept of justice created an environment for privatization. Since very few judges had any training or experience in the commercial or business world, it was relatively easy for the corporate “experts” to sell change to the system. The common law system, with its checks and balances, safeguards and innocence presumptions had to go. It had to be replaced by a more efficient system. A system that reflects the “reality” of the world. The socially constructed reality of the paranoid apocalyptic worshiper of free enterprise of which the masters dreamed. Business was rewarded. Poor should be punished. All things bad are due to bad people. God rewards the good and industrious. He punishes the lazy. If a person is poor, it is because God doesn’t like him and he is being punished. Society can’t be blamed for anything because it is the individual in the society that governs the same. The only reason for a corporation and a government is to be efficient and make money. Everything else is socialist.
This is the first installment of a series on changes I observed in the legal system since I started.