Why This Book is
This book is being written for three reasons. The first is to inform you of what you probably know: our court and legal system is badly broken. It needs to be fixed. The second reason is to identify the major problems that make justice unavailable and unaffordable for most Minnesotans. The best reason is the third one. It is to educate you on common sense reforms that will dramatically increase the availability of affordable justice.
The primary focus of the book is on Minnesota's judges who are the state's custodians of justice and who routinely fail to provide it.
Our legal system not just badly broken. It frequently misfunctions or doesn't function at all resulting in harsh injustice instead of justice.
Except for a very few, justice is unaffordable. Only a tiny fraction of citizens can pay tens of thousands of dollars for lawyer fees and court costs. Hundreds of Minnesotans, probably thousands, sit in jail or prison at a huge cost to Minnesota taxpayers because public defenders are stretched too thin and are without the resources they need to provide an adequate defense. Many news stories have reported incidents of convictions that wrongfully imprisoned people for years and in some cases resulted in execution for a crime they did not commit.
At the same time, influential criminal lawyers win unjust concessions from judges they befriend with generous campaign contributions and numerous gratuities. As a reward, judges set low bail, accept incomprehensible plea bargains and impose light sentences that free felons to return to the streets and endanger the public. Money buys influence from those who are supposed to be above being bought.
Because they lack adequate financial resources, indigent low-income parents unjustifiably lose their children to foster care at an enormous cost to taxpayers. Worse yet is the damage done to families split apart, and children who suffer lifetime scars, whose children are re-cycled into the same bad system. Judges who should know better refuse to stand up to social workers and other government agents, unwilling to risk the retribution of public employee unions.
Studies published by the Supreme Court of Minnesota and civic organizations report rampant racism and racial profiling in our legal system. But neither the Supreme Court of Minnesota nor any other Minnesota court has taken any effective action to end these abominations that dispense justice based on the color of a person's skin.
Minnesota's courts are choked with divorce - "dissolution" - actions, personal injury and unlawful detainer (eviction) cases. These constitute more than 50 percent of all civil court filings each year. (In 2003. more than 2 million lawsuits jammed Minnesota's court system). Most of these cases enrich lawyers while children are damaged, families destroyed and those with bodily injuries under-compensated for their loss.
Class action lawsuits drain tens of millions of dollars from society into the pockets of rich lawyers. Typically, little is left for the victims of corporate fraud and wrongdoing.
Countless cases demonstrate how these court failings fly in the face of justice, punish good people and give breaks to crooks.
Cases With Names
Part I of the book consists of horror cases of injustice in Minnesota courts. These are but a tiny ice crystal atop a massive iceberg of horror cases. The cases in Part I were chosen because they are true, incredible, shocking and heartbreaking. They exemplify what is wrong with the court system. Each case description is preceded by the names of the judge or referee, and their photographs, and public officials responsible for the injustice committer.
The cases show in stark detail that judges can, if they choose, abuse people, wrongfully send them to jail, separate parents and children, destroy families, ruin businesses and destroy the lives of people, and do so without fear of personal consequences. No one holds judges accountable for their court actions. The system protects even the worst among them. Judges have nearly absolute power in their courtrooms.
Many judges practice favoritism. While claiming to hold their noses, judges look the other way as their re-election committees accept campaign contributions of tens of thousands of dollars from lawyers and law firms who practice in their courtrooms. Any lawyer or law firm and others can give an unlimited amount to a judge's campaign committee. A judge's re-election committee can spend without limit on his/her re-election campaigns. Seldom does a judge even face opposition for re-election. Worse yet, judges can accept, under a rule they created for themselves, as many $150 free gifts (called "gratuities") per day as they wish - without any obligation to publicly reveal the source of each gift.
Judges belong to a close fraternity. They know which judges are abusive and dishonest, incompetent. pompous and insensitive. Yet, they refuse to speak out against these bad judges. They follow the golden rule of politics: never speak evil against your brethren.
Bad judges must be exposed. The people of Minnesota need to awaken from their apathy and learn how the system is working. The horror cases in my book are intended to shock your complacency about the legal system and persuade you to join in the effort to make positive reform happen.
That Will Bring Justice
Citizens can change the legal system so that real justice is available and affordable for all. Legislators can be lobbied and convinced to make necessary law changes to bring about these reforms, and those legislators who refuse to budge can themselves, be replaced. The many good judges who serve with distinction can work from the inside to bring needed reform, once they feel the public wrath over the current system.
Part III of the book proposes doable reforms among which is public disclosure of misdeeds and injustices. Judges and bureaucrats are human (really) and fear being embarrassed. Forcing them by law to disclose the details of their activities is a powerful deterrent to improper actions and behavior. Loss of pay, fines, suspensions and removal from office also will provide strong incentives for judges to do the job right.
An extremely important reform is to get politics our of the judge selection and re-election process. We can accomplish this with a merit plan like that referred to as the "Missouri Plan" because Missouri was the first of sixteen states to adopt such a plan. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote positively about this plan in the case of REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINN. V. WHITE (01-521) 536 U. S. 765 (2002). This case concerned a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court, Gregory Wersal, who won the right to be able to state his positions on issues as part of an election campaign. Prior to this decision, incredibly, candidates for judge could not tell the voters their positions on the issues!
A chapter in Part III tells how we can greatly reduce the cost of justice for nearly everyone by simplifying and expediting court procedures. Some of the proposed methods are to provide public services to facilitate fact-finding, improve the use of mediation and arbitration at less expense, authorize resolution of child custody and visitation and marital property distribution by nonpartisan experts, and, similarly, rely on nonpartisan experts to determine damages awards in personal injury cases. Health care and insurance costs will be reduced if we put limits on awards for damages to what is reasonable. Simplifying and expediting court procedures as proposed above will substantially reduce out-of-sight amounts for lawyers fees.
We can and we should greatly expand the number of public defenders and increase their resources to assure that every person accused of a crime no matter how poor will be adequately defended. We must do the same in juvenile court proceedings to assure that every litigant in such a proceeding is effectively represented, especially in cases that involve the custody of a child. It is critical that public defenders be fully independent of and free from pressure by county authorities.
We can and should abolish campaign contributions for judges. We can replace such financing with public financing as in New Mexico. As an alternative, we can discourage this obvious ploy for judge favoritism by barring lawyers and law firms from appearing before judges they supported financially. The Minnesota Supreme Court by itself could abolish the obnoxious rule that allows judges to accept $150 gratuities.
Report cards at judge re-election time will give the voting public a basis for deciding on whether or not to re-elect a judge to office. A special court to try judges that can award damages to victims of clearly wrongful actions would sharply curtail judge misbehavior.
Mouse For Judge
There is only one way we can get the justice we want: boot judges out of office. What is most important to a judge, even more than providing justice, is staying in office. Judges cherish the power and prestige of their office. They bask in the reverence and deferential treatment they expect and often demand. Accountability for their decisions is a reform all will fiercely resist. All judges prefer the current easy re-election process. They do not want voters to challenge their performance. Regrettably, it is not practical to inform the average voter on which judges are good and which are bad. The only option is to vote against all incumbent judges until we have a new system. However, voters may decide to re-elect judges who publically and vigorously support major reforms that make justice more affordable and available.
Part III tells how we can boot judges out of office. It is surprisingly simple, but it will not be easy. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State, votes for a fictitious person such as Mickey Mouse are counted and have the same validity as votes for anyone else. If Mickey Mouse gets the most votes in a judge election or re-election, he wins and becomes a judge. Since Mickey Mouse doesn't exist, a vacancy is declared and the governor appoints a new judge.
Every two years approximately one-third of all judges stand for re-election. In every election the ballot you receive has a line under the name of each incumbent judge for a write-in vote. If most of the votes are for the same fictitious person, the incumbent judge is defeated. We propose that you join other voters in casting a write-in vote for the same fictitious person. Mickey Mouse is a possibility, but some voters may think this is too demeaning to judges. Another possibility is: "New Judge." We will appreciate your comments on who the fictitious person should be. Driving judges from office is a sure way to get their attention and convince them of the public's insistence on reform.
It is not the means we lack to free society from injustice; it is the lack of knowledge and lack of determination to force change. In America, the people truly have power - the power to make our court and legal system what we want it to be. Minnesota can make its system what it ought to be - the world's and history's best system. If together we assert our power we can reach the goal of my book - affordable justice for all. Let the journey begin.