A Lawyer's View of the Justice System
by Joseph H. Delaney
The following, written by a practicing lawyer, is excerpted under the doctrine of fair use, from an article entitled "So, You Want to Write a Law Story?", in the July/August, 1999, issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Vol. CXVIX No. 7 & 8:
Contrary to popular notion and to egotistical belief among judges (particularly federal judges), getting elected or appointed, taking the oath of office and donning a judicial robe is not the equivalent of pouring legal knowledge into the judicial head.
Corruption, in all its many forms, is also a fact of life. There are many ways to ascend to the bench, not the least uncommon of which is for the judge to buy the office. These range from political influence, powerful friends in the state capitol or national government, to public apathy and correspondingly little or no opposition to his/her investment, the latter situation being endemic throughout the country.
Too frequently the best, most able, most successful lawyer disdains to sacrifice himself on the bench, so the mediocre lawyer fills in for him/her, enjoying the comfort and security of public employment/entrenched incumbency. Lack of competition provides little incentive to study and many such judges never crack a book, preferring to simply order all parties to file briefs while taking cases under advisement. Judicial opinions containing extensive verbatim recitations from the brief of the prevailing side are the rule, and most of these, again particularly in the federal system (which has ample taxpayer money for such conveniences), are actually written by law clerks or secretaries, not by judges.
Sadly, there are more disquieting realities about judges that need some public daylight on them. Just as all judges are not intellectually and educationally equal, the proportion of judges who are dishonest, who are on the take, who harbor prejudices against parties or counsel, is far greater than the lay public realizes. (The classic example of Catch 22 is a community in West Texas which got rid of an illiterate district judge only to have the governor appoint the town drunk to succeed him.)
Corruption is rampant in courts at every level throughout the country. It is equally rampant among prosecutors and law enforcement people. You cannot write a realistic law story without taking this into account. The primary corrupting influence is the drug business. As Al Capone bought the justice system in Cook County, Illinois, back in the 1920s, the dope interests own contemporary justice. (They have more money than Al did, even accounting for inflation.)
Only the little guy, the so-called "mule," ever sees the inside of a cell. Of the many I have defended there has not been a single one who did not tell me, in strict and privileged confidence, that when arrested he had at least twice the quantity he was charged with possessing (the rest got new owners).
Realistically — and realism is the lifeblood of an Analog story — there is a world of difference between what the law is and what finally emerges from the system.
If drama is your bag and you really like your protagonist squirming, just inject a little of this reality into the mix. There is no greater shock than to find that even with both law and the facts in your favor your constitutional rights are worthless because you can't get the crooked regime to enforce them. Who knows, you might even do society some good with such a story. ...