Thursday, August 7, 2008

Justice is Blind ... And Apparently, Cheap as Well

A prosecutor's $5 fine for being late to court was overturned after his boss filed a 47-page appeal.  The presiding judge failed to give the lawyer proper written notice before sanctioning him for being five minutes tardy to an April robbery case, the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month.

Yes, you read all of that correctly.  The 4th District Court of Appeals was actually asked to rule on a matter involving the whopping sum of $5.  And yes, in doing so, they were forced to wade through a 47-page appeal, which was most likely copied more than a dozen times at a cost well in excess of $50 ($50,000, if copied at your law firm).

Can you just imagine being one of these judges?  You've finally ascended to the ranks of an appellate judgeship.  Your parents are making all of their friends and family sick as they talk about their son or daughter -- the "big-time appellate judge."  And then you have to go home for Thanksgiving and explain this case to your parents.

"Have I decided any capital cases?  No, not exactly.  What about political cases?  No, not precisely.  Multi-billion dollar class actions?  No, not really.  But hey!  I did resolve a dispute over $5 last week.  Can you pass the cranberry mold?"

I can only imagine that at some point, one of the judges must have been tempted to reach into her own pocket and just pay the $5 fine herself.

Of course, I feel most sorry for the lower court judge who was reversed in this matter.  It's one thing to be reversed in a landmark decision like Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education or Ali v. Frazier.  These contests meant something (especially if you had money on Ali).  They had an impact on the history of the nation and to this day, generate heated debate and thoughtful reflection.  For some reason, I just can't fathom future historians producing a series of documentaries entitled "$5 to Life: The Case That Changed the Law as We Know It."

Perhaps, the most pitiable person in this incident is the prosecutor who felt it necessary to appeal the massive $5 fine he received as a result of being five minutes late to court.  Now, I certainly understand that prosecutors don't make as much as, say, partners in large law firms (or associates in large law firms ... or receptionists in large law firms), yet are times that tough among the prosecutorial ranks?  Will prosecutors start hanging out around freeway off-ramps holding up signs reading, "Will Plea Bargain for Food"?

And what does this story foretell about the ability of judges to assure promptness in their courts?  Without the ability to impose fines (even miniscule ones), will judges be forced to eliminate any expectation of timeliness?

"Tomorrow, court will begin at, oh, around 10 ish ... or 11 ish ... or maybe, you could all arrive at sometime tomorrow before midnight, but hey, no pressure!"

1 comment:

Paul Brennan said...


Who has ever heard of a lawyer boss having 47 pages worth of good things to say about anyone, never mind his own staff.

Anyone else would have got a $500 fine. This Prosecutor obviously knew the judge and got a cheap deal. This is the sort of cosy relationship that we in other parts of the world try to discourage.

I think if you are not at Court on time they should just shut the doors and go on without you, like the theatre. It would certainly speed up trials. Defendants would start to turn up on time in the hope that the judge wouldn’t show.

Would it really make any difference if there wasn’t a prosecutor, at all? I think they would be the first to admit, no difference at all. You see, this $5.00 appeal is really just a cry for help. If it wasn’t the court of appeal they would be calling the Samaritans.

Paul Brennan
legal humourist