Is Justice truly blind. Or, as someone told me recently, at least in their case, justice is blind only if you can afford it. Take the O. J. Simpson case, they said. Do you believe that he would have been acquitted if he had been an average citizen, living from paycheck to paycheck, rather than Simpson, who was apparently wealthy enough to hire several expensive attorneys, pay for pretrial depositions and pay for expert witnesses?
Food for thought. After over fifty years of practice, I can see where he’s coming from. There have been numerous cases during my career where the poor litigant was unable to hire an expensive attorney, much less fight a lengthy court battle. The Mississippi State Bar is doing its best to get attorneys to perform pro bono service. That is to render free service to those litigants who are unable to employ private counsel. Like many of my fellow attorneys, I have done my share of these. And in those situations where I have asked for a small down payment, I have found that the remainder of my fee remains unpaid. In fact, I’ve often said that if I could collect my account receivables I could have retired long ago. I’m sure many of my colleagues can say the same.
I know of one litigant, in this case a woman, who lost custody of her children, who has spent over $45,000 in attorney fees and court appointed Guardian Ad Litem fees in her attempt to regain custody of her children, and still faces more fees if she intends to pursue her quest. Incidentally, Guardian Ad Litems are usually appointed by a Judge as an arm of the court, charged to assist the Court in determining the best interest of the children. Their responsibility is to investigate, file a report, and testify to the results of their investigation and, if requested by the Judge, to make a recommendation as to the best interest of the children. These GAL’s are usually an attorney also, and their charges can be an added burden on the poor litigant.
This woman is obviously not a paycheck to paycheck type individual, but she has spent her life’s savings in her quest to correct what she feels has been an injustice by the judicial system in removing her children from her care and imposing restricted visitation rights. At present she has been unable to meet the financial demands that the Court has placed upon her and faces contempt of court charges that could result in her incarceration. But like most mothers throughout this land she is not giving up in her battle and will no doubt wind up in jail for her continued efforts.
She is only one of many women that I know that continue to fight for her rights. I know of at least one of these who was actually incarcerated by the Court before she eventually regain custody of her children.
I’m sure there are hundreds out there, both men and women, who have faced the same dilemma.
Yes, Litigation is expensive. Lawyers are expensive. GAL’s are expensive. If witnesses are called, especially psychologist or psychiatrist, they are also expensive. Can the average citizen afford all of this? Not likely, unless they have savings or good credit.
So what is the answer? I don’t know. I’m an attorney. I have done my share of pro bono (free) work. And there are other attorneys who likewise have done quite a bit pro bono work. But even if an attorney performs pro bono work the litigant still faces the task of the GAL fees, expert witness fees, etc.
Perhaps this is a matter that should be investigated by the legislature. Especially in the case of GALs. Unfortunately, there are no set rules or guidelines in our present laws addressing all of the duties and understandings of these court appointed attorneys.
The Supreme Court has attempted to clarify some of the issues, but there are still other matters that need to be addressed.
If there are those enlightened minds out there that has a workable solution to this problem please let me know. Or if you have been in similar circumstances, tell me your story.