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Chinn: Law Day 2012

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iba-chinn-scottEvery year, we celebrate Law Day – the day first proclaimed in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower to be set aside to celebrate the rule of law. Following a Congressional resolution passed in 1961, May 1 has been officially designated to celebrate Law Day.

The American Bar Association has been a good steward of Law Day first by proposing it in 1957 and since then providing the nation with themes to consider as we reflect on the ways in which legal process secures freedoms that Americans recognize and share. This year’s Law Day theme unfortunately is stated in the negative: “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.” The theme signals the growing crisis of funding decline of court systems across the country and the dramatic consequences to our accepted way of life. ABA President Bill Robinson, a partner at Frost Brown Todd LLC, is a great champion and eloquent spokesperson on this theme and has been carrying the message on behalf of the profession.

These funding issues and their impacts are stark. The stories of hardships on court systems around the country are by now legion. The problems range from one Ohio municipal court system requiring litigants to bring their own paper to the courthouse when filing new cases to the State of New Hampshire’s suspension of all civil jury trials for one year. And dozens of other court systems have experienced all manner of travails in recent years due to decreased funding. The ABA has assembled a comprehensive and sobering online resource list that is highly worth reviewing if even just to note the array of issues from the multitude of locations. (Visit http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/initiatives_awards/law_day_2012.html.)

Closer to home, Indiana appears not to have fared as poorly overall as its sister states in the area of court system resources. Let’s credit the Indiana Supreme Court and our county court systems for keeping the ship of legal state afloat to this point. But that’s not to say there are not problems here too. Indiana courts, like other parts of the public safety and criminal justice systems, are facing budget cuts, employee layoffs, and the need for fee increases to fund even basic court services. And perhaps the biggest threat is yet to come. The property tax revenue losses stemming from the effects of the “circuit breaker” legislation as well as the decline in local income tax proceeds due to the struggling economy of the past few years has put tremendous stress on local budgets throughout the state. The question will become – as it has been posed in so many other states – how will the judiciary and court system fare under these funding stresses?

So, what can we do? My argument is first things first – let’s be aware of these issues so that we are prepared to have meaningful discussions about them as part of the debate about system funding in the Indiana General Assembly, local legislative bodies, and in the profession. Maybe a true crisis won’t hit Indiana, maybe we’ll avert it, but the best chance to do so may lie with a well informed bench and bar. This isn’t someone else’s problem, I suggest, but ours to lead on. Just as we represent our clients, so too can we represent the citizenry in guaranteeing for them the court system they deserve and that our constitutional principles demand.

Let me conclude on a positive note. The 2012 Law Day theme has room in it for inspiration. And the IndyBar’s Paralegal Committee has taken up that cause. Under the leadership of Committee Chair Joanne Alexovich, the Paralegal Committee is conducting a program at the Indianapolis Public Schools’ Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, which is a college preparatory program for students in grades 6-12 focusing on the principles of democracy, justice, respect and service to others. For Law Day, the Committee is showcasing to more than 200 students careers related to the legal field that do not require a law degree in order to present a well rounded perspective of the resources needed within the legal field. The program will include representatives from a variety of careers including paralegals, administrative assistants, bailiffs, legal software specialists, court reporters, information technology specialists, court clerks and probation officers.

Thanks to the Paralegal Committee and thanks in advance to members of the bar for spending a little time reflecting on Law Day and what it means to maintaining a civil society.•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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