All the justice you can afford?

by cathrynbauer

Fort Ord Dunes State Park.  The dunes are covered in iceplant which the Army planted to stabilize them.  It is gradually being removed, mostly by volunteers.

Work-at-home day.  Managed a walk in the San Ramon Valley Regional Open Space and was glad I did.  Got two short transcripts out.  They were both indicative, I think, of trends to come in the immediate future, e.g., lawyers having to hire their own reporter if they want a transcript; a hearing before a special master who is kind of a judge substitute.  What’s wrong with this picture is that these were both proceedings of the sort that I have many times over reported in court.  The hearing I was hired to report had to do with a matter that could only have been crucial for the client of the attorney who hired me.  The hearing in front of the special master sure sounded like routine pretrial disputes to me, but it had to be decided by a judge.  The parties would have had to pay court fees and pay me for transcripts earlier, but at a fraction of the costs involved here.  I don’t think a judge/judge substitute and a reporter should have been considered luxury items for these two cases.  The upshot is that the legal system is already far more costly to use, meaning that it will become progressively less accessible to those who can’t pay to use it.

Also had a small transcript order from a civil harassment calendar I reported last week.  I think we’ll be seeing less of these proceedings from now on, too.  This is truly unfortunate.  I believe these courts do tremendous good and stop a great deal of violence before it starts.  I rather like reporting them because you just never know what you’ll get.  Cases range from, “Tell him not to park in front of my house anymore, Judge!” (true story) to serious matters of stalking, domestic violence, and the like where a restraining order is needed.  The proceeding I’ll be working on was what I call a she said/she said; the judge didn’t make an order, just told the parties to stay away from each other.  The petitioner (person seeking the order) wants the transcript.  Yeah, there are a lot of cases where the parties are just wound up past reason.  However, I have come to see that there are any number of worse actions that feuding neighbors, ex-wives who hate their replacements,  and aggravated roommates can take than being an idiot in front of a judge.  Very often, the judge will refer matters such as a neighbor dispute to court mediators.  My standard greeting to the mediator du jour is, “Hi, Hero.”  The mediators work with parties behind closed doors and off the record, so I don’t know much about how they go about their work.  But I have seen some seriously amazing results.  Of course, there will now be even fewer of these heroes to go around.

Access to the court system will continue for those of us who can afford it is.  For the rest, it will mean at worst fists, guns and knives; at best, a great deal of more-or-less silent suffering.  Not good.  NOT good.