“Rule of Law”: Without Consideration of Equity by Law Enforcement and the Judicial Systems, the “Rule of Law” Alone Creates Destructive Injustice

[Note (26-June-17): Shortly after this post was published, the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota, through League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust,  reached a $2.995 million settlement with Philando Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile.]

See statement of Valerie Castile, mother of the late Philando Castile:  http://cbsloc.al/2twBJEO

In cases where an unjust ruling results, lawyers are quick to remind people that the judicial (and law enforcement) systems’ decisions must be respected. The lawyers never mention that the legal system also has obligations to ensure the maintenance of the respect of the rule of law. These duties are not solely operational duty of the workings of the judicial/law enforcement system, but also deeper work to ensure that the decisions reached by that system are objectively fair in all aspects of their work–operations and the treatment of those suffering injury.

The failure of the judicial system to take its equity portion of its decision mandate will be the cause of the collapse of the so-called rule of law. Since police officers are given permission to use deadly force and kill at the mere perception of fear, no matter the source, there must be accountability for every decision made with the use of lethal force. This type of leeway expanded to infinity can itself collapse the rule of law and civil society.

 

In the Philando Castile case in Minnesota, the Ramsey County Attorney, John Choi, was focused only on operational fairness as the representation of the rule of law. However, a human being died as a result of another’s (a police officer) panic and mistakes and the judicial system operational duty did not relieve any of the Castile family’s permanent pain caused by a Minnesota city’s police officer.

The judicial system in Minnesota, thus, sent the Castile family away with their loss and pain while praising itself for its operational fairness (while ignoring the fact that the operational fairness in this case (that is, the show investigation and trial (because of the U.S. Supreme Court cases of Graham v. Connor and Tennessee v. Garner ensured a finding of not guilty) compounded the injustice suffered by the Castile family)–and, on top of that, demanding respect for the “rule of law” and the decision of the jury.

(Author’s Note: For the safety of the public, the use of police officers as traffic ticket revenue sources must stop, given the limitless leeway for police officers to kill or injure at the slightest sense of fear.)

[See statement of Valerie Castile, mother of the late Philando Castile:  http://cbsloc.al/2twBJEO.]

 

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U.S. Judiciary: Calls for “Judicial Independence” Must Be Matched with Expectation of Judicial Responsibility and Accountability

Background: This blog has not covered the events of a sexual assault that occurred on the campus of Stanford University. The suspect, Brock Turner, was found guilty of the charges. The victim presented a 12-page victim impact statement during the sentencing. The judge, Aaron Persky, himself a Stanford graduate and former university athlete, rendered a sentence, which now has been subject to critique.

[Note: Brock Turner’s father’s (Dan Turner) made a statement before the court: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/06/father-stanford-university-student-brock-turner-sexual-assault-statement.]

Issue: In response to the public critique of Judge Persky, a California lawyers association, the Santa Clara County Bar Association, issued a statement reported in the Washington Post, which acknowledged the public’s right to critique but was concerned how the debate did not include acknowledgement of judicial independence as an essential piece of a stable rule of law.

The SCCBA recognizes and supports the public’s right to comment on issues of public interest, including the proper adjudication of sexual assault cases and the fair and equal treatment of all who come before the courts. The SCCBA does not itself comment on rulings in individual cases to which it is not a party or amicus, and it, therefore, will not state a position on the Turner sentence.

However, the SCCBA also recognizes the importance of judicial independence, a principle that has not featured prominently in the national discussion to date. The judiciary plays a critical role in upholding the rule of law in our society and constitutional system. Judges have a duty to apply the law to the facts and evidence before them, regardless of public opinion or political pressure. In that role, judges provide an important check against other political forces. If judges had to fear direct, personal repercussions as a result of their decisions in individual cases, the rule of law would suffer. These principles date back to the founding of our nation and are a bedrock of the United States and California Constitutions.

My response is the following–there is judicial independence that should be respected by the people; however, there is an equally heavy expectation on lawyers and judges–that the laws be fairly administered. It is weak to place all demands on citizens while at the same time excusing the legal profession and the judiciary from accountability and responsibility to the legal system. The Santa Clara County bar statement woefully ignored this vital point.

[Author’s note-June 13, 2016: The San Diego County Bar Association also neglects judicial responsibility and accountability expectations from its statement.]

A simple throwaway line–well, that’s how the law goes–when there is a decision that the public does not like (when in fact it is a human being that determines the decision (the judge)) is a weak and unacceptable position. When a judge fails to be responsible to the high expectations of his or her public office–and to the legal system itself–there seems to be little to no recourse for the citizen to pursue. Such a one-sided judicial system, focused solely on the exercise of its own power, therefore, can become immune to its own responsibility to the rule of law and to the people living in the country.

I would like to see bar associations consider these latter points than just tossing out “judicial independence” rhetoric.