My friend Mike Sawicki, one of the very best plaintiff lawyers in Texas, wrote an excellent editorial piece today. He has given me permission to reprint it here. This is in response to yet another trite attack on the jury system by the publisher of a local magazine. Here is Mike’s response:
In defense of American values – jury duty.
For some reason, it is in vogue today to ridicule our country’s judicial system. While most people would find it distasteful to scoff at a young person who volunteered to serve in the military, few find anything wrong with making fun of another important duty granted to U.S. citizens – jury duty.
A duty, by definition, is work that you are obliged to perform for moral or legal reasons. In America, serving jury duty provides the foundation for enforcing our country’s laws and for ensuring all citizens have the same rights to justice.
It is not an accident that the people who founded this country included the right to a jury as a basic building block of our Constitutional freedoms. They lived in a time where the law and justice belonged only to those who could afford it or who were connected with power through political or family ties. They fought against this oppression and established the freedoms we enjoy today.
But the freedoms and opportunities we have in this country come with responsibilities. While we expect to enjoy the benefits of having safe products in our stores, sensible drivers on our roads and competent doctors in our hospitals, we also have the responsibility to correct wrongdoings when they occur. And jury duty is a vital part of the American system designed to accomplish this goal.
It probably comes as no surprise that I am a lawyer. I am proud to practice my profession. I have picked juries and I have served on juries. I know what an imposition it is to serve. But I also know the power that juries have to change lives, to prevent hazards and correct injustice.
With any duty, there will always be people who want to avoid doing their fair share. It is my experience that the people who do the least to carry the load are the ones who try to grab the biggest part of the pie. Unfortunately, this is currently true in America.
Large special interest groups are working to eliminate legal rights for common citizens while carefully preserving their own. It is no coincidence that the effort to push for “tort reform” is funded by powerful insurance companies, large home builders and major pharmaceutical companies. They help spread propaganda denigrating the justice system because they have the most to gain from curbing it’s power.
Search hard enough in any system in this country and you will find abuses. There are stories about doctors who practice medicine while drunk. We’ve seen headlines about corporate abuses and companies like Enron that shut off California’s energy supply to create artificial demand and drive up their profits. And we’ve seen the tragedy of sexual abuse in our churches. Does this mean all doctors, corporations and religions are bad? Of course not.
The same is true of our justice system. While there are abuses in law, destroying our rights and eroding our justice system is not the cure. I have practiced for more than 14 years and in that time I have never filed a frivolous lawsuit. But that does not mean I have always won my cases. The American legal system requires cases to meet certain standards of proof, which means that it is very difficult for a truly “frivolous case” to survive very long. And the system is an adversary one, which means both sides get to argue their case.
Then, the jury decides.
It is the jury’s power to decide; giving voice to the opinions, ideals and values of the common citizen, that sets the American justice system from others in the world. It is a system born from democracy, a system worth fighting for and a system that gives justice to all American citizens without regard to their wealth, their race or their social standing.
The next time someone talks about shirking his jury duty, ask him which other country’s legal system he would rather have. For me, the answer will always be the same. “America.”