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Not For Nothing Will We Continue to Tell Lawyer Jokes
April 24, 2007; Page A17
Wall Street Journal

Law professor Randy Barnett's points may be valid in his April 17 editorial-page commentary "Three Cheers for Lawyers1," regarding the Duke University Lacrosse players, but what he fails to appreciate is why we still tell lawyer jokes and will continue to do so -- the nastier, the better. As the owner of a small business who has suffered my share of "legal encounters," I am among the nonlawyers who know that our legal system frequently does not impart justice.

Where is the justice that allows three families who have worked all their lives to be able to send their sons to a prestigious institution like Duke to be financially ruined by the whim of a rogue attorney general?

Sorry, professor, but considering this country's legal morass, in which plaintiff's attorneys can shop venues and anyone can sue with impunity, those lawyer jokes really constitute the tip of ever mounting evidence that our legal system, once noble and trustworthy, has become an object of contempt to those of us non-legal types who are periodically forced to navigate it.

Prosecutor Mike Nifong should be tried in criminal court and then sued in civil court for his actions. Why don't you ask yourself why none of us believe that will happen? We do know, however, that it would happen to any of the rest of us if one of us perpetrated fraud and injury for our own personal gain as Mr. Nifong did.

My fondest wish for our legal system would be that members of the ABA and legal community stop bragging about our having "the best legal system in the world" and instead heed some old moral advice -- i.e., lawyer, heal thyself. We are far from having "the best legal system in the world." Ask the non lawyers who have encountered our system.

George Roper
Columbia, S.C.

Randy Barnett is right: We can only be confident in the outcomes of our legal system when there are competent lawyers on both sides of every case. But the fact is that while individual lawyers may have varying levels of skill, competency begins with having the resources necessary to fully investigate a case, review the evidence, interview witnesses, consult relevant experts and conduct appropriate tests.

In most states across the country, these resources are sorely lacking for public defenders. The Constitution requires states to provide quality legal counsel to those accused of a crime, but few states do. A majority of people in America cannot afford to hire a private attorney, which means only the wealthy can be assured of competent representation.

Take Pennsylvania, where public defenders provide counsel in 80% of all cases, yet the state does not put $1 into public defense. The burden falls to the counties, where resources vary widely. Consequently, the kind of legal representation one receives in Pennsylvania depends on the county in which an arrest takes place.

In Louisiana, 90% of cases are represented by public defenders. Never a steady source of revenue, the traffic ticket fines that fund the defense system all but dried up following Katrina. Some defendants in that state have awaited trial in jail for more than three years -- at taxpayer expense -- due to the broken system.

These problems are fixable. States like Montana and Massachusetts have found ways to ensure quality legal representation on both sides of every case. It's time for other states to follow their lead and safeguard the integrity of our legal system by protecting the innocent and dealing humanely with the guilty.

Norman L. Reimer
Executive Director
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Washington

Three boos for lawyers would be more appropriate. The lawyers who represented the three Duke students did a good job. The lawyers who caused the problem, Mike Nifong and his team of six subordinates, deserve ridicule and reprimand. If lawyers cause problems, then, of course, it takes lawyers to fix the problem.

The general construction of a lawsuit of any nature goes like this:

1. A problem arises.

2. Lawyers get involved.

3. Gasoline is thrown on the fire by the lawyers. Huge sums of money are required to keep the flames and tempers burning on both sides.

4. When someone runs out of gasoline or money a "settlement" is forthcoming and then things cool down.

B.J. Khalifah
Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.