“I’d like to see lawyers for god’s sakes say something about the RULE OF LAW and doing what we came to do – ENHANCE FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE FOR ALL,” a lawyer friend wrote me the other day.
Her words resonated with me on several levels. First there was that odious discriminatory bill passed by the Arizona Legislature. Dim-witted Governor Jan Brewer dallied, deliberated and finally vetoed it because as one pundit properly put it — because she was “more afraid of the Chamber of Commerce than the Tea Party.” Rogue Columnist Jon Talton had one of the better assessments about why crazy stuff like this keeps happening here in “Satan’s crotch” at “SB 1062: The aftermath.”
Second, I’ve been musing about justice, fairness and unfairness because I’m halfway through Houston death-penalty lawyer/professor David Dow’s The Autobiography of an Execution.
Read this excellent book and you can’t help but dwell on systemic unfairness and as a lawyer — about Dow’s statement, “Sometimes I think I became a lawyer because I believe rules matter, but I suppose I could have the cause and effect reversed.”
Author of six books, Dow is a strongly opinionated death-penalty opponent. He’s also litigation director at the Texas Defender Service and founder of Texas’s oldest innocence project, the Texas Innocence Network.
“I used to support the death penalty,” Dow writes. “I changed my mind when I learned how lawless the system is. If you have reservations about supporting a racist, classist unprincipled regime, a regime where white skin is valued far more highly than dark, where prosecutors hide evidence and policeman routinely lie, where judges decide what justice requires by consulting the most recent Gallup poll, where rich people sometimes get away with murder and never end up on death row, then the death-penalty system we have here in America will embarrass you no end.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” – Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury
Third, ever since getting tossed out of 8th grade with a number of my classmates for what we thought was a principled stance but which the nuns strongly disagreed, I’ve tried to reconcile and admittedly without much success Calvin’s view of the world’s unfairness. Throughout the rest of my academic life and even into my corporate working life, I’ve weighed the merit and demerit cards life and circumstances have passed out.
So I’ve had this thing about fairness and unfairness for as long as I can remember. It matters most where the moral equities lie, especially now as a lawyer.
But I’ll not credit a lifelong creed with animating a desire to be a lawyer. That’s a romantic notion but it wouldn’t be true. No, a long extent and inherent disposition toward skepticism — even cynicism would forestall such idealized foolishness. Indeed, of cynicism I often joked that when I came out of the womb — I slapped the doctor first.
And finally, the past few months I’ve done more than contemplate my navel about this topic. Besides work and a personal life, I’ve been busy combating an unfairness just foisted on Arizona lawyers by our ‘friendly state bar.’
The mandatory bar and specifically, its board of governors finally succeeded in doing what they first tried in December. Last week they voted to raise our annual attorney licensing fees. No matter that they were already among the highest in the country. The easiest money to spend is always somebody else’s.
And unhappy with having to deal with the complaints of a restive lawyer hoi polloi, at one point the board even tried without success to tack on an automatic cost-of-living escalator tied to the consumer price index — as though what state bars do has anything to do with the price of milk and bread in Peoria — Arizona.
Now I’ll concede that compared to losing life, liberty or significant property interests, a dues increase is obviously a trifle, a thimble’s worth of irritation. “It’s not like we’re trying to cure cancer,” a colleague quipped.
But all the same, it was the same kind of bullshit unfairness that’s rankled and inflamed passions my whole life. I’ll have a lot more to say about it later.
But for now, I think another admonition from Christopher Hitchens is appropriate, “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”
Photo Credits: “Fairnesszone,” by PatrickSeabird at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Calvin 12,” by Frankie Kangas at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.