Truth, Justice, Verdict

When thinking about our court system, the adversarial system, I can’t help but think about it as theater. The roles are set and the stage of the court house plays its part too. If a critic were to sum up the story of our play, the best might say it is a dramatic story of the quest for a verdict. From the prologue through the final curtain, it is not about truth or justice. In other systems where the judge plays the role of investigator and the process is more administrative than theatrical, I think the humanity is lost. I value the public performance of our system even though I know that both sides are looking to present only “their truth”, and even though I know that any human system will fail to meet its burden when the test of that burden is justice served. Although it’s not the most “marketable” reality of our court rooms, the pursuit of a verdict, is the reality.

There is a famous quote that one of the qualities of a good actor is knowing when to get off the stage. I have been thinking that one of the marks of a good attorney, in our system, is to know where the role begins and ends. While I do think the pursuit of a verdict through our court system is the best in the world (I say that fully aware of its shortcomings), I am equally comfortable to say that the “role” of an attorney, outside that scripted by the case, is to be a seeker and defender of truth and justice.

The very nature of government and laws is to create boundaries. The balance of these restrictions is the balance created among free people to achieve a productive society in spite of the excesses of human nature. I trust in the balance created by our system to ordain and empower gatekeepers. I believe attorneys are cast in this role by our legal system. I also think that the educational system which creates our society’s attorneys and those who support them have forgotten that the “role” of an attorney on stage is different from the “role” of an attorney off stage.

The facts of a case and the clients who present them are merely rough drafts to the dramas that will be played out by the attorneys. Too many bad dramas are given too much attention, molded into more than they should be, and presented on the public stage. While it is my belief that once on the courthouse stage the attorney’s role is to seek out a verdict, I equally believe that our legal system (and our court system) is best served by attorneys who use their “special place” in our society to make sure only the worthy cases are presented for public consideration, to the jury of peers. This is not a popular idea, but I do believe this “character” used to be a part of the script of our legal system – and we have lost it. The founding documents of our society don’t enumerate all they govern, yet they govern through the “character” of the people who apply them. They live and breathe and they heal. It is time to heal from past errors.

Attorneys should have in their vision, at all times, truth and justice. Truth and justice are best served among the parties in dispute, not through a legal system. Attorneys, when not on stage, should work together to create harmony, not acrimony. Our system empowers Officers “of” the court, not Officers “to” the court. The role of attorneys off the stage is more important than on the stage. Truth and justice can better thrive among people than it can survive by a system; scripted for the greater common good, instead of for the individual.

Yes, for me, our court system makes sense as a play and the attorneys are actors on the stage created by our laws. The drama is about the pursuit of a verdict, but that does not mean justice and truth has no place. It means their place is found off the stage in our legal system and in the stewardship of the gatekeepers ordained and empowered by the society they serve.

It is when attorneys fail to recognize that their “role” off stage is different, more important, than their role on stage, that they no longer enjoy the special place in our society, nor the ordination and empowerment that comes with it. The opportunity to apply the principles I am speaking about come each and everyday. The stage, our court system, means failure. It is for dramas that fail in the search for truth and justice because the quest for a verdict holds the promise of neither. Our legal system can only manifest its greatness when attorneys manifest theirs.