Tag Archives: courts

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99%

Image result for court fees expensive            I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and boys will be girls”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocketed plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The NSA Loses in Court, but the Police State Rolls On

http://henrymakow.com/upload_images/policestate.jpg

Edward Snowden has been vindicated.

This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.

Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.

Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.

A unanimous three-judge ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.

On the surface, this is good news.

It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.

One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.

Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”

Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.

Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.

The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.

What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Well, ain’t that peachy.

As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.

It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Si Le Gant Ne Va Pas

Sil Le Gant Ne Vas Pas

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Sequester-related budget cuts to air traffic control could cause big delays at Los Angeles International Airport.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: To Live and Die in L.A.

An Armed, Disposable and Dangerous System

What’s shocking is that it doesn’t happen more often.

When a heartless system refuses to listen or help, when it crushes and grinds down millions of people day after day, year after year, everywhere, it’s illogical and unreasonable to assume that all its victims will pick themselves up, dust themselves off and reinvent themselves. (Job retraining! Start a business! Win the Lotto!) Some people will crack. Others will explode.

It’s inevitable.

Consider the case of the ex-Los Angeles police officer and Iraq War vet who triggered a massive manhunt after he allegedly shot three people in retaliation for his dismissal in 2008. Based on media accounts so far, Christopher Dorner had reason to be angry. After he reported a partner for assaulting a homeless man, a review board concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the other cop. Fair enough. Maybe the partner was innocent. But then they went too far, firing the officer who brought the charge for filing a false report.

Officer Dorner had already taken a chance by stepping forward, risking ostracism and the chance to advance in his career. Firing him – even if he was wrong in this case – is heinous.

Anyone familiar with the behavior of white cops in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and who has seen the LAPD in action has to admit that the accusation – kicking a bum – is well within the realm of plausibility. Anyone who has ever faced off against an arresting officer in court knows that cops lie. And anyone who has filed a complaint against the police and their behavior soon learns that the chances of obtaining redress, much less justice, range from slim to none. (Disclosure: I’ve experienced all three.)

Ruling against Dorner in 2010, a Superior Court judge noted that administrative review panels – in this case, the LAPD itself – enjoy a “presumption of correctness” under state law. Which makes suing pointless.

“I have exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back,” Dorner wrote on Facebook. “I have attempted all legal court efforts within appeals at the Superior Courts and California Appellate courts. This is my last resort. The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead to deadly consequences.”

Los Angeles police officials spun the wanted ex-cop’s Facebook manifesto, which described the force as brutal, corrupt and racist – “The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse” – as out of date, a relic of the 1990s, before the scandal-ridden “old LAPD” got reformed (by good people like them). Unfortunately for their we’re-nice-guys-now messaging, their trigger-happy ground troops were rocking it old-school in their hunt for their former colleague, twice opening fire with assault rifles on vehicles they thought fit the description of the truck driven by the suspect before bothering to take a look at three people inside two cars, none of whom look anything like him yet wound up in the hospital anyway.

To his credit, or at least that of the Police Department’s publicity office, Chief Charlie Beck announced that the LAPD would re-examine Dorner’s dismissal.

How exactly is this going to work? If it turns out the guy was right, and that he never should’ve been let go, does he get his job back while he’s serving three life terms? Confusing. But it sounds good. That’s what matters.

Needless to say, a shooting spree is an inappropriate response to injustice.  Still, the case of the cop gone rogue is a parable for our time. Authority is unaccountable. Individuals are powerless. Checks and balances, however well they worked in the past, have evaporated. It’s a system doomed to fail.

Fired or laid off? Chances are, you’re an “at will” employee. That means that, no matter how hard you work and how good you are your job, your boss can fire you. There’s nothing you can do about it. Even if you have the money to sue – and if you have that much money, you probably didn’t need the job in the first place – no honest lawyer will take your case. Employers have all the power. Is it any wonder that wages are stagnant or falling? Who would be stupid enough to dare to ask for a raise?

What happens to people like Officer Dorner, who lose everything? The American system – the government, political leaders, gatekeepers in the media – has no answer.

We live in a disposable society. We are disposable. When our skill set or education or personality or serendipity no longer fits the demands of the marketplace, when we suffer an injury to our bodies or our minds that reduces us to uselessness under the cold capitalist calculus of value-added cost-benefit profit-loss, we get turned out. No income, no home. No status, no life. What should you do? Where should you go? Nobody cares, not even about our so-called national heroes, our sainted troops whom the yellow stickers on our SUVs pledged to support. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Tens of thousands are homeless.

Note to the architects of the American political system: if you’re going to build your economy on the blood and crushed bones of powerless citizens, it’s not the smartest idea to pair disposability of the individual with a cult of militarism that sends millions to war. Every now and then, as in the case of fired officer Christopher Dorner, the victims of your brutalist slave-labor approach to labor-management relations turn out to be heavily armed, highly trained, out to kill – with nothing left to lose.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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