George Washington said, “The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.” When that pillar is cracked, democracy itself is in danger. So what exactly is cracked?
The World Justice Project measures successful application of the Rule of Law in 99 countries around the world. This is important because global acceptance of the rule of law helps reduce corruption, improve public health, enhance education, alleviate poverty, and protect people from injustices and dangers large and small. We know the stories of rampant corruption in other nations and can be lulled into a false sense that our democracy is thriving.
The truth is the United States consistently ranks last among Western nations for providing access to justice. As stated by the World Justice Project, “All around the world, people’s ability to use legal channels to resolve their disputes is often impeded by obstacles such as financial barriers, complexity of procedures, corruption of court personnel, influence of powerful parties in judicial decision making, or simply lack of knowledge, disempowerment, and exclusion. These problems, which are not restricted to developing countries, call for more work to ensure that all people have the opportunity to resolve their grievances effectively, impartially, and efficiently through the civil justice system.” (2014 Report, p. 26).
Our system is complex and simply not accessible for 1 in 3 Americans who cannot afford an attorney. Justice should not depend on how much money you have. Justice should be fair for all. Civil legal aid provides meaningful access and ensures fairness for all in the system, not just those who have money.
Garret had a normal life until the day a drunk driver came across the median and struck Garret head on. Garret’s wife was killed instantly. He was left with permanent brain damage. Garret received social security disability and lived in subsidized housing. A large real estate venture owned the building and wanted to convert the housing to high end condominiums. But they had to get rid of Garret. That seemed easy. They would use the legal system to push him out because they had lawyers and Garret did not. They served an eviction notice for failure to pay.
Garret knew he’d paid but he could not communicate well and was scared. He could not afford an attorney on his disability income. He learned of a church legal aid ministry where an attorney recognized how the real estate corporation was taking advantage of Garret. The attorney subpoenaed the bank to provide proof of payment. But the corporation’s attorney argued they made an error and the month not paid was actually a different month. This necessitated a second trial. The corporate lawyers were hoping to wear the legal-aid attorney down. Two trials and all the necessary discovery would have cost Garret $10,000. But Garret’s legal-aid attorney was undeterred. He obtained proof from the bank of payment, and successfully demonstrated to the court the intentional fraud of the real estate company.
Garret could easily have been a homeless victim of our justice system without the help of a legal aid attorney. Instead Garret was grateful for the prayers and support of his Christian attorney and support team. As he said, “Thank God I found some help. They put me completely at ease and made me feel like I was going to make it. They made me feel like I mattered, like I could live like anyone else.”
That is the opportunity of gospel justice, a justice that restores what is broken. The opportunity to enhance the rule of law, reflect a Kingdom of justice and righteousness and listen to our Savior’s voice as we
Go and Do Likewise!