Justice should be free. However, the State of California has just cut the budget of its court system by more than $500 million! Litigants will be left to fend for themselves. One blogger suggests that private judges are not expensive when comparing the speed of justice in a private matter with the delays and increased costs of the public judicial system.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the State of California began changes to its pension system, which culminated in a major change in 1994. Judges elected or appointed before that year could with qualifications retire as early as age 60 at 75% of salary, but if they stayed on the bench after age 65 the percentage went down. Judges who assumed their jobs after 1994 got a further reduction. Many of these judges found it more advantageous to retire and hire themselves out as private judges. Thus began the two-tier system of justice, one for the rich who could afford to move quickly with a private judge, and the other for everyone else.
The recent budget cut further exacerbates the problem by giving incentives to even more people (who can afford it) to enter into the private judging world … a boon for them and a catastrophe for the average citizen with an average matter who can’t afford the added expenses of a private judge.
Our Constitution says everyone is entitled to right to counsel. In at least one instance, this applies to civil matters as well as criminal matters. Shouldn’t this right also include that everyone is entitled to the right to be judged by a competent and objective individual, paid by the state? Private judging sounds too much like the old vigilante justice. Am I unfair when I ask whether these judges will be influenced by which lawyers use their services more? If this is a question raised in my mind, I wonder what the litigants might wonder …. And that is not how justice ought to be delivered or viewed.
As a postscript, there are already those who predict that the national system of health care under the now-validated Affordable Care Act will lead certain physicians to opt out of the system and care only for wealthy individuals who can afford them. Would such doctors refuse to see or treat a patient who could not demonstrate the required level of net worth?
Lincoln famously observed that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Ultimately the same can be said about a society divided against itself, between those who can pay and those who can’t.