Statehouses across the country are grappling with budget deficits and declining revenue. We’ve all heard of successful programs meeting their demise due to an absence of funding. Crippling budgetary trade-offs being made to our educational system, law enforcement, and the like have become so commonplace that they barely raise eyebrows in disbelief.
What we’ve heard less about is the economic downturn’s impact on a key cornerstone in our democracy: justice.
Layoffs, furloughs, and unfilled judicial vacancies eventually leave their mark on our judicial system. The American Bar Association’s Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System found that civil cases have been the hardest hit by budget cuts. Typical civil cases include everything from child custody and divorce to employee compensation.
In the past few months, we’ve had a patron pursue a lawsuit against restaurant for injuries he sustained while driving his motorcycle drunk all the way up to the State Supreme Court; a lifeguard sue for age discrimination just before he retired; a patient who fell asleep while polishing a gun sue his doctor; and a woman who filed suit against ABC, claiming to be “severely damaged” after the station read the wrong winning lottery numbers.
These are the types of cases pushing back court dates for issues that matter. These are the types of cases being vetted when resources thin and demand for the court’s services grow. And yes, these all happened here in New Jersey.
“All of us must have and protect our right and our freedom to use courtrooms when we need to…That courtroom must be open to protect families…to validate and protect contracts for business…” said newly elected ABA President Wm. T. Robinson III at a symposium in Kentucky.
Spreading ever-thinning public funds around may be a new reality for the foreseeable future. But compromising access to justice is one sacrifice Americans shouldn’t have to make.
No matter what the trial lawyers tell you, filing a frivolous lawsuit isn’t a victimless crime.