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Guest column | John C. Lenderman

In defense of the lawyers

“The first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers."

What do you call 500 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.

How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? Her lips are moving.

Funny? Lawyer jokes lose some of their humor when you think about real-life dramas. Too many of us have roles in these dramas, some examples of which are:

• It's the middle of the night and your phone rings with the police calling. They tell you your drunken teenager was involved in a fatal accident.

• You recently were fired without cause from your employment.

• Your spouse just ran off with your business partner.

• After being laid off from work, you are facing jail for failure to pay child support.

• The police found marijuana in the car that you dropped off for repairs at the car dealer.

• The Internal Revenue Service wants to talk to you.

• You have been accused of embezzling from your employer.

• A Highway Patrol trooper gave you a ticket for doing 80 mph in a 30 mph speed zone.

These things happen to real people. Faced with these kinds of legal jams, real people quickly think about getting the best lawyer they can find.

Earlier this month, we observed the 50th anniversary of Law Day, a tradition that was initiated by a nonlawyer president. Three years after then-President Dwight Eisenhower designated May 1, 1958, as Law Day, Congress authorized it as an annual nationwide event. Its purpose: to raise public awareness of American law and justice — an appropriate time to note lawyers' contributions to our system of liberty, justice and equality of law.

The 2000 presidential election brought us nearly to a constitutional crisis. Who was elected president, Bush or Gore? It took the courts to resolve this. The lawyer-bashing candidates and their partisans put all of the lawyer jokes aside and hired the best lawyers in the country.

Whether or not you like the results, lawyers and our courts peacefully resolved the issues, thereby avoiding a constitutional crisis. The rule of law prevailed rather than an ensuing civil war, as might have happened in other countries.

When you talk of all of the frivolous lawsuits in the United States, ask yourselves, ask a lawyer, ask a judge, has that lawyer or judge ever seen a frivolous lawsuit? As a judge for more than 16 years and a lawyer for 39 years, I have seen but perhaps a half dozen frivolous lawsuits.

And believe me, the lawyers who brought those lawsuits paid dearly, along with their clients. Our system of justice does not tolerate frivolous lawsuits, nor does our system of justice tolerate the actions that give rise to lawyer jokes.

We are the constitutional third branch of the government, where the people, corporations and governmental entities bring honest, bona fide disputes for resolution. In addition, we are the center of government charged with bringing justice to the rightly accused, wrongly accused, the victims, the rich, the poor, the disenfranchised, as well as those of us who may have received that dreaded middle-of-the-night call about a child in trouble.

Justice is real. Justice is blind. Justice works. Justice certainly is no joke.

Shakespeare's character in Henry VI who said, "The first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers," meant the surest way to chaos and tyranny was to remove the guardians of independent thinking. The thought is just as valid today.

John C. Lenderman is a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge.

In defense of the lawyers 05/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2008 11:27am]
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