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Law Week celebrates Constitutional freedom

Chaos won out over the rule of law in 1781.

That was the year that 13 of England's former colonies formed the Articles of Confederation. Weak national government was at the mercy of a loose coalition of sovereign states.

"At best, we were drifting toward a coalition of small nations," said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen H. Grimes. "At worst, we were heading toward anarchy."

Six years later in Philadelphia, the nation's most prominent leaders rectified that mistake when they penned the Constitution of the United States, which held the rule of law above all else.

It was this lesson in American history and law that Grimes, a former chief justice of the state's highest court, felt important to impart to the more than 150 local attorneys and attendees at Friday's Law Week luncheon at Andre's of Citrus Hills restaurant.

"In 1958, President Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 as Law Day," said Grimes, 70. "I'm sure it was meant to celebrate our freedoms in contrast to other totalitarian regimes, like the Soviet Union, which was celebrating May Day.

"Because we live in a country governed by law, we have our freedom."

It was a lesson in Constitutional law Grimes said was sorely needed in Joseph Stalin's Russia, Adolph Hitler's Germany and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

"Joseph Stalin could not have held the secret trials of the 1930s and wiped out all of his opposition if they had the Sixth Amendment, which requires a speedy and fair trial," Grimes said.

"In Hitler's Germany, stormtroopers would not have been knocking on doors at night if (Germans) had the protection of the Fourth Amendment, which requires a warrant.

"In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, he would not have been able to stifle opposition if they had the protections of our First Amendment.

"Our citizens must appreciate that the Constitution made our government one of law," Grimes said. "We must know that it applies to all of us, regardless of our stand on economic or social policy."

Friday's luncheon was the culmination of Law Week in Citrus County, which ended with the Citrus County Bar Association honoring the staff and volunteers of the local Guardian Ad Litem program, who represent the rights of children caught in legal crisis.

"This year, the 40 Guardian Ad Litem volunteers in Citrus County donated 4,000 hours to protect the rights of children," said attorney Jim Neal.

Program coordinator Kathleen Cossey thanked the Bar Association on behalf of the volunteers.

"I'd also like to thank the Citrus County Commission," Cossey said. "Thanks to them, we'll have even more room to work now."

The commission found spacious new accommodations for the program on the second floor of the Masonic Building in downtown Inverness. The program used to be housed in a basement closet of the Citrus County Courthouse.

Grimes, who presented Cossey with a plaque and the volunteers with certificates, jumped back to the podium to offer his own praise.

"These are some of the real heroes in our society," Grimes said. "They stand up for the people who can't always stand up for themselves: children."