Legal Ethics and Reform

Clinton's Polling Numbers Reveal a Troubled Legal System

During the impeachment process, President Clinton enjoyed strong support in the polls; 70% thought he should remain in office. However, these polls also showed that more than 70% of the people thought he did commit perjury and obstruct justice. Pundits attribute this disconnect to the strong economy which they say redounded to the President's benefit. No doubt the economy did help, but is that the whole explanation?

The conflicting poll results, taken at face value, would indicate that the people, looking at this situation, were saying "it's all probably true but .... " But what? Since people judge things in light of their own personal experience and apply their own sense of right and wrong; the common experiences of most Americans with extramarital sex, perjury, and the "manipulation" of judicial processes must be investigated.

Most adults in America have been a party to, or at least close to, a divorce case, a child custody hearing, debt collection case, or some other civil case. People have seen others lie under oath, people have been coached by lawyers to color facts in certain ways, people have seen results which were widely disparate from one case to another. In criminal actions, particularly those involving nonviolent crimes, like perjury, people have seen prosecutors selectively chose to prosecute one case while ignoring others.

Turning to their lives outside of courtrooms - Citizens are asked to sign their tax returns under a penalty of perjury. The government demands this even though the tax code is thousands of pages in length and confuses even experts. To require such an affirmation, in the face of such complexity, forces people to downgrade the seriousness of oaths and affirmations in other settings, including courtrooms. But problems with the legal processes don't end with personal tax returns.

Americans, who manage business operations, find government regulations are constantly changing and are too numerous to be completely learned much less totally followed. They see regulators vigorously enforce some rules in some situation while giving superficial attention to other rules in other situations. These highly regulated, law-abiding businessmen are confused by the volume of law and regulation, the unending changes to these laws and regulations, the selective enforcement, and the uncertain penalties. One compliance officer at a small stock brokerage firm was heard to say to a newly arrived government auditor "Although we have tried, I knew we haven't followed all the rules faithfully. There are just to many rules and they change too often for us to keep up. But we try to treat out clients fairly. I know you will find violations. So all I can say is - this firm's future is in your hands. I hope you will allow us to continue operating."

This confusion toward laws, regulations, and enforcement processes has been exacerbated by regulatory, legislative, and judicial attacks on traditions, rituals, and even the sacred. The tradition of posting the Ten Commandments and saying morning prayers in our schools was overruled by judicial decree. The biblical injunction that divorce could only be granted for certain terrible sins, like adultery, has been replaced with "no fault" divorce. Solemn vows and oaths taken before God in a Church can now be overruled by a local judge who can terminate a marriage simply because a husband or wife has lost interest in the marriage.

When someone like Judge Ken Starr makes an eloquent plea that no man is above the law or that the rule of law must be applied to all men equally, the America people have to be forgiven for replying with a "shrug" or a "yawn" or even a "Bronx cheer". Their personal experience is no where near the standard that Judge Starr articulates so well.

So what steps must be taken to restore respect for the laws, regulations, and legal processes. It is easy to rattle off a list: reduce the number of laws and regulations, stop making so many changes to these laws and regulation, even out enforcement, make the laws compatible with religious values, etc. However, such lists are mere wish lists until opposition groups are identified and neutralized.

In this situation the critical question is "what groups in society increase their power and wealth from a proliferation of ‘ever changing' laws and regulations that spawn lawsuits and/or regulatory enforcement actions?" Did someone say judges, government regulators, and lawyers? Has the opposition to reform been identified? What is the next step? ...... Sorry, answers to such momentous questions are beyond the scope of this essay; however, there is now a clearer understanding of the disconnection within Pres. Clinton's poll numbers.

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