Saturday, January 15, 2011

Judge Acknowledges Inequality of Representation

It has long been obvious to us little guys how difficult it is to file lawsuits on behalf of individuals against either the government or big business. Defendants like those have enough money to hire experts and obtain legions of lawyers who can generally bury us in paperwork and expense of litigation.

This week Federal District Judge Nixon, here in the Middle District of Tennessee, acknowledged the problem when he ordered a plaintiff's counsel to get more help. The case involved a challenge to the redistricting of a school district. Of course the school district, despite their constant claims of being strapped for cash, hired the biggest and most expensive law firm they could find (from Washington D.C. no less). That law firm hired what was described as a "handful" of experts.

Of course, the plaintiffs couldn't afford to compete with that, so when they showed up at the hearing with only a local lawyer and no experts, the judge noted the disparity. He then ordered the plaintiffs to seek the assistance of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Plaintiffs' attorney stated in comments after the hearing that he had already sought such help and was turned down.

This is, of course, a problem with the system. It seems that, if you have the resources, you can simply buy a victory - unless the plaintiff is very lucky. That's not always true, many times defendants attorneys will recognize the equities of the situation and settlements can be reached. But it is true enough of the time to present a problem.

I am not sure that Judge Nixon's solution will work - what happens if the plaintiffs can't find any organization to help? But it at least acknowledges the problem.

A newspaper article about the case appears here.


No comments: