19 February 2009

The Myth of the Good People

The Myth of the Good People
02/19/2009, 9:21 PM

When I first moved out of my small town to the big city to attend law school, I knew I belonged somewhere for the first time in my life. There suddenly were people who read newspapers. Who talked and read books, who had places to walk to and things to do and who were forced, every day, to navigate the world about them to get things done. And all this doing gave them a kind of confidence in their own abilities that was sorely lacking where I was from. Yes, there was crime and you had to be careful and not take stupid chances. But even that was exciting, and making the choices improved your sense of self-reliance even more.

People who grew up the children of minions in coal towns never really believed they could affect their environment for the better. They were taught from infancy out to take direction, follow a crowd, and to fear.Employers, priests and the nuns in school were always right and you were always wrong. It amazes me to this day that the union movement in America had a big spark there. Conditions had to have been unspeakable to get people so inclined to sheepishness to actually move. Thought wasn't exactly a prized commodity and questioning just kept you from getting jobs, though, as the union movement showed, they could be roused to powerful anger. In short, they are the equivalent of a community of fear biters -- scared and yet despised, willing to lash out sometimes but never actually change anything.

The year I moved out I refused to come back for anything more than a few hours on holidays. My mom would ask me why and I'd say: I hate it. Whenever I criticized a politician, or a business, or anything, she told me I was unfair to the Good People of the Region (which was her euphemism for everyone). And this reflected their own widely held views that they were decent, god-fearing people who lived in a poor, hardscrabble but pleasant place. Indeed, there was virtually no serious crime and no one locked their doors at night. How I could prefer the company of criminals (probably black people at that) was incomprehensible to the home crowd.

Mom wanted me to be a lawyer for her whole life. She grew up working for judges and lawyers as a secretary, understood a lot more than some of the paralegals, and dreamed big for me. She had such fawning respect for the people she worked for that I thought for a long time those men were of a different species. If we were a community of hardworking, decent people, they were the true esquires of that realm -- brilliant, cultured, landed. But always fair and wonderful, possessed of true Solomonic temperament and handsome to boot, like Gregory Peck in "To Kill A Mockingbird." She had to resign herself to the hard fact that I was never coming back to practice in those environs, and it irritated her. She groomed me to swoop in and share the podium with these men of greatness. When I told her time had shown me they weren't so smart (because I was being mean about it), she accused me of horrid, hateful bias.

Well then, imagine my lack of surprise when the US Attorney indicted 2 judges in the county seat for sending unrepresented minors to a private prison on minor matters in return for kickbacks. Michael 9 below posted the entire story, here's a link to some of the more sordid details.


It is the most reprehensible kind of crime imaginable by someone in the judicial system. More than a few of these kids had never been in trouble before. Many (if not most) didn't have counsel. In one case, a kid who wrote nasty things about his school principal was sentenced to 3 months. The scandal hardly stops here. Another judge who was removed from the court last year claims she was removed because of her complaints about these two. The judges had judgment entered against them right before the indictments by a bank to whom they allegedly owned money. The bank's principal owner and a board member is a famously mobbed-up local landfill and casino operator, himself under indictment for lying to the state gaming commission about his ties to local organized crime figures. The judgment has the effect of taking most of the judges liquid assets, and all the money they made from the kickbacks, right before any civil lawsuits are filed by the victims of this scheme.

And of course it's broken beyond the particulars to a finding that a court administrator was stealing money from settlements (and used a county-provided car while on leave pending his criminal hearing), there's an investigation into the persistent rigging of arbitration awards in personal injury cases, and I know a lot of lawyers who had "sneaking suspicions" of payoffs of other judges there that just went uninvestigated, because there was little hope anything would be done.

At least my Mom knows enough to be scandalized. I told her I wanted to hear no more about the big, bad corrupt city. They have a small, deep, soulless cesspool -- a community of moral failing. I'm sure there are wonderful small towns somewhere. I just have to find one.


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