Walking through the halls of various courthouses in Southern California, I overhear people saying, “That isn’t fair,” or “How can he/she do that to me/our kids? Isn’t that wrong?” and the essential, unvoiced question is always, “How can the Court allow that?”
Sometimes the disconnect is so great that, for the wronged party, it feels like a betrayal. Hard to comprehend. Difficult to accept. Hideously hurtful. “Didn’t the judge believe me?”
These people, all seeking justice from the California courts, are asking the wrong questions, because they are speaking the wrong language. You see, attorneys spend many years getting an education, and the last several are all about learning the language of the American judicial system. Judges are attorneys who are even more learned in the language of the American judicial system. Please note that I did not say attorneys and judges are learning the language of justice; nor did I say we are learning the language of right/wrong. Those are all different things. We must speak the language of our legal system. The language of law.
Constitutional lawyers will tell us that the fundamental tenets of our legal system are “notice” and “an opportunity to be heard.” This is true, but “being heard” means you get to say your piece, not that you get your way, unless you can present sufficient evidence to convince the court so the judge can and should grant your request. In actuality, the fundamental tenets of our legal system appear – from the inside of the system – to be competent evidence and the moral high ground. Neither is easy to attain unless you have been blessed with sufficient education in the law, and ample experience in our courts of law, and are inclined to deep thought about both. Please believe I am not talking down to you: I am trying to explain the reason for a fundamental disconnect between what the average non-lawyer appearing before the court believes about our judicial system, and what practitioners within that system must understand to be successful.