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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Civil Merits Panel: A proposal for tort reform regarding frivolous lawsuits

I wouldn't mind saying out loud, even though I've now given on-the-record testimony during deposition, that Ron Price's lawsuit against Richard and Debbie Moore is a steaming pile of horse manure. Except that doing so would be a dire insult to horses everywhere.

(Here is my own report about being deposed and here is Richard's account, which includes not only my own time on the "witness stand" but his own and that of Debbie and Ron Price... who I especially heard did not do so well.)

In my admittedly non-legally trained estimation, this case is going to be laughed out of court. But that won't be before Price and his attorney Doug Hux will have (a) wasted a lot of our valuable time and money, (b) wasted a lot of the public's valuable time and money, and (c) continued to set a horrible example to this county's young people who Price swore to serve when he became a member of the Rockingham County Board of Education. In fact, what Price and Hux are doing is nothing less than gross abuse of the Constitution.

In a sane world, this should not have been allowed to happen at all. There is no reason why Ron Price should have been able to proceed with this kind of ridiculous litigation against the Moores (and he will probably be coming after me too in time, since word on the street is that he really doesn't like how I've lampooned him with my Adobe Photoshop handiwork over the past year).

After reading for years about frivolous litigation, this is my first time personally experiencing it. And it's downright damned honked me off. Especially when I think about how this sort of crap happens all the time throughout the United States.

So over the past few days I've been thinking about what can be done to remedy this problem. And I think that I might have hit on something...

One of the best things about American law - even though it's not our original idea but rather something old enough to have been codified in the Magna Carta - is the concept of the grand jury, which most countries do not have. In matters of criminal law in the United States, before a defendant can be brought to trial he or she must be indicted: meaning that evidence must be presented before a grand jury first. It is the grand jury members who decide whether or not there are sufficient grounds to prosecute a full courtroom case against the defendant. Obviously this keeps the courts from being overwhelmed with full-fledged trials that would otherwise bog down the system. But it also demands that the prosecutors realize fully-well what they are attempting to do in bringing a case against an individual. The grand jury is a check against abuse of power that is as detrimental to the public which must pay for the courts as much as it is to the individual who possibly finds him-or-herself on trial.

If we have grand juries deciding the legitimacy of criminal proceedings, then why not have something like that for civil matters also... such as lawsuits?

Here's my idea:

Establish a three-judge panel, which is randomly drawn from a small pool of judges who are publicly elected for the position every two years and are not appointed for this panel. Call it the "civil merits panel". There will be one for each judicial district. This panel will be charged with "weeding-out" the frivolous lawsuits from those which have serious grounds for proceeding with the serving of lawsuits and issuance of summons.

So before a lawsuit can even begin to be served, the plaintiff's attorney must bring it before the civil merits panel. Much like the courts of appeals, the judges on the civil merits panel vote on whether the lawsuit should or should not proceed. If at least two of the judges agree, then the lawsuit is allowed to go forth as it does now. If the panel does not agree that the lawsuit has merit, it gets tossed out.

In the event that the panel decides not to let the lawsuit proceed, the plaintiff will have the right to appeal the panel's decision, and have the merits of the lawsuit heard by a panel of three different judges drawn from the same elected pool. This panel will also decide if there is basis for a full lawsuit to proceed. If they agree, then the lawsuit goes forth. If not, it all ends right there and the plaintiff will have no more opportunity for appealing this lawsuit before the civil merits panel.

(The angels of my lesser nature would also like to recommend that in the event of a lawsuit's merits being turned down after a second hearing by the panel, that the plaintiff and all of his or her attorneys will be forcefully seized and pistol-whipped hard across the bare buttocks in the town square for not less than one-quarter of an hour, including not less than five minutes by the would-be defendant. However as this is Sunday morning I am trying hard to maintain a Christ-like manner in putting forth this proposal.)

So there's my idea: instead of outright obligating a defendant to hire an attorney and make allowances for the plaintiff's possibly preposterous petition for proceedings, let a panel of judges (who being publicly elected would be held accountable for their rulings and could be periodically removed if need be) decide whether the lawsuit has weight enough to become a nuisance for all involved.

There at least needs to be some kind of oversight at work here. Otherwise, civil litigation will continue to be a right that is abused and a drain on public resources.


Anonymous said...

An excellent suggestion!

Unfortunately lawyers make the laws. Lawyers make money from litigation (civil and criminal).

Lawyers are not going to make laws that will reduce litigation and their incomes.