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Why We All Must Care About The Law

Why We All Must Care About the Law
By: Sherri K. DeWitt, Esquire
DeWitt Law Firm, P.A.

Our legal system is fundamental to the freedoms we enjoy. These freedoms are set forth in our state and federal constitutions, statutes and common laws. The legislature passes statutes or makes the laws, the executive branch enforces the law, and the courts interpret them.

The court’s interpretations of the law can have a significant impact on our rights and freedoms. An employee, for instance, may be sued for violating a non-compete agreement. The Florida Legislature has passed and amended numerous laws regarding non-compete agreements. The courts have been charged with the responsibility of interpreting the statute and applying the law to particular facts and circumstances. The employee who was sued for violating the non-compete agreement must defend his actions in court. How can he increase the chances that his rights will be protected? Why is it that everyday we trust the courts to do what is fair and what is just?

The answers to these questions lie in the fundamental philosophical principles of our judicial system. Our judicial system is an adversary system. In other words, two adversaries argue before an impartial judge or jury, representing two different sides of the issues. The impartial judge or jury then makes a determination as to which side is accurate, i.e. who is telling the truth, and make an appropriate ruling. What if one lawyer is clearly better than the other? What if one side fails to disclose critical facts? What if one side has substantially more money than the other to pursue the matter? All of these things effect whether or not the truth will prevail.

To understand why this is true we must know a little about the philosophical under printings of our adversary judicial system. First, some people question whether we can ever know what the ‘Truth’ is. The Greeks and other civilizations believe that there was an absolute truth and that man was constantly struggling to discover it. Jean Rousseau, a philosopher whose writings were influential prior to the American Revolutionary War, elaborated upon this struggle. He thought that if there is an absolute truth, the best way to strive to achieve it is to have open free discussion about the issues so that the public was as well informed as possible before making a determination. Substitute your impartial judge or jury for the public and the same basic idea applies to our judicial system. There may be an absolute truth in any given situation to be discovered. The only way to increase our chances of discovering it, however, is for both sides to be equally represented, have equal access to information, and have equal resources to pursue the matter. Otherwise, important facts and issues may remain hidden from the truer of fact. If this is the case, then the truth may also remain hidden. How many innocent criminal defendants have been convicted because their lawyers did not know all of the facts or because the Prosecution did not disclose critical information or because they did not have the money to hire a good criminal defense attorney? How many small business men have given up a rightful claim against a larger corporate conglomerate because they lacked the funds to pursue the claim? How many divorces are settled on unsatisfactory terms because the parties are not starting from level playing fields?

Of course there are other legal presumptions of our legal system, i.e. that the judge and/or jury is impartial, that witnesses with relevant information would be willing to come forward and testify, that the participants in the legal system, such as the lawyers, judges, witnesses, and parties care about the system, committed to it’s integrity and have the competency and the ability to make and form decisions.

It is only when we examine and understand the assumptions underlying our judicial system that we can begin to appreciate that our commitment to it is so important. As lawyers, mandatory pro bono (free) legal services are controversial. The philosophy underlying these services, however, help support our judicial system by providing competent legal services to those who otherwise could not afford them, thus increasing our chances to achieving or knowing the ‘Truth.’ If you are an intelligent thoughtful person, accept jury duty summons in the mail. Help the system to work. If you are in need of legal assistance, retain the best attorney you can afford so that your case can be presented articulately and persuasively to the truer of fact. If you are a material witness to an issue or controversy, volunteer to help the judicial system. By doing so, you help us all retain our freedom.