- A clear detailed description of the Project, including particular outputs or products, any arguments and ideas the Project will put forth, and the need for the Project;
The outputs and products of this project are twofold: 1) it will provide a forum for individuals dealing with the courts to control their own access to information by setting up an alternative docketing system to bring publicity to their own cases in a form and manner outside of the control of the lawyers and the courts, and 2) it will establish an alternative media outlet focused specifically on the workings of the third branch of government.
There is no greater need in the modern American political and legal climate than for serious judicial reform, which includes reforms in the very nature of the practice of law, as well as the way that the courts are covered in the media. The greatest obstacle that is faced in the modern political world is the courts, which, while a co-equal third branch of government, are largely run completely in secret. The experiential background of this proposal comes from a civil rights practitioner in the Pennsylvania state and federal courts, and the real life experience of representing disenfranchised individuals who have tried to pursue their civil rights claims through the courts.
Currently, and for the past four years, I have been working on an organization I have developed, with the intention of turning it into a credible national civil rights organization, known as the Pennsylvania Civil Rights Law Network. The major themes of the effort are found at www.pennsylvaniacivilrightslawnetwork.com. There have been thousands of individuals with whom I have been in contact through the network from all over the country who have had experiences with the courts that have brought them to me. I continue to work with these people, and have received wide appreciation for my insights into the courts and insights into the difficulties with gaining access to justice.
When an individual experiences the interference with his or her civil rights, i.e., those “inherent, inalienable rights endowed by our creator,” there is a visceral reaction that strikes at the core of their humanity, and is very difficult, and almost impossible, to explain to others who have not shared such an experience. These individuals come to the legal system feeling broken and abused, and have lost trust in their employers, police, and governments, and have been damaged and injured economically, often facing the very survival of their families, which they risked to do the right thing.
The courage that it takes to be a whistleblower or to stand up to official oppression or abuse is immense. All-too often, when these injured and abused, courageous people come to the courts with the hope that they finally are going to get the vindication they deserve, they only end up suffering the same abuses, and face the same losses all over again, and walk away feeling doubly damaged and inured with all hope lost. This is what motivated me to create the Pennsylvania Civil rights Law Network.
One of the key problems that I have noted, both as an active practitioner, and since, is the control that lawyers have over access to justice and how, despite the fact that there are many conscientious lawyers representing individuals across the country, lawyers are an oppressed group of professionals, and those who speak out against the system become targets for the disciplinary enforcement arms of these courts. While in the past, attorneys performed valuable roles in policing the courts and judges, through the process of acculturation, driven largely by their selfish desires to maximize profits, and protect business interests, attorneys have failed to effectively ensure their clients fair access to justice.
The nature of the practice of law itself has caused the deterioration in the quality of fair and equal access to justice. Lawyers are more concerned with maintaining their social status, and their ability to get “results” by gaining the favor of judges and other lawyers that the needs of the client are no longer their primary focus. This may work in many cases, as in the case where a truly guilty client needs a favorable plea, or when a few more dollars are needed in a personal injury settlement, but it does not work when vindication of the core civil rights of an individual are involved, and it does not work when those lawyers need an advocate to fight against that very system. While it is not this way in every case and with every lawyer, I have been around enough courts, and enough individuals who have come to me after years of abuse and mistreatment by other lawyers, who they have paid many thousands of dollars to, to know that there is a real problem with the quality of representation that people seeking justice get.
The fact is that the control that lawyers and bar associations have over the practice of law is a de facto monopoly that has become a good old boys club, and has enacted rules and practices to make lawyers a necessity, when, in reality, they are not. Our courtrooms need to be opened up to private litigants, who are the most competent persons to handle their own legal problems, with the assistance of counsel and friends, particularly when it is their very lives and futures on the line, and their core human rights that have been violated. They are not having their most basic rights adequately protected in the current climate. Lawyers can be very competent, skilled, and effective, but they can be very unskilled and inept as well, and there is no reason that they need to have an exclusive monopoly on the practice of law.
Judges are almost universally former lawyers, who have come up through the system and been elected or appointed to their positions based upon the affinity of their fellow lawyers, who are the primary contributors to campaigns and supporters of their bids for judgeships. As a result, the courtrooms have become bastions built up to protect and preserve the institution of the practice of law, and cases and litigants who present a threat to these collegial institutions are treated with hostility. The very nature of the civil rights practice goes against these institutions, and involves the reality of government being corrupt and elected official and others in who we place our trust as American citizens doing bad things, and present threats to these very institutions.
Lawyers are products of these institutions, and, myself included, have a very hard time accepting that abusive and dishonest public servants exist in our world to the extent they do, and, when the abusiveness and dishonesty occurs in the courts themselves, which is our a co-equal third branch of government, the ability to accept and expose its existence is compounded.
This is due to a confluence of the following factors: 1) lawyers’ need to protect their own standing and financial status, 2) the subconscious need for lawyers to believe they are working in an honorable profession, and 3) the fact that the judges whose conduct has fallen short are the ones who have control over lawyers’ professional lives. As a result, blind eyes are turned to obvious mistreatment, and psychological defenses are built up to not allow the conduct to be seen or accepted, and the individual litigants who experience it are ostracized and discounted, and justice in American courtrooms suffers greatly.
Over the past four years, in particular, I have witnessed the utter lack of access to courts that individual citizens have as what are called “pro se” litigants, i.e., individuals who choose to attempt to access the courts on their own, without high-priced lawyers who are acculturated products of the system, in order to gain justice in their own cases. I have worked with numerous such people, courageous and talented people, and it is nothing short of tragic to see and hear about the abject abuses they have suffered through the courts, and the lawyers and judges who run them.
Lawyers and judges control the litigation process through obfuscation and legal chicanery, and the courts themselves conduct almost all of their functions in private, from deliberations to rule making, and, pertinent to this proposal, the media give the courts a free pass in many ways. While many high profile cases of public importance get wide coverage, and decisions get discussed and debated, there is a real failure of the media in performing the proper policing function of the courts.
The foregoing is the basis for the first aspect of my proposal – a legal private docketing system where individuals can post their own documents in their own cases, and invite readers to view the specific aspects of their cases that reveal the true victimization they have suffered.
While modern courts boast of the access that the average citizen has or may have to their decisions by posting them in user friendly online dockets (for which excessive fees ore often charged), the court opinions that people read often do not resemble the actual facts of their cases; yet the public accepts what the courts say as a true representation of the facts of their cases, and people who get mistreated by the courts, or whose case is compromised by their lawyers, get a third victimization when they have to deal with the shame and humiliation for life of having not received the vindication to which they were entitled. I have seen it many times.
The private docketing system will allow them to highlight the documents and arguments that they have made that have been discounted and neglected by the courts, and, through the networking aspect of the Civil Rights Law Network, to find other people who have had cases like theirs, and exchange ideas and even documents, so as to reduce the need to rely on lawyers to make the arguments they wish to make. This will also involve use of the PCRLN youtube channel for publication of testimonial videos.
The second aspect of this proposal relates to an equally important part of the problem regarding access to justice – the failure of the media to provide adequate coverage of the courts in civil rights cases. These cases often involve public corruption at high levels of state government, or large institutions, which, because of their size and reach, affect cultural climates all across the country, and the mistreatment that litigants receive in the courts often become part of the problem; yet, for institutional reasons, these cases never receive the full coverage in the mainstream press that they deserve.
It cannot be stressed enough how much control that the courts, and particularly the federal courts, have over setting cultural climates and allowing chrony politics to persist. Almost every civil rights case of varying natures, involves one or more lying witnesses, without which the truth and justice of the cases would be clear; yet, due to political concerns and other agendas, they receive protection by the courts. In the federal courts in Pennsylvania, there is a real reluctance of the courts to pierce these corrupt institutions, and the judges far-too-often act to protect their political friends and institutions, often lawyers protecting lawyers at all levels by turning a blind eye, over and over, to what are nothing short of perjurers. One strong rebuke by a federal court could cause a sea change in these corrupt institutions, which, in itself, could serve an effective docket control purpose.
The average American citizen knows very little about the courts, and the vast majority of them never have any dealings with the courts. What we all know about the courts, i.e., that they are “the best system of justice in the world,” as we learned in our formative years, becomes the lens through which the majority of people view the legal system, and there is a real, and very natural, prejudice, in favor of the system, i.e., people tend to accept what judges say as true and valid, and distrust and view with skepticism any real and valid criticism of the system. An honest and aggressive media is essential to educating the public that our system does not always provide the quality of justice that we are lead to believe it does.
It is difficult enough for the average reporter who gets a story concerning a case involving issues of public corruption to understand and address the full import of the issues in these cases from a legal standpoint, and these difficulties are magnified when, as is often the case, there are suggestions of misconduct of the courts that all-too-often contribute to the injustice. It is at this point that the control of the lawyers and the courts presents the obstacle to justice.
The editors who get these stories take them to the lawyers, and the lawyers’ licenses are controlled by the courts, and the newspapers often have legal problems of their own, and they, like most Americans, want to have politically friendly courts, and, as a result, these sensitive stories get scuttled. These cases often only get media coverage if or when they are thrown out by the courts, in which case the only thing that gets reported is what the judges write in their sanitized opinions based upon their often jaded views of the cases, and the average John Q. Citizen either accepts these opinions as the only truth behind the story, or does not know enough about the workings of the courts to understand that what they read from the courts very often tells very little about the real case that has just been decided, and this, then, becomes the narrative of civil rights in the courts.
What has happened as a result of this dual failing – the lawyers failing to perform their policing function, and the media failing to perform its functions of ensuring openness, is that the courts themselves control the perceptions of their functions.
What is needed, and is already reflected in the Pennsylvania Civil Rights Law Network site, and which will be further developed through the Pennsylvania Gazette, is an effective media outlet that has the courage, commitment, and understanding, to address these civil rights, and other court-related issues, with the depth and insights offered herein. The Pennsylvania Gazette will be a news agency devoted to coverage of the third branch of our government.
2. An explanation of how the Project builds on existing efforts or charts new terrain.
While there is starting to be a proliferation of websites from largely disgruntled litigants, there do not appear to be many, or any, with the unique focus, insight, and depth of coverage of the Pennsylvania Civil Rights Law Network, as developed by this writer. That effort centered largely on and around the civil rights practice of attorneys Don Bailey, and how he became a political target and victim due to his courage in both representing disenfranchised American citizens, and, quintessentially, the “little man” in their courageous battles against their governments and employers who violate their individual civil rights.
The site www.pennsylvaniacivilrightslawnetwork.com will be used as the platform from which our effort will be launched. There is nothing that exists in our country that offers such a comprehensive and aggressive challenge to the legal institutions, including the monopoly that lawyers have on justice in America, and presents a credible alternative to, and check on, the way justice is administered. It is my firm belief that in the years to come, the subject of this proposal could not just equalize access to justice, but could revolutionize the effectiveness and quality of its administration.
- A description of the Project’s expected impact and how you might measure it;
The guiding principle behind this project is that “sunlight is the greatest disinfectant” in the sense that, knowing what this writer knows about lawyers and the courts, the greatest impact that will be had in opening up access to justice for all is to shed light on the real nature of the problems, to put the people back on a par with the courts. I intend to build into the docketing system specific statistics on handling pro se litigant cases, and measuring the success in civil rights litigation. The courts do keep fairly detailed statistics on caseloads and types of cases (interestingly, lawyers in civil rights cases receive about 80% of the sanctions administered by federal courts), and these can be modified to provide specific measures of success and advancement in civil rights cases.
- A detailed account of how you will achieve your goals, including a communications and/or outreach strategy. Please describe the specific audiences you hope to reach, your reasons for focusing on them, and how you intend to influence them;
The outreach has been effectuated as much as possible under all the present circumstances. There have been thousands of unique visitors to my site, with as many as 12000 views in some months. I have a facebook page and twitter for the PCRLN, and many persons in the network who have volunteered some of their time and energies in helping me. I have the domain for civilrightslawnetwork.com, and will use that to expand the network to each state by adding, for example a .ohio or .texas, etc. to the www.civilrightslawnetwork.com platform. The Pennsylvania Civil Rights Law Network will be used as the template. We will reach disadvantaged litigants, and the lawyers and courts, who will see and know that the people are taking control over their own access to the courts.
I also am a graduate of the Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, and have worked with some students there as legal interns, largely on a volunteer basis, though it is difficult to find the best help available without being able to pay them. My hope and desire, however, which I will continue to work toward, whether or not through the foundation, is to staff the PCRLN with law students and even lawyers who will work individually with litigants in helping with their cases.
- The reasons you are especially suited to carry out this Project;
I believe that my website and my videos speak for themselves in terms of the insights that I have into these issues, and that I am uniquely qualified, through experience, to deal with these issues. I have been involved with many dozens of federal civil rights lawsuits representing clients across all socioeconomic strata, and, in every case, I have been out-resourced exponentially. There are, of course, other attorneys across the country who have handled cases like I have handled, but what qualifies me uniquely is my commitment to the humanity of my clients and others with whom I deal. I care about people individually, and have made my career out of service to the person, and not service to the dollar. I have never turned a client away who needed help because they have not had money because I believe that the true commitment to justice requires selflessness.
- A description of how you expect the Project to fit into your career trajectory and future work;
This project, as should be clear from all of the foregoing, is my life, and I will accomplish what I am working on, and be a force for change in the civil rights landscape for years to come.
- A Project timeline;
One year would be sufficient to complete this project, and have it set up according to this proposal, with all reporting and a long-term relationship with others established. I have gotten an extraordinary amount of work done, and established network connections over the past four years, and the past year, in particular. There are many, many talented and resourceful people outside of the traditional legal system who are fully capable of understanding the legal system, and the travails of what it takes to correct and change it.
- An explanation of how you might engage with other projects, and how these interactions could add value both to these other projects and to your Project;
As I have said to many over the past four years, no matter what your issue is, be it race issues, green agenda issues, lgbt issues, banking issues, HOA issues, or any other issue, they all depend on a fair court in the end. Whether or not any individual dealing with any of these issues ever ends up in a court, they all depend on a fair court. I have seen from other projects that there is a central focus on the access to justice, and this proposal, and the understanding it brings, will be of tremendous benefit to many of the other projects I have reviewed.
9. Estimated Fellowship Expenses in USD;
I estimate the expenses of building and marinating the website and databases, which includes the fees for the administrator and basic research, to be $15,000-$20,000 for one year.
10. Any other relevant information.
The failings that have been generally discussed in this proposal are, in this writer’s view, the core reasons that our society does not progress in the area of civil rights and public corruption, and this proposal presents an innovative and unconventional approach to the most basic of open society challenges – one dealing with the openness of access to justice.