The vast majority of Americans are effectively locked out of federal courts because they have no money and the “system” is almost intentionally hostile and un-navigable for lay people.
Yet U.S. courts are more than willing to spend endless hours and unlimited taxpayer dollars on cases where the guilt is patently obvious if the parties have “deep pockets.”
The system evolved this way because there is no citizen-input into the process, which is shrouded in secrecy, and the U.S. Congress fails to exercise its limited oversight in approving the federal judiciary’s budget.
The insiders -lawyers – are uncritical because they profit when they alone hold the keys to the courthouse. Employment lawyers who represent workers routinely charge $400 an hour, despite a 2017 survey finding that 57 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts.
Lawyers also don’t want to alienate federal judges who have almost unlimited power, no real accountability, and lifetime tenure.
It is long past time for the leadership of the U.S. court system to acknowledge the arrival of the 21st Century. Federal courts are desperately in need of reform to make the system usable and friendly to American consumers.
Federal courts are in desperate need of reform.
In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I proposed establishing a specialized court to hear employment discrimination cases, similar to specialized federal tax and bankruptcy courts. One source of funding could be had by eliminating the toothless U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which increasingly focuses on helping discriminatory employers avoid liability while senselessly churning paperwork for the vast majority of employment discrimination victims.
A specialized employment discrimination court would end the current unethical practice of federal judges disproportionately dismissing discrimination lawsuits when the employer files a motion for summary judgment. The judges who hear discrimination cases would have expertise in discrimination law and, hopefully, would actually care about American workers and equal justice .
Think of it – instead of subjecting pro se plaintiffs to an overwhelming barrage of obtuse procedural barriers, any one of which could result in their lawsuit being thrown out – a specialized employment discrimination court could be intentionally designed to serve pro se plaintiffs. It could offer simplified, user-friendly procedures and modern-day tools. These might include:
- Courthouse computer stations or internet sites where pro se litigants can easily locate and fill out computer-generated, fill-able forms.
- Simple on-line submission of motions (as opposed to Pacer).
- Video demonstrations of basic concepts (i.e., where to sit) or that illustrate the meaning of legal terms like venue, evidence, cross-examination and hearsay.
- Reading material that is tailored for non-attorneys. The average American reads at a 4th grade level. I am an attorney and I can’t understand some of the instructions provided to pro se plaintiffs on the web site of my local federal court.
- Help. My local federal court has a massive glass window separating the public from the clerks. A sign on the window says the clerk is prohibited from offering advice. A clerk can’t interpret the law but why can’t s/he tell pro se litigants how to interpret the procedural rules administered by the Clerk’s office, such as how to serve a complaint?
Make no mistake, it really does matter who decides your case. Federal judges, who earn upwards of $200,000 a year and have lifetime tenure, never have to worry about being driven out of the workplace because of their skin color, disability, religion, gender or age. They are so far removed from the gritty reality of American factory workers, restaurant servers and secretaries that they might as well live on the fourth planet from the sun, Mars.
Moreover, like all systems, the federal court system refuses to police itself. The record speaks for itself. Throughout American history, only 15 federal judges have ever been impeached; only eight of them were convicted and removed. Federal courts are no different from law enforcement agencies or the U.S. Congress; they protect themselves first.
It is, of course, imperative that federal courts remain independent to safeguard impartiality when deciding the most important issues of the day. But this isn’t about independence. It’s about service or the lack of service to every-day Americans. Federal courts ultimately are service providers. Right now, the average American is getting incredibly lousy service from the federal courts, who see them as intruders in a closed system that is reserved for Google, Amazon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.