Justice in the Green Mountains

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Nothing lasts forever…unless you try to gain justice in a Vermont Court. On June 5, 2006 the 7th year of a legal battle will begin. This is not a complex case. In fact, this case is about as simple as any legal case could be. The joke about lawyers making mountains out of molehills needs to be revised. In this case, entire mountain ranges have been created out of one tiny speck. I do not mean to imply that all lawyers are crooks. Not all are. Many lawyers adhere to a strict code of professional conduct. The problem is that many others do not.

This case involves a motor vehicle accident. A small car was stopped in a line of traffic. A large, speeding, dump truck carrying a load of logs rear-ended the stopped car. The road was dry. Driving conditions were ideal. Statements of the eyewitnesses were consistent. All stated that the cause of the accident was the inattention of the driver of the truck. "He was ogling" out the side window of the truck at some pretty women in shorts who were walking nearby.

Because of the clarity of the facts, this case should have settled in weeks. Here lies the problem. The truck was owned and operated by the State of Vermont. The Office of the Vermont Attorney General is representing the government in this case. Ordinary citizens don’t stand a chance in a David and Goliath battle such as this. The delays in this case have now made it impossible to ever achieve justice. Somehow the pursuit of truth and justice has become a lost art in Vermont. The government might continue to succeed in preventing a fair settlement in this case but it will not succeed in a cover-up of the tactics used. This time the government truck hit the wrong person.

Anyone who ever enters Vermont is at risk. State-owned brightly colored orange dump trucks are a common sight everywhere. The bucolic hills and mountains are peppered with these vehicles. Vermont winters are long and cruel. An exposed female leg is rarely seen. When the first days of summer arrive and the pretty ladies in shorts appear should we all run for our lives? "Head for the hills, Mable", will be the new cry heard in the Green Mountain State. A request to the truck drivers, "Please, pull the truck over to the side of the road and park first. Then "ogle". Parking comes first. Ogling comes second."

Any small, mid-size, or even large car is no match for the orange behemoths. The photographs taken at the scene of the crime, correction, I mean the scene of the accident speak for themselves. Better find a Humvee next time you need to do an errand or need a quart of milk and a loaf of bread.

Rumor has it that the latest strategy of the State of Vermont is to find an Accident Reconstruction Expert who could convince a jury that a rear-ended, stopped vehicle was somehow at fault. I don’t believe the rumor, but purchased testimony from an Expert Witness is a very effective tool in a courtroom. Money almost always wins.

Expert witnesses, often referred to as Liars for Hire, have corrupted the legal process from Maine to California. In Washington a few years ago Congressional Committee hearings were held to investigate the effects of tobacco on health. Doctors stood in a line, raised their right hands, and swore to tell the truth. Then, like a perfectly choreographed ballet, each medical expert testified that cigarette smoke was not harmful to health. For the right price an expert can be found who will say anything.

Because it is legal to buy and pay for testimony from so-called experts the playing field in a courtroom is not equal. The conundrum is this, expert witnesses are very persuasive and have a profound effect on jurors; but many citizens do not have access to professional witnesses because of the cost.

The Bush Administration espouses the need for Tort Reform. Tort Reform is definitely needed, but in the opposite direction to that which has been proposed. The administration’s plan is a malicious attempt to deprive citizens of their rights so that pharmaceutical companies and corporations who negligently exposed workers to hazards such as asbestos can be given a free pass.

What is needed is a People’s Court based on the same principles as Small Claims Court. A People’s Court is needed so that cases involving serious harm could have some access to a remedy. It is likely that judges and lawyers would oppose such a court because it would cut into their territory.

This is a national problem that affects everyone. The belief that "it can’t happen to me" gives a false sense of security. The fact is that anyone can suddenly find himself in the jaws of the legal system.

Most State Constitutions provide for the protection of citizens’ rights. Article 4 of the Vermont State Constitution states, " Every person within this state ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property or character; he ought to obtain right and justice, freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely and without any denial; promptly and without delay; conformably to the laws." Unfortunately, no written document can protect citizens from a dysfunctional legal system. The Constitution is a worthless piece of paper unless there is a mechanism to enforce it.

A grassroots effort is needed to eliminate the corrupting influence of money and politics in the court system. In Vermont there should be an 800-phone number for citizens who are victims of judicial abuse. That is not on the horizon. An investigation into the policies of the Office of the Vermont Attorney General would help. That is not likely to happen in this politically charged State.

Would Federal Oversight help? Probably not. The Feds have corrupted their system. An independent investigation by the State Legislature might help but cronyism is so prevalent in Vermont that it would be difficult.

Recently an article about the shocking history of this case titled, The Deposition, was released. People from around the world rallied in support. Thanks to the Internet, and web sites such as this, virtual "justice" observers are now involved. Additional observers are welcome, the more the better. The efforts of Canadians have been especially helpful. They may be the last hope for any justice. Stay tuned in. Heaven only knows what the State of Vermont will do next.

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Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for her participation in a peaceful protest of the war. The conviction was appealed and overturned in the State Supreme Court. The government then announced plans to retry the case. Finally, after years of legal proceedings, all charges were dropped. She contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from the US.

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