Imagine you’ve been sued for foreclosure, failure to pay a debt, or eviction. Or you must sue for custody of your children or grandchildren. You’re in danger of losing things that make your life more liveable. You can’t afford a lawyer, but you have the ability to represent yourself. To have a fighting chance, you need free and easy access to laws and rules that govern your case. Then, in walks the state. Actually, “walks” isn’t the right word. Let’s say, stumbles, limps, shuffles or bumbles. It wants to charge you for access to the laws you need, such as jury instructions or annotated codes. Your chances of winning, which weren’t good to begin with, are greatly reduced by a state that is acting like a crackhead and extortionist.
What do Crackheads and Extortionists Do?
One of the effects of crack abuse is that the drug is short acting. In other words, the effect wears off quickly, and the addict keeps coming back for more. In its simplest terms, extortion is an attempt to force someone to give you something of value by making threats. Crackhead and extortionist fit U.S. states that allow their legislatures, governors, courts, bar commissions, or anyone else to charge citizens for access to laws that those very citizens paid for. Like crackheads, states get a quick high with the money they earn from average citizens. So they need to hit over and over again. Eighty dollars here, one hundred there. Four hundred in another. They get their crackhead hit every time a citizen pays. For people who represent themselves, access to laws is critical. In order to access laws, too many must bow under pressure and shell out the money the state wants to extort from them.
The Issue of Access to Justice
According to the Texas Access to Justice Commission, “The term ‘access to justice’ describes the ability of any person, regardless of income, to use the legal system to advocate for themselves and their interests.” The justice gap then is the inability of ordinary citizens to access the resources they need to solve a legal problem. The problem is particularly hard on groups who are already at a great disadvantage, including poor people, racial minorities, women, the elderly and children.
In 2017-2018, the United States ranked 94th out of 112 countries in regards to access to justice. Every state produces case law, statutes, rules, or codes. Case law and federal laws are readily and freely available online. Then, there are laws that are not free. To find the elements of a claim or defense, a self-represented litigant might have to access jury instructions. Or they may need annotated laws to effectively try or appeal a case. Half the states require a fee for one or both of these. People who represent themselves in court lose often. One reason is that the legal profession too often helps to effectively barricade courthouse doors against them. Requiring people with serious legal problems, or anybody for that matter, to pay for laws that can help them is extortion and a huge access to justice problem.
Here’s How The Crackhead and Extortionist Scheme Works
Half of US states have teamed up with their own bar association or companies like LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, and Casemaker. They take the rules, laws, instructions, etc. from a government site, clean them up, set up a commerce site, and sell the laws to you. The company or entity hosting the site gets a cut of what you pay, and the state gets its crack hit. You might be able to get some of the laws by going (physically) to a library or courthouse, but you cannot access them online without paying.
The State Bar of Montana sells Montana’s Pattern Civil Jury Instructions on its site for $203. Nebraska Jury Instructions are not available on Nebraska’s website. Instead, they’re sold at the Thomson Reuter’s store for $726.00 or $54.00 per month. The Oregon State Bar sells Oregon jury instructions for $365. Pennsylvania’s jury instructions, published by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI), are available for purchase for $329.
The Kansas Judicial Council, which claims to be “Improving the Administration of Justice” sells Civil Pattern Jury Instructions for $85 for CD-Rom and $150 for the print version. To distinguish itself, Kansas makes the instructions available to attorneys free of charge. Everybody else must pay. You get the picture. Other crackhead extortionist states include District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (yes, the same Texas that describes what access to justice is), Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
Georgia, the Worst Crackhead and Biggest Extortionist
Now, let’s talk about the State of Georgia, the worst crackhead of all. Georgia Charges Citizens $404 Per Year To Read Their Own Laws. It’s bad enough that jury instructions aren’t free, but Georgia is charging hundreds of dollars for annotated codes that help people understand the law in Georgia. To protect its relationship with its pusher, LexisNexis, Georgia has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court. In 2015, Georgia sued watchdog group Public.Resource.Org for copyright infringement after it refused to pull the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) from its free website. The case was argued before the US Supreme Court on December 2, 2019.
The Last Word
For many decades, the legal profession has claimed that it wants to solve the access to justice problem. Yet, each year, more than 30 million people represent themselves in America’s state courts. They bring to it serious legal issues, like child custody, eviction, foreclosure, and debt/bankruptcy. One of the reasons they lose is because the legal profession can’t provide access to justice. The fear that the remaining states are watching to see if they too can start charging is real and scary. Potential crackheads and extortionists are emboldened by any progress made by other crackheads and extortionists. So, let’s hope that the U.S. Supreme Court does the right thing in the Georgia case and puts a stop to this mess. But don’t hold your breath.