Wednesday, August 15, 2007
L.A. Times Editorial Elevates Egalitarianism Over Reason
The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial yesterday headed, “Out of Line.” It decries the pilot project under which 1,500 active members of the State Bar in Los Angeles will receive photo IDs next month allowing them to bypass long lines at courthouse security checks.
The Times portrays lawyers as seeking undue preferential treatment, scoffingly summarizing their cause as follows:
“Their time is their clients’ money. The trial can’t start without them. They don’t have the luxury of dawdling in courthouse lines with the common folk. And besides—they’re lawyers.”
The Times’ beef seems to be that lawyers view themselves as constituting a privileged class, and the cause of egalitarianism requires slapping them down—and sticking them in line with everyone else. Yesterday’s editorial snorts:
“Lawyers argue that, after all, they are officers of the court, as necessary to the administration of justice as judges. But they are no more indispensable than jurors, who for a few days or weeks set aside family or employment duty for civic duty.
“Lawyers, many of whom provide valuable leadership improving access to justice, must see the practical as well as the symbolic value in avoiding a two-tiered system of access to the courthouse. The time they spend waiting in line with the rest of us can be put to use thinking of ways to raise money for more screening equipment and personnel to speed things up for everyone, rather than dreaming up ways to cut in line.”
The end of the editorial is of a smart aleck nature. The entirety of it is based on an errant assumption that underlying the project is an arrogant, elitist attitude on the part of the bar.
There is, in fact, an especial need for lawyers to be able to scoot in and out of courthouses. Many have multiple appearances on some mornings in various courthouses. A hearing can’t get started if a lawyer is held up outside the courthouse in a line. It is not likely that jurors, witnesses, spectators, and litigants will need to get from courthouse to courthouse.
The editorial speaks in terms of cutting in line. If the Times had bothered to look at the Aug. 2 e-mail to active members of the State Bar inviting participation in the program to the first 1,500 who signed up, it would have seen this:
“A new State Bar-issued court access card will allow Los Angeles attorneys entry to courthouses via the employee weapons screening entry. In court facilities that do not maintain a separate entrance for employee weapons screening, attorneys will be allowed to advance to the head of the security screening lines at all public entries.”
In other words, lawyers will have the very priority access that court employees have long been afforded, nothing more. They will still go through metal detectors, as the Times notes, but will simply have the process speeded up.
Yes, that’s a special privilege, but one founded on necessity, and justified by the supposition that lawyers—who have passed a moral fitness review and whose misconduct in a courthouse could result in at least temporary denial of the right to practice their trade, through disciplinary action—are simply not high security risks.
If the Times were to logically extend the no-special-privileges precepts embodied in yesterday’s discourse, its next step would be to call for a discontinuance of separate lines for court employees. There is no way to square a view that lawyers should be denied priority access with countenancing such favored treatment for employees.
If the Times is truly sincere in its espousal of a doctrine of strict egalitarianism in the courthouse, it must call not only for clerks, court reporters, and court attendants to go to the end of a common line when entering a courthouse, but also law enforcement officers and judges.
Under egalitarian thinking, it would be good for judges to join in, as the Times puts it, “dawdling in courthouse lines with the common folk.” Mingling with accused arsonists, rapists and slayers would provide judges with added dimension to their perspectives...as some would view it.
The Times’ doctrine would demand an end to private elevators for judges. And here’s a cause for the Times to champion, consistent with its philosophy: yank out the sinks and toilets in bathrooms adjoining the judges’ chambers, sell the fixtures for scrap value, and let the jurists use the public restrooms, like the rest of us.
Application of the principles expressed by the Times yesterday would require that the special photo ID cards which the State Bar planned to distribute not be printed or, if they already exist, that they be dumped.
Application of those same principles also would require that press passes possessed by reporters, including those who work for the Times, be gathered up and that priority seating in high-publicity trials and use of facilities in a press room be denied in the future.
If a Times reporter and a carpenter both wanted a seat in a courtroom where a newsworthy proceeding was about to take place, the Times, imbued with egalitarian sensibilities, would naturally want the carpenter to have the seat if he or she arrived first. The fact that the Times would relate the happenings to a million-or-so readers would relate simply to an especial need...which is quite irrelevant under the Times’ doctrine, as is made clear in yesterday’s editorial.
Under our own somewhat less progressive view, we view the pilot project, worked out between the State Bar and the Superior Court leadership, as laudable and overdue. We hope that priority access to courthouses will soon be accorded all active members of the State Bar in all counties of the state.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company