Convicted Without Trial

Columnist : Jonathan Williams

Absolutely no one should trivialize an accusation of sexual harassment or abuse. By the same token our entire nation is built on a judicial system in which you are innocent until proven guilty.  The presumption of innocence is a centerpiece of our judicial system.

The court of public opinion though takes on an entirely different mantra in which significant damage is done to a person’s personal reputation before they have gone to trial.

The #MeToo movement justifiably exposed the embarrassing secrets in Hollywood in which countless victims were abused because of the power of a few.

The moment the presumption of innocence is lost however tremendous damage is done to innocent victims who are on the sidelines of the horror being played out in society.

If you believe that the American Judicial system is about justice you are so wrong.  It is about winning.

One need only look at our history to see the dangers of a judicial system run amuck.  In 1857, in the Dred Scott Decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that no slave could become a U. S. citizen.   It is reasonable to assume that the Scott decision was over 150 years ago and not reflective of today’s courts.  Unfortunately, miscarriages of justice are all too common in our legal system today and especially in the court of public opinion.

Recently I was approached by some individuals who were falsely accused, acquitted, and then the records were expunged by judges who felt that there was a miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately, in Internet search engines, many of those stories still exist which follow the innocent person for the rest of their lives. Fixing such injustices is virtually impossible thus the innocent are guilty in the court of public opinion and all the while the accuser is untouched.

(It is important to note that there can be an expungement for other than miscarriages of justice but in the cases I examined that was the case.)

The reality of the legal system is that it is so complex, so costly, so procedural, that justice frequently is lost in the process.   Even judges and attorneys are frustrated by the system that has evolved.

There is a horrible dichotomy in the justice system today.  Those individuals or companies with great wealth can easily run rough shod over those less fortunate.  At the same time, those with no financial resources can easily run up the costs on others to such a point that settlements on no merit cases are agreed to in order to avoid legal costs.  Unfortunately, the persons lost in this great struggle are the vast majority of middle class families merely trying to get by.

To fix this system requires a complete overhaul of our courts and laws.

To begin with, attorneys should be held to a higher standard and held accountable for filing frivolous suits.

The names of those accused, especially minors, must be protected until at least an indictment is issued or a court sanctions releasing the accused’s name.

Virtually every state has disciplinary boards for attorney or judicial misconduct.  The remedies are significant and will help clean up the profession.  Most attorneys and judges are tremendous defenders of the Constitution and your rights, but some are not.

An advocacy function needs to be established for the courts in which the procedural delays can be addressed by other than the defendant or the plaintiff.   To require cases to move along, by someone associated with the courts, reduces costs and forces resolution to cases.

Public defender funding has to increase in order to provide for the best defense for those in poverty.  The tremendous cost associated with the current system almost precludes justice from being rendered.  Just as no American should go bankrupt from medical expenses, neither should Americans go bankrupt defending themselves from a system out of control.

We must stop criminalizing all behavior.    Legislators should focus on repealing laws and stop criminalizing behavior which can be dealt with in more effective ways.

Reforming the court of public opinion is another more complicated matter where even greater damage can be done to an innocent person.   Sentences can be meted out even before trials are held.

Until false accusations are dealt with criminally the court of public opinion will run amok.

In the case of the #MeToo movement, it makes no sense to punish the masses for the sins of a few.  It also makes no sense to create more victims in order to merely strike back.   Punish only those who committed the act.

Just as sexual abuse is disgraceful, so is vengeance.

Justice should be blind.  Justice must be fair.  The judicial system must be reformed if we are to remain a great society.  The beacon of light of our Statue of Liberty and the lives of those brave Americans who died defending our Constitution demand no less.

Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives.  He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring.  He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations.  He can be reached at [email protected].