Court Funding

     If we can’t get legislators to impose taxes even though government needs to pay for stuff, why not impose them on ourselves?
     After all, as the U. S. Supreme Court tells us, money talks. And we’re free to talk as much as we want if we can afford it.
     Maybe – but we’ll get to the “maybe” later in this column. For now, let’s assume the First Amendment protects our right to communicate and, thus, spend money.
     I bring this up in light of two interesting recent events.
     The first is the crisis in court funding that, among other things, is causing the Los Angeles Superior Court to shut down 10 courthouses.
     The second is a proposed class action against law firms.
     I would have thought most of you had heard about the funding crisis but perhaps you haven’t because the solution proposed by the president of the California State Bar, in the December California Bar Journal, is to tell people about it.
     Really. Read it yourself to see if you find any other proposal.
     Here’s the key partial sentence: “So in answer to the question I often hear – ‘What can we do to address the funding crisis?’ – an immediate course of action is for every California attorney and business representative to join with their legislators as partners and educate them….”
     Because legislators clearly have no idea that courts – or schools and roads and health care and law enforcement and the environment – are important and need funding.
     I’m not kidding. They have no idea. But courts aren’t more important than all those other things. Everything requires money that those legislators – ridiculous as they are – may not have to spend.
     This is where the second event – which has nothing to do with the first event – comes in. The proposed class action is against law firms for charging clients for meals while on the road.
     The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, says that a major law firm bills clients for meals taken while on the road working on their cases even though the meals have nothing to do with the cases (aside from keeping the lawyer alive while working on them).
     Logical enough. Those lawyers were going to eat anyway.
     This has generated a fair amount of local interest. That may be because lawyers like to eat or it may be because this is a precursor to a new litigation trend over fees. When class actions catch on, there’s no stopping them.
     But here’s my point: you can bill clients for stuff. What if, instead of billing for lunch, you threw in a fee for maintaining the court system?
     Who would object to that? After all, just as you need food to keep lawyers alive, you need functioning courts to keep litigation alive.
     A rule requiring a fee – maybe based on a percentage of total fees or settlements or judgments – to be paid directly to the court system could make a big difference.
     Or how about some money directly from the lawyers who need courts to make a living? Maybe an addition to bar dues or a percentage of fees to go to keeping a court open (as opposed to using money to tell legislators things they already know).
     Think about it. There are about 100 million lawyers in California. It wouldn’t take much from each one to solve this crisis.
     Put your money where your mouth is because mouths are where speech comes from and money is speech.
     THE MAYBE. I mentioned a potential maybe on freedom of speech and it may come in the form of Starbucks cups.
     Money and naked bodies, as we’ve noted, are forms of speech, so practically anything is communication. But there may be limits.
     This is from a suit filed in Los Angeles last week against Starbucks:
     “(T)he barista proceeded to draw a crude, sexually-explicit depiction of a penis and the words ‘Drink Me’ with a black marker on the lid of the drink cup….”
     That was it – the only basis for the suit. Nothing else happened except for a law firm willing to take this to court.
     I think part of someone’s fee should go to keeping courts open.

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