Litigation Overload

     How do you mass-produce court rulings?
     After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and if a massive number of cases keep coming at you and you’re supposed to devote serious thought to every one of them, isn’t there a serious logistical problem?
     I ask these questions because I have lots of time on my hands but courts in California apparently don’t. In recent weeks we’ve seen the California Supreme Court dissed by a federal appeals court for not really considering cases, and Los Angeles Superior Court has been sued for not thinking about whether everyone can pay their fines.
     Among other things, the Ninth Circuit ruling in Curiel v. Miller noted, “The California Supreme Court rules on a ‘staggering’ number of habeas petitions each year, generally by issuing ‘unelaborated ‘summary denials.'”
     Which it makes them kind of hard to review for errors.
     The federal appellate judges aren’t happy about this, but they don’t seem to know what to do about it except to be politely sarcastic.
     I don’t know that they meant to be snide, but you sure can read it that way. I particularly recommend reading the two concurring opinions to get the full satirical effect.
     A sample sentence: “(U)nless we discover a Rosetta Stone in the San Francisco Bay that helps us crack the California Supreme Court’s habeas code, I worry that cases like this one will reoccur with some frequency and that federal courts will be forced to trot out their best Alan Turing impressions on a regular basis.”
     Then we can all try to guess whether the ruling came from a human or a computer.
     My favorite suggestion from the second concurring opinion comes in footnote 4: a form appellate ruling with boxes the court can check.
     Or the judicial computer can check.
     Then there’s the problem with the enormous number of people who can’t afford to pay traffic or misdemeanor fines.
     A suit was filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court against Los Angeles Superior Court for suspending the drivers licenses of people who can’t afford to pay fines.
     It seems like the plaintiffs ought to challenge the impartiality of a court that’s also the defendant, but then the plaintiff did file with the defendant in the first place.
     Thinking about this makes my head hurt a little.
     Be that as it may, sheer volume may again be the problem. There are a whole lot of these fines but, said the suit, “Defendant Los Angeles Superior Court unlawfully makes no inquiry whatsoever into an individual’s ability to pay before referring nonpayers to DMV …
     “Each year, tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles County are affected by this practice, losing their right to drive solely because of their poverty.”
     OK, that doesn’t sound right, but on the bright side, fewer drivers must be good for the environment. But what happens if the court has to review the finances of tens of thousands of people every year? Is this possible?
     Of course it is. The problem — both with habeas corpus rulings and ticket-paying-ability review — is that demand outstrips supply.
     It’s an economic problem. That means we need economic solutions. What would a private business do when faced with this kind of issue?
     A lot of them would ignore it or jack up prices. Those are definitely options but let’s pretend the private business cares about its customers.
     There are more palatable choices for the ambitious corporation and/or government.
     The most obvious solution is to ramp up production to meet demand. There’s no reason why there should be only seven California Supreme Court justices. Why not 107 justices?
     Where would we get all these justices?
     Simple. Promote within the ranks. Not only would you have a greater production capacity for habeas review, there would be fewer habeas petitions to deal with, since there would be fewer trial judges to create the demand.
     The problem solves itself.
     Admittedly, this causes another difficulty — lack of trial judges — but there are fixes for that too: automation and outsourcing.
     Robot judges could easily (and perhaps better) handle complex contract and property disputes and there’s no reason why someone in Indonesia or Malaysia couldn’t handle most other cases by phone or live chat.
     Remember — you’ve beefed up the capacity for appellate review.
     The ticketing situation is even easier to resolve.
     Fining people who can’t afford to pay the fines is pointless. That’s no way to finance a court system (unless you’re offering subprime loans and then packaging them into collateralized debt obligations).
     Assuming you want to avoid plunging the country into a new recession, the sensible strategy is to automatically send convicted traffic criminals — in auto dealership fashion – to the court’s finance department for a determination of the correct level of financial pain based on ability to pay.
     If a billionaire (or his/her chauffeur) runs a red light, a fine of at least $1 million makes sense.
     The court’s financial problems will be over.

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