' Marianne M. Jennings

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Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 1999/ 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Live by litigation,
die by litigation

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- FOR AS LONG as I can remember, my father's basketball mantra has been, "Live by the three point, die by the three point." Basketball theories and strategies are beyond my ken, but, my father waxes philosophical: risky routes can pay off, but others can kill you with the same.

Live by litigation, die by litigation. Parents of Columbine students have arisen after burying their young to point fingers via lawsuits. I don't fault them for who can dictate protocol, propriety and precedent when a child is lost to diabolical killers in the school cafeteria? But the chutzpah of the parents of killer Darren Klebold, who filed notice of intent to sue the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department for its failure to inform them about the violent tendencies of Darren's friend and other half of the derring duo, Eric Harris, is stunning in its calculation.

In the same fortnight, the Justice Department filed a deceptive ad suit against tobacco companies even as they are busily raising the $200 billion attorneys general extorted from them. One look at a Bette Davis interview in the later years would alert even chain-puffing rubes to smoking's effect on soothing vocal tones. Despite a disdain for troglodyte tobacco companies, smoke and Virginia Slims ads, I route for the bad guys in their battle with these idiot savants of law.

Litigation has become the means and ends. Apologies never suffice for the wronged who chart new legal territory in the punitive damages lottery.

Little Johnny Prevette kissed a girl and made her cry at recess and the school district fought a harassment liability battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Try a Bible Week in Gilbert, Arizona and the ACLU will be there. The Boy Scouts of America have spent $10 million defending lawsuits from gay rights activists who fail to grasp that there are no gay troop leaders for the same reason there are female PE teachers in the girls' locker rooms and no men on Girl Scout overnights. Common sense has no role in litigation.

Nor do the senses have any place in law. When I see an accident, I think of pay dirt for the billboard contingent fee lawyers, not the parable of the good Samaritan. In fact, Good Samaritan statutes exist because even physicians were thinking "If I stop and help, can I be sued?" Lawyer billboards are diversifying. On I-10, there is a new 1-800-DNA billboard offering definitive outing of deadbeat fathers via court-ordered genetic testing, something society's disgrace and grandfathers with a certain way with words used to accomplish without a lawyer in sight. Teachers don't hug anymore because parents sue. Falling short of legal standards stings the pocketbook whereas dismissed tugs of the heart strings are cheap, once you factor in attorney's fees and subtract out pangs of conscience.

This loss of compassion is but one consequence of the litigious society.

The purposes of law are justice, fairness and stability, not acquisition of power or self-aggrandizement. When these underpinnings of law's morality disappear, abuses mount and embolden inconsistent tyrants. Law, without its moral checks and balances, causes fear and imposes submission through threatened legal consequences. In San Francisco, one gay rights advocate called for a revocation of the tax-exempt status of religious groups opposing his ballot initiatives.

The Clinton administration is at once loosey goosey with perjury and campaign finance laws, yet tolerant of injustice for their own purposes. Their legal battles bespeak ACLU tendencies, but their demands for investigation are sporadic on ideological grounds. Mrs. Clinton, outraged by a satirical Pizza Hut ad on her nonsensical New York Senate bid, has asked the Federal Elections Commission to investigate. This technicality was invoked by the same woman who orchestrated coffee, bedroom and nuclear secrets money for her four more years of foreign travel.

In the same week, the Justice Department revealed that it did the paperwork for the FALN terrorist clemency requests, yet another campaign ploy. Justice Department graciousness waived the self-initiation requirement for these blessed little bombers. But, let Larry Klayman's Judicial Watch file suit and demand depositions from key players in the Clinton administration and a hue and cry rings out from those who summoned the FBI to be rid of career employees from the travel office. Norma Cantu, a Clinton administration undersecretary in education, has threatened withdrawal of federal funds from those schools that do not use unconstitutional two-track minority admissions systems.

Divorce the law from its roots of morality and self-restraint and allow it to be used for inconsistent, political and trivial pursuits and you create a game in which there are no longer rights and wrongs or the compassion of human interaction. You'll find yourself a defendant on ideological grounds and a target of those who gain power with a semi-automatic shotgun of laws. Power gained by a weapon was once called tyranny. Live by litigation, die by litigation --- a long, slow death for which there is no recourse, plenty of pain and suffering, and no punitive damages.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Mr. Cantoni is a former HR executive and the president of Capstone Consulting in Scottsdale, AZ. Send your comments by clicking here.


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©1999, Marianne M. Jennings