Going to Court: Understanding the U.S. civil court system

The highest court in the land began its term this month with an unusually high number of consequential cases awaiting appeal, touching on subjects from health care reform to illegal immigration.

Drawing less attention are the 30 million civil court cases filed every year over everyday issues like traffic tickets, divorce and personal injury. [My emphasis.]

A new book, “Rebuilding Justice: Civil Courts in Jeopardy and Why You Should Care,” argues Americans don’t understand how the courts work and that the system itself needs a major overhaul. — Gwen Ifill, PBS NewsHour, October 18, 2011

Thanks to my DC friend Michele Orwin—who, unlike me, regularly watches PBS’s Newshour—I learned about a Colorado ex-judge, Rebecca Love Kourlis, who, with a legal journalist, Dirk Olin, just published a book called Rebuilding Justice:Civil Courts in Jeopardy and Why You Should Care.

Well, we should care. I’m not sure that Judge Kourlis is the one to Explain All to us, though. I admit I haven’t read the book yet, but I have done a little of that digging around, i.e., snooping, I’ve been advising everyone who faces a potential lawsuit to do.

After looking up Kourlis, I sense that she is less concerned about informing us average citizens how the courts work than she is about promoting an institute she founded which, in turn, seems to be constructed to “reform” the civil court system. And a loose look at the institute’s website makes me wonder about their politics and purpose.

Also, whenever I see citations for Kourlis’s alma mater, Stanford (where Condoleeza Rice is now a professor), and Dartmouth (where Kourlis’s co-writer was an undergrad), I become immediately suspicious about the politics: each university has swung right over the past couple of decades.

Additionally, I’m always uneasy when any retired “expert” (whatever that means) tells me that the “system” (whatever that means) needs to be reformed. These majestic global pronunciations about collapse and jeopardy irritate me. They are so sweepingly patrician, they sound more like part of the right-wing revolution we’ve been suffering under since Reagan than an honest effort to explain.

Still, there is significant information in Gwen Ifill’s introduction: “30 million civil court cases filed every year.”

I’d suggest that before we all jump on Kourlis’s bandwagon (and, warning! insert earplugs if you sit in front of the blaring horns), we learn about the actual process of a civil lawsuit.

But thanks, Judge Kourlis, and thank you, Gwen Ifill, for giving me a sensational line for the readership segment of my book proposal. “Thirty million.” That’s a lot of potential readers. For my book, that is.



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