Monday, August 18, 2008

May You Live in Interesting Times

After applauding the federal courts and their judges, I received a loss in one federal case (after the judge sat on the opinion for over 8 months), and the very next day, another federal judge issued sanctions against me (a first) and my clients for over 11,000 dollars, without a hearing, because he believed we should have kept a case in state court rather than assert federal court jurisdiction.  Although the removal to federal court provided my clients additional time, and the sanctions were paid in full, the net result still left me questioning the experience my clients received.

This brings me to Rafat Rule #2: systems don't matter--people matter (more specifically, people with integrity).

We assume the U.S. system is the best in the world, in no small part because of the rule of law. But any system requires people to behave with integrity and honesty, and any system that attracts such people will succeed. Thus, even if the federal court system is better than the state court system due to several factors--more efficient discovery rules; the ability to call a judge during a deposition instead of having to get up and file a protective order or motion to compel; lifetime appointments, allowing judges more leeway to make tough decisions; clear deadlines issued at the beginning of each case, etc.--if you have an octogenarian federal judge who hasn't practiced law in 40+ years or who delegates to law clerks that lack extensive practical experience, even an inherently superior system won't necessarily lead to fair results.

Our systemic superiority should not cause us to be less vigilant. For example, even if the free market system is inherently better than centralized planning or socialism, if the people in the system do not have the relevant or recent experience or are out-of-touch, results will be poor. This is why Singapore, despite not practicing Western-style free markets, is more successful than the U.S. in spreading wealth and stability--with the best people in government, Singapore's system can be more centralized, and as long as it adjusts quickly to any mistakes, Singaporeans will be prosperous. What does this mean for Americans as we adjust to a period of less prosperity? It means we can learn from other countries, and we cannot assume our systemic superiority will allow us front seats to economic growth.

In principle, I agree a constitutional republic should be more successful than a country with centralized planning. The advantages of a constitutional republic with elected representatives are twofold: one, eventual accountability; and two, the diffusion of power, allowing a statistically higher chance of having good (and bad) representatives. But without honest, diligent people in any system, there is nothing inherently good or bad about an American political or economic system versus a British system, or a Russian system vs. Singaporean system. For example, one could reasonably argue the Singaporean and Russian systems, despite being more centralized, created more wealth and prosperity for more of their people than the British and American governments in 2008. This recent, perhaps brief, reversal in economic prosperity is going to create a conundrum for political scientists and economists. How do they explain why a Singaporean system has done better for its people than the American system, if centralized planning has no place in politics or economics? This reversal in fortune should lead to more analysis of the roles of ethics and accountability in government systems.

With Singapore, my hypothesis is smaller communities automatically generate some form of accountability, and this accountability leads to more "morality" in the form of closer ties in the community. All this takes me back to Rafat Rule #2: systems don't matter--people matter.

Update on October 17, 2008: the company that received sanctions of around 11,000 dollars just filed for Ch 11 bankruptcy. Looks like the lawyers might be the primary people benefiting at the end of the day.


Marjan said...

what'd you do to get sanctions???

K_Yew said...

The judge stated I should not have removed a case from state court to federal court. It's very unusual to award that level of sanctions, but the judge has a lifetime appointment and can do whatever he feels is correct. A few unreasonable judges are the price we pay for an independent judiciary.