Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alec Baldwin on Family Court

Behind Alex Baldwin's funnyman persona is a libertarian--at least when it comes to the family court system. In the Commonwealth Club's November 2008 article (pp. 45), The Ex-Files, he talks about "parental alienation" and government corruption. Most citizens think the court system is there to protect them and be fair. Mr. Baldwin's experience should hammer home the reality that court systems are not blessed with any special fairness--they are government agencies, and like all government agencies, have the same incentives and disincentives to work hard and to achieve just results.

The difference in family court, Baldwin argues, is that the incentives are aligned to work against the family and against fairness:

The whole custody evaluation system in Los Angeles is corrupt. It is bankrupt. That is the problem. The judges can do whatever they want to do, which is what you learn about all courtrooms in this country.

In other words, your case is only as good as the judge you (randomly) get. Baldwin points out that state court judges are subject to political pressure, causing an "implied corruption":

These judges are there by appointment, or they run for political office. Either way, there's a mechanism by which they can be punished if they don't get it. If they don't serve the pit boss, you make a call to Sacramento and say, "Get rid of this woman." ... So there is implied corruption in the terms that they work for these law firms.

[J]udges and lawyers are never going to help us. Schmucks like me walk in...and they suck it [your money] out of you. They think it's great. Why change that?

In other words, the incentives for lawyers to work things out are misaligned in civil litigation, and even more so in family court.

I used to work in a family law firm's offices, and the first action they usually took upon being hired was to file for a restraining order and include the worst possible allegations against the opposing side.  Allegations of physical or verbal abuse (no matter how slight) would be submitted to the Court, which expected these kinds of allegations and seemed inclined towards granting a restraining order.  So of course the other side would get one or try to get one, and now you've got these emotionally-charged allegations going back and forth, which required the use of mediators, facilitators, and numerous government employees. If you ever get divorced, look up collaborative divorce--it may be cheaper and, more importantly, easier on your soul.

Update on November 23, 2008: I found a link to Alec Baldwin's speech:


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