"Do you know what I did today?" I asked my friend, Wallace Lee (now Judge Lee of the 6th District Court).
Wally was a fellow attorney and we had been practicing law together for some time, but he would still trust what I said.
"No, what did you do today?" he replied.
"I wrote a note asking for money. I got a couple of guys with guns and gave them the note. I sent them to the bank and they took the money I asked for in my note. They brought it to me and I got away with it," I gleefully told him.
"No you didn't."
"Oh, yes, I did and I have the money right here."
I could tell he believed me and was worried I'd gone off the criminal deep end, so I told him to relax and that I'd simply got a Writ of Garnishment and used the sheriff to go execute on a bank account.
Attorneys tend to forget that hidden behind all of the legal jargon, the law impacts people's lives in concrete ways. Freedom is taken away. Property is seized. Marriages are dissolved, and children's living arrangements are determined. Estates are divided among heirs. Societal justice is doled out to give some sense of meaning to both tragic accidents and criminal acts.
And all of this is accomplished through written laws that determine what directions we give to the men and women with the guns who enforce our laws.
"The judges deal pain and death." This statement from legal scholar Robert Cover was my introduction to legal philosophy in law school. The words have resonated with me over my 20 years of practicing law in Utah as I've watched from my front-row seat how the legal process deals pain and death.
Sometimes the pain and death comes before the law gets involved, sometimes after, but the one constant is pain. Pain is much more prevalent than justice. My legal experience has taught me that it is better to try to mitigate (a great legal word that means "make smaller") pain than seek an elusive "justice."
The law is a human system and has all of the imperfections of any human. "Justice" may be the ideal we strive for, but the reality usually ends up either being an allocation of money to balance things in civil cases or a hodgepodge of restitution, punishment and rehabilitation attempts in criminal cases.
The American legal system and all its rights at least keep the pain of the system to a minimum. Yet, despite the protections, the court's power can be terrifying. Guys with guns can show up at your bank and take your money.
I appreciate the Standard-Examiner giving me an opportunity to write about legal issues that affect all of us. A legal column deals in the pain of living -- birth, marriage, divorce, bills, accidents, crimes and death. So there are lots of topics.
For now, I have to go write a note for a bank teller.
E. Kent Winward is an attorney in Ogden. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or through his website: www.137bankruptcy.com.