Justice is blind. The iconic statue of the goddess shows Justice, her scales swaying, the sword at her side ready to strike and her eyes masked by a blindfold. The scales are there to represent the balancing of the facts and the law, the sword for the punishment and the blindfold for impartiality.
The law divides itself into two basic divisions, the civil and the criminal. Criminal law is the subject of TV dramas and legal thrillers and deals with the state or the government enforcing laws against the individual. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals that need to be resolved through the court system.
So when you get the traffic ticket for going too fast down the hill on U.S. 89, this is the criminal system: South Weber V. You.
If you rear-end someone because you are driving too fast, then that person could sue you in the civil system: Person With Bumper Dented V. You.
Justice is supposed to be impartial, but our court system is limited in what it can actually do. In the civil realm, nothing in the court system can undent a bumper, restore a marriage, pay a bill or child support, fix a broken arm or bring someone back to life.
Justice can attempt to be impartially blindfolded, but it has one primary solution in civil cases: allocation of money. In civil law, Justice's blindfold should really be replaced by the billfold.
As humans, we have a keen sense of justice, an innate sense of what is basically right and wrong, but this can break down in a court setting.
One of the first stories I was told as an attorney was about a couple that was divorcing. They were each paying an attorney a rather significant hourly rate to fight over who got the used $250 television. It was the only issue left in their divorce. Two hours into the fight, the couple could have gone and each bought themselves a new flat screen for what they had spent on their attorneys, yet the fight continued.
It is during moments like this that it is important to remember the limitations of the civil justice system. The court decides what is fair by saying who has to pay and how much.
Sentimental value has no cash value, so the court can't, and doesn't, divide sentiment. An item of property may have a lot of emotional value to an individual, but to the court, it becomes an item with a price tag to be added to the ledger sheet.
If the reduction of sentiment to cash isn't bad enough, most civil litigation involves attorneys, and attorneys cost money. Any civil litigation -- collections, divorce, probate, contract disputes -- requires a judicious cost/benefit analysis.
Justice is unfortunately a toll road that demands payment for entry, and every journey requires the traveler to make an assessment before embarking: Is this trip going to be worth it?
Justice may be blind, but she only accepts cash.
Sieben Smoot is an Ogden bankruptcy attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or email@example.com.