By John DiMotto
The beauty of our American system of justice is that government provides a relatively inexpensive forum for the resolution of civil disputes. In Milwaukee County, for approximately $269, you get the services of a judge, court reporter, clerk, bailiff and 12 jurors. Of course, a litigant must pay his/her attorney and the costs necessary to put a case together - which can be very expensive. However, your government charges only a nominal fee for you to pursue your claim regardless of the nature of the case and regardless of how long it takes to resolve the case. It doesn't matter if it is a name change action which usually entails only one appearance before the judge and is finished in about 30 days from start to finish or a complex asbestos case which may entail up to one hundred appearances in court and which may take years to complete. You only pay your government the $269.
The reason for this is that justice should not be for sale. The law is to be administered without regard to persons. The rich, the powerful and the influential should be given no advantage because of status. This is not to say that people do not try to use their status to get an upper hand. However, it should be the substance of one's case not one's personal or professional status that rules the day.
While one must pay $269 to get access to the courtroom to litigate one's claim, if a person is indigent, he/she can obtain a waiver and obtain access for free. Application for the waiver is addressed to the attention of the Chief Judge of the District. Applications are viewed with an eye toward making sure that every person " gets his/her day in court."
In addition to making the courtroom accessible to everyone, in Milwaukee County we have a Self Help Clinic that provides help for people to navigate the court system. Forms are made available to people and many lawyers donate their time to help people fill out the forms. These lawyers do not provide legal advice, rather it is help in properly filling out the forms which constitute the pleadings in the case. The creation of a self help clinic is a benefit to individuals seeking access to the courts as well as to the courts. The more people know and understand, the easier the process will be for them and for the courts.
In my next several blogs, I will look at the various types of civil cases that come through the doors of the courthouse.