Updated: Sep 18
When I was a child growing up in the countryside of southwest Ohio, there was no internet or cell phones. I remember when our first garbage disposal was installed and the microwave found its way onto the kitchen counter. There was no cable television, and bandwidth arrived courtesy of the landline at speeds slower than DSL. In those days, I attended a small school with less than 100 kids per grade. Friday night was football, and weekends involved cleaning, yardword, and church. And if you were extra good, you got a ride in the back of the red truck to the ice cream triangle down the road, or maybe even to the local library.
Out there in the countryside, when all five television channels promptly turned off at midnight, there wasn't much to nurse my insomnia beyond books. On average, I read an entire book each day, blitzing through 3-5 books each week. The school library lady knew me well and would often have books set aside for me to read, ensuring that not one book in a whole series would be missed. Among them were a series of Which Way books which fascinated me then, and still influence me today. In each book, you are introduced to a protagonist that encounters a challenge, and in order to overcome the challenge, you have to choose a direction for the character. While it's been a few years and I'm a little fuzzy on the details, the gist of it went something like this - if your protagonist met with a fire-breathing dragon, you could choose to combat it with a sword which required you to turn to page 89, or run away really fast across a bridge which required you to turn to page 145. When you turned the pages, you were led through a series of other decisions, all leading you through a maze until you ended the story in triumph, mediocrity or death.
I spent what was probably an unhealthy number of hours turning thru those pages, trying every which way to make the story come out how I wanted. I was young and the storylines were complicated and difficult to follow at that age, but I learned that life is a series of blind choices, and that regardless of what you choose, there are extra circumstances that can rush in, derail you, and sometimes even kill you. You can even make all the "right" choices and still things might not go the way you planned.
This choice-making exercise I repeated throughout these books has influenced the way I operate my life, how I parent, how I run my business, and even how I practice law. I learned to enjoy rules and structure because if you know all the rules, you can better gauge the outcome, and you're less likely to be eaten by a fire-breathing dragon. If everyone follows the same set of rules, then we can establish some system of fairness and justice, equally applied to all, in all circumstances. This is what I love about the law and the practice of law. Ideally, our laws are a set of rules that, as a society, we have all agreed upon, to be applied equally, so that we can make choices with some idea as to the consequences of our decisions.
The problem, however, is when power runs amok and grants itself exceptions to rule compliance. When the public is punished for non-compliance while the power runs free from consequence, we create social unrest that matches the degree of inequality of rule application. This is a concept that we call THE RULE OF LAW. How far does your law rule? What is its reach? Does it govern the lawmakers, the rich and the famous, to the same degree that it governs your poorest and your most disadvantaged? When examining the history of the United States and its application of the rule of law among all peoples, I'm afraid that we fall woefully short. Moreover, it's getting much worse.
In February 2019, the World Justice Project issued a global press release sharing the results of "...an evaluation of rule of law adherence worldwide based on more than 120,000 households and 3,800 expert surveys in 126 countries." Eight metrics were measured: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. As explained by Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the World Justice Project, "There is a crucial difference between 'rule by law' and 'rule of law'. In too many countries, laws and legal institutions are being manipulated to undermine rather than uphold the rule of law, even as governments wrap their actions in 'rule of law' rhetoric."
So how did the United States fare? We were given a measely score of 0.71, a big fat C-. While I am exceedingly disheartened by this disappointing truth, I am not at all surprised. After passing the Florida Bar in 2003, I cut my baby lawyer teeth practicing as a public defender in Ft. Myers where I learned that the rule of law in the United States was under attack. For example, in the defense of DUIs, I learned that the State of Ohio upheld forced blood draws of folks passing through DUI checkpoints on nothing more than probable cause - a standard that requires nothing more than a mere suspicion that a crime has been committed. While it wasn't what I would call a "regular occurrence", I witnessed lost evidence too often for comfort. I saw cops stretch the truth, prosecuting attorneys trump up charges to terrify my clients into accepting plea agreements for lesser charges, and Judges throw defense attorneys in jail for doing their job. More than once, I was threatened incarceration by a Judge if I continued a line of questioning although failure to ask would have been tantamount to malpractice. I fought back the best I could by intentionally flooding the docket, drowning my assigned courtroom in cases and more motions than anywhere else in the 20th judidicial circuit. It was an imperfect counterattack, but it gave me leverage to have crap cases dismissed when witnesses didn't show or when the evidence wasn't what it should have been.
While I think about the choices I have before me, I can't help but think of the choices I have already made, the path not traveled, and where I might be had I chosen differently. I think we all might engage in this at some point in our lives, particularly in mid-life. I think about my fondness for antediluvian history and whether paleontology or achaeology might have worked out for me, but then I'm reminded of my horrible environmental allergies and I realize I might be better positioned at my current desk job. However I got here, I know one thing is clear; I am passionate about equal access to justice and the rule of law. I know that I don't care if you are pink-and-purple polka-dotted and poor as a church mouse because society should be free and just, and that the rules must apply exactly the same to everyone regardless of race or resources.
Unfortunately, I had to give up the practice of criminal law and my life in the trenches of constitutional defense when I could no longer defer on my law school debt; so, I eventually returned to working with businesses. Ever the justice warrior, I now see unequal access to information is a serious obstacle to entrepreneurial success. When I read stories of a little girl in Naples, Florida being fined for working a lemonade stand on her street, or high school boys in New Jersey being chased by the police and threatened arrest if they don't stop shoveling snow for their neighbors for a few dollars without a license, or entrepreneurial African American women charged $10,000 to braid the hair of their neighbor's children in Tennessee, I want to physically slap these idiot regulators in the face - hard - and maybe with a frying pan. I am absolutely disgusted by this nonsense and I demand more from my country.
I believe that every American should have access to experienced legal counsel at an affordable price. For this reason, I intend to develop a multi-modal learning system for every American to have access to the tools and information that are only available to licensed legal professionals. I do not have the authority to fix our defunct criminal justice system, nor do I have the power to set term limits on Congress or enforce criminal accountability on the uber-rich financial institutions that get away with theft on the grandest of scales. What I can do is break down the hallowed doors of the practice of law and teach all of America what I have learned over the last 20 years to enable and equip my fellow countrymen and women to navigate our complex regulatory landscape so they can achieve business success and financial independence. As America's Business Lawyer, I will do all I can to reinstate the original American promise of Manifest Destiny and those guaranteed inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.