This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Justice, American Style?

It has always been true that wealthy people get more of their way in human courts.  Likewise, no matter the system of jurisprudence, there is a tendency for the players in the court systems to view justice more as game theory than as a real determination of right and wrong.  But I wonder if we are moving further and further away from justice and more and more toward the judicial system as an elaborate game.

More to the point, I wonder if people actually can buy their own justice.  No, no, no, I’m not talking about bribes and pay offs.  What I’m talking about is that a wealthy person can buy an excellent lawyer who knows very well how to play the sophisticated game, while a poorer person cannot afford such excellence.   When the “game” (or trial) is played, let’s face it—some are better at it than others.  And it appears that real justice, real fact finding is not the goal.  The goal is to “win.”
Let me suggest a few examples which have caught my eye and have given me reason for this concern. 

--O.J. Simpson hired a dream team of lawyers for his trial for the murder of his wife.  F. Lee Bailey, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian (whose daughters are now even more famous), and Robert Shapiro (cofounder of LegalZoom) enabled the erstwhile running back to be declared not guilty of murder.  His attorneys did an amazing job of jury selection and of trial execution.  And O.J. paid a lot of money for their defense.  Fast forward a few years, O.J., now a much poorer fellow, comes against a wrongful death lawsuit and later robbery charges for stealing his own memorabilia.  O.J. does not have the money for the high powered lawyer team.  He loses both cases and is now incarcerated at Lovelock Correctional Center (interesting name for a prison!) in Nevada.

--Rod Blagojevich hired the lawyer, Sam Adam Jr. (the same attorney who successfully got R&B performer R. Kelly off of 14 counts of having sex with a minor) in defense against federal corruption charges.  His attorney played the game well, and a hung jury was the result.  However, Blago was out of money; the feds knew that and retried the case.  This time, with lesser lawyers, Blago was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

--John Edwards was recently tried on charges that he violated federal election laws in getting money from a supporter to fund the needs and lifestyle of his mistress with whom he had a child.  Edwards’ attorneys, Abbe D. Lowell of Chadbourne & Parke and Allison O. Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan of Smith Moore Leatherwood, are among the best that money can buy, for Edwards is a very wealthy man.  This trial, too, ended in a hung jury.  However, because the feds knew that Edwards could pony up the money for yet another trial, they chose not to refile charges against Edwards.

--Roger Clemens, famed former major league pitcher, was recently tried for lying to Congress when he testified in hearings on performance enhancing drugs.  The first trial was declared a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct.  The second trial, just concluded, resulted in Clemens being declared innocent on all charges.  Clemens was represented by Rusty Hardin of Rusty Hardin and Associates, a very good and very expensive Houston attorney.  Word is that Clemens paid in the neighborhood of $3 million for his defense.

Now my concern has nothing to do with innocence or guilt of any of these figures.  It may be that true justice was done in all cases.  However, I simply want to ask a question—does a person get the justice that they can pay for in America?  It may have always been true that getting a better lawyer gets you better “justice,” but I fear that we are increasingly headed to a place where the wealthy can get what they want in court because they have extremely skilled game players.  This will result in a diminished respect for the law in our culture.

If you are still reading, good for you because this leads me to my real point!  My real point is that this world is not our home.  If you want “real” justice that is not dependent on how much you can pay an attorney, you are living in the wrong world.  God, for His own good purpose, has ordained that this present world be uneven in terms of justice.  See how the prophet Habakkuk agonizes over this truth:
1:2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.

Isaiah 59 affirms that we will be frustrated by “justice” on this earth:
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
     no one who treads on them knows peace.
Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope for the wall like the blind;
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
     among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
We all growl like bears;
     we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

Happily, for the believer in Jesus Christ, the injustice of this world will be overturned by our coming King Jesus.  Note how Isaiah 59 continues:
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16  He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
18  According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
     to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19  So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
    and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
    which the wind of the Lord drives.
20  “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

Don’t you love it?  God sees that no one on earth can intercede for perfect justice, so He comes Himself.  He straps on righteousness as a breastplate and the helmet of salvation on His head.  And He will be the perfect judge.   The doctrine of the Trinity is wonderfully, mysteriously at work here, which would be great fodder for yet another blogpost!
Jeremiah 23:5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

What is wonderful for the believer in Christ is that this judge, because of the doctrine of the Trinity, is also our attorney.  He defends us:
1 John 3:2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

And, wonder of wonders, God is both our vindicating judge and our interceding advocate because in the person of Jesus Christ, He also paid the penalty, took our judgment.  And for that, there is no distinction of race, of wealth, of earthly status.  There is only this—are you saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ?
Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

As we move further away from biblical absolutes in our culture, the more that our judicial system is subject to manipulation, the influence of high priced lawyers and gaming.  The court of heaven is not so.  The Judge of all the earth will do right.  Do you have the Right Man on your side?  If so, the perversion of justice now will bother you, but not too much.  Rather, heaven and the return to earth of the rightful King become all the sweeter.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Scott Boerckel


  1. Scott:

    This is an excellent post. I’m very glad that Joel sent me a link. If I may, I’d offer the following observations from the position of a theologically conservative trial attorney.

    *Regarding the role of justice and high-priced lawyers:

    1) Sadly, I would actually say that you give the legal system far too much credit. I don’t say that to be overly dramatic, but from an insider’s perspective I can honestly say that your fears are far more real that you may realize. Bribes and pay-offs are certainly commonplace, but even when there is no actual exchange of money, back-room handshakes and knowing glances can be the difference between a win and a loss.

    All too often, when interviewing a potential client, I have to tell them honestly that they may be facing an uphill battle, not because of the facts or the law but because of a known relationship between opposing counsel and the judge. Very often, those who can afford to hire a silk-stocking attorney will do so specifically because they know that attorneys with connections charge the highest price. (There’s a common adage among trial attorneys: It’s good to know the law, but it’s better to know the judge.) As a Christian, it’s often very difficult to navigate these waters with integrity.

    2) Your observation that the goal of trials is winning, as opposed to finding the truth, is dead-on. Honestly, truth is not a concept which is really discussed in the realm of trial attorneys. Even among the more ethical lawyers I know, the point is still to win the game. Clients don’t pay for the truth: they pay for results.

    3) As a Christian, the pull of the world in the practice of law is unrelenting. It’s hard to be the only guy not focused on the game. The rub, though, is that you have to play the game to some extent if you want the truth to prevail. Oddly enough, the difficulty for the Christian lawyer comes when you know that, for whatever reason, you will be given wide deference by the judge despite the fact that your client is actually in the right. From an ethics standpoint, it makes for some very difficult situations. I’m definitely not pretending that I’ve got it all figured out, though. I’m still very young in my practice, and I still wrestle with these issues on a daily basis.

    4) You ask: “does a person get the justice that they can pay for in America?” The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding yes. Your “fear that we are increasingly headed to a place where the wealthy can get what they want in court because they have extremely skilled game players” is unfortunately a reality. I can’t speak to how this has changed historically, nor can I quantify the extent of the role of money in the justice system, but I can confidently state that the price of the attorney is far and away the most important factor in determining outcome. Good lawyers can charge top dollar, and connected lawyers can charge top dollar. Either way, though, it makes a huge difference.

  2. *Regarding the specifics examples cited in your post:

    1) Many of these examples are spot-on for your point. The only suggestion I would give would be that the O. J. Simpson trial doesn’t really fit the post. While I certainly agree that his hot-shot defense team pulled a rabbit out of a hat during the criminal trial, the subsequent civil trial was a completely different animal due to the fact that the standards of proof between criminal cases and civil cases is drastically different. In criminal cases, the jury must find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; whereas, in civil cases, the jury must find liability by a preponderance of the evidence. Legally speaking, it’s apples and oranges. Winning a criminal case but losing a subsequent civil case isn’t all that unheard of, even with the same team of attorneys. (I know that sounds overly technical, and I certainly don’t want to appear that I’m nitpicking your post. Rather, I’m simply offering the observation that, to an attorney, the O. J. example jumped out to me as slightly out of place. Please forgive me if this observation comes across as overly technical.)

  3. *Regarding your theological conclusions:

    1) Your theological observations are great. As you noted, Habakkuk is a perfect reminder of God’s sovereignty over earthly justice. Moreover, your point regarding the role of injustice in pointing to the necessity of Christ is fantastic. As with Joel, I love this line: “What is wonderful for the believer in Christ is that this judge, because of the doctrine of the Trinity, is also our attorney.” (I’ll be sharing that one with others tomorrow!)

    2) One theological observation I’d like to add is that, from my perspective, one of the biggest dangers I see for Christians is in supplanting an earthly legal outcome for objective truth/justice. All too often, Christians will simply rely upon an earthly justice system, assuming that the courts are basically just. Then, when the earthly system fails, they become disillusioned and discouraged, losing faith in not only the earthly system but in God’s promise of ultimate justice. Additionally, because of the misplaced reliance upon earthly justice systems, Christians are too quick to simply assume that the fact that an outcome complied perfectly with the earthly justice system that the outcome must necessarily be just. (e.g.: Under the law, if A then B. I have A, therefore B. Because B is the result of A, B is right.) Christians have a hard time understanding that what’s lawful is not always what is biblical.

    The difficulty comes in the fact that, often times, an earthly result does seem to coincide with a truly just result. (e.g.: D kills V. D is tried for murder. D is convicted and is sentenced to prison.) When so many legal results are also just results, it becomes vary hard to explain to the lay Christian that true justice is not a necessary result of earthly justice system. Just because the system sometimes produces just results doesn’t meant that the system is intrinsically just.

  4. * Joel asked me: “I'd be interested in hearing more about how your profession informs your theological views of justification, atonement, etc. or just the way you experience the faith.”

    Much like Habakkuk or Isaiah, my experiences within the justice system, (and, specifically, its injustices), forces me to constantly turn to God’s grace. Most Christians tend to assume that I would be most affected by the heinousness of my criminal clients---murderers, rapists, child molesters. But, in reality, the greatest example of man’s depravity that I’m faced with on a daily basis is the brokenness of the system itself: hopelessly lost criminals, being pursued by vengeful prosecutors, being lorded over by idolatrous judges, and being defended by unscrupulous attorneys.

    Ideally, our courts are supposed to be the great equalizers. But if this is the best we’ve got, then we as a people are desperately in need of a savior.

    Jesus’s warning to the lawyers in Luke 11:45-52 is painfully true. We lawyers burden people beyond their abilities, but we do not share in their burden. We only play the game. (v. 46.) We purposefully create an impenetrable system, thus ensuring our own sustained employment but in the process locking ourselves on the outside of justice. (v. 52.)

    Certainly, there are good and godly attorneys out there. I know that God’s grace and the depravity of man can be seen in any profession. Sometimes, however, I wonder if the false guise of “truth” and “justice” in earthly court systems is not uniquely tailored to damaging the spread of the gospel. It’s a lot to take in, sometimes.

    *Finally, I apologize for this comment turning into a rambling mini-dissertation. The practice of law has given me a debilitating case of prolixity. I’m always open to discuss this more, as Joel can attest.

  5. Zack, thank you for your insights. I appreciate the nuance you brought to the OJ civil case. I'm going to ask a couple of elders at our church (who are also lawyers) if they might weigh in on this discussion. It is deeply encouraging to know that thoughtful and committed followers of Christ are in the legal profession. if my post serves to connect godly attorneys from different parts of the country, I'd be really excited.