Monday, April 29, 2013

Rotten Lawyers of Hawaii

Before I'd ever had a business relationship with an attorney (the good old days), I would often hear the phrase "Kill all the lawyers." I didn't know why people said it, but now that I've had a decade of experience with Hawai'i lawyers I understand the frustration that makes the heart dark and the blood boil.

In 2006 I was unlawfully arrested (a stupid cop had failed to read the address on a TRO) and I spent 30 days in MCCC (Maui's state jail) before the charge was dropped. On the 19th day I was beaten by several guards and placed in the hole for ten days. This is a segregation cell where, though only a misdemeanor suspect, I was treated like an enemy combatant.

I was tortured by malicious sleep deprivation, and denial of medical care for a serious and extremely painful condition. I was also denied a clean cell (they refused to clean up my vomit after I got sick on the first day) and denied all hygienic measures -- no shower, hand soap, toothbrush or even toilet paper. I was also denied phone calls and access to my public defender, who would have challenged these criminal conditions. The prison staff was trying to break me, make me stop proclaiming my innocence.

All this was obviously a gross violation of my constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment (8th Amendment) and to be free from all punishment before a conviction, which is a violation of due process (14th Amendment).

I was mad as hell and wanted to sue the bastards to ensure it would never happen again to anyone, especially me. All my allegations were easy to document. I typed up a detailed chronology of the brutality and abuses, and sent it, along with a request for representation, to a Maui attorney who advertised himself as a civil rights and personal injury attorney.

He did not reply, so I sent it to another attorney. Again no reply. Then to another and another. Over a year and a half I wrote and phoned 60 attorneys on Maui and O'ahu. Most just ignored me or brushed me off, though a few stooped to actually saying no, but without saying why. Even the ACLU said no, as it often must   because it has never been able to recruit enough attorneys to volunteer their efforts for civil rights cases.

I exhausted the pool of lawyers who could have done the job and realized that if I was going to beat the deadline for filing the lawsuit I'd have to file and pursue it pro se (representing myself). To go pro se in federal court is very difficult for a non-lawyer. I had to spend countless hours in the law library and online figuring out what to do. Just learning how to use these resources is a daunting task. The scores of procedural rules are not always clear and if you get stuck no one will help you.

I spent several grueling, stressful months preparing the complaint and filing it in federal court before the deadline. After that I had to do discovery (obtain all relevant documents from the jail with the State Department of Public Safety fighting me for every scrap, and submit written questions to the seven defendants), fend off the state attorney's motions to dismiss, muddle through hearings and prepare briefs. To give it less than my best effort would be to acquiesce in the loss of rights I always thought were mine -- were ours -- forever. 

After almost seven years I finally got a settlement. It wasn't much, just a few thousand dollars, but I had to accept it because I didn't have the resources to go to trial in Honolulu. I have no doubt that an experienced attorney could have gotten ten times as much and could have done it within a year or so, but none would touch it.

I'm not sure why no lawyer would help me (or why they refuse to help in other cases like mine) because they never give a reason, but I'd guess the reason is one or more of the following: I had no money for a retainer and lawyers prefer to be paid many thousands of dollars before they lift a finger; lawyers are intimidated by the prospect of doing battle with batteries of state attorneys they would have to go against; lawyers prefer to work for the government rather than against it, no matter how onerous and unethical the work; most lawyers have lost the idealistic passion for justice that they entered law school with; and, probably most important, in civil rights cases it's hard for lawyers to charge exorbitant hourly fees and pad their hours the way they usually do because the federal courts take a close look at their fees and expenses.

So why do some lawyers advertise themselves as civil rights attorneys? I learned that they do this not to attract clients who have been brutalized by government criminals, but to attract the business of people who have been discriminated against in the private sector (for reasons of race, religion, disability, etc) by corporations who are likely to settle quickly and generously to avoid bad publicity.

It was a huge disappointment to learn that not a single attorney in Hawai'i is passionate about basic rights and willing to fight hard for them. All they care about is money. The exceptions to this are the  public defenders, many of whom do still care about justice and basic rights. However, they work only criminal cases and cannot help plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits. And, of course, there are a few attorneys who work for worthy causes such as Legal Aid and assorted environmental groups, but they cannot help in cases like mine.

Another case I was involved in stems from a brutal hired assault and battery on me. This is described in my blog I was so severely injured and the assault was so well documented by witnesses (two cops) that I was certain an attorney would help me. But, no such luck. I couldn't pay in advance, so I couldn't secure representation.

Actually, I did finally get one attorney to agree to represent me on a contingency basis for the standard one third of any award. But he recklessly got my complaint dismissed by failing to show up for an important hearing and failing to inform me of the hearing so at least I could attend. He also absconded with money I'd given him to arrange service of my lawsuit on the defendants. He just vanished without a word and ignored my phone messages and emails.

It took me and another one of his victims two years to get him disbarred by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Once that was accomplished I assumed I'd get my money refunded right away. However, the Lawyer Fund For Client Protection told me that they'd have to do their own investigation, which could take another two years, even though two years earlier I had provided emails and a cancelled check that proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that I was owed the refund. Of course, there was never any consideration of compensating me for blowing up my case, which I eventually lost because of procedural errors any lawyer could have avoided.

(When the almost-inevitable day comes that you are screwed by a lawyer, I strongly advise you not to give up your right to sue by signing up with this phony, misnamed lawyer fund, whose real purpose is to protect crooked lawyers from their victims. If your claim is $5,000 or less you should take it to Small Claims Court where the procedural rules are simple enough that a pro se plaintiff has a chance of winning and being paid within a few months.)

I once again had to go pro se and I managed to get my case re-instated. This was in state Circuit Court, which has a whole different set of rules that I had to learn. I got through most of the preliminaries, including discovery, but I got stuck on a couple points of procedure and called a Maui lawyer I hadn't talked to before, having somehow missed his name in the listings. To my surprise, he actually met with me and gave me 15 minutes to explain my case. He liked it, but, even though I'd already done a large portion of the work, he wanted half of any award to take it on contingency.

I couldn't accept such a rotten deal, but I was desperately stuck, so I asked if he'd give me an hour of consultation for a fixed fee. He agreed and I returned a few days later with a list of questions. I gave his secretary a check for $300 and went into his office. I spent an hour trying to get some useful information from him, but all he did was keep telling me how hard the case would be. He never even hinted at how I might overcome the difficulties. I got nothing for my $300, which I'd barely managed to scrape together. It's clear now that he was trying to keep me ignorant and desperate so I'd accept his rip-off 50-50 deal. Two years after this incident he was appointed Circuit Count Judge and took the bench.

In the last few years I've heard countless stories about lawyers screwing up people's cases and their lives, and ripping them off. Is it any wonder that lawyers consistently rank in the top five in surveys of the most hated professionals?

Is reform possible? Will non-wealthy people in Hawai'i ever have a decent shot at justice? Perhaps, but only if they fight like hell for it. Fed up citizens might start doing just that. The following paragraphs are excerpts from a rebel group's manifesto in the prophecy novel Barbarians In Paradise -- Terror Comes To Maui. 
The lawyers’ guild is a major focus of evil in the state. Its members act strictly in their own interests and often against those of their clients, and against liberty in general. They refuse civil rights cases as too complex and difficult, and too poorly compensated to be worth their effort.
Of course such cases are nearly impossible for non-lawyers to file and pursue pro se.This is made worse by the guild, which aids in the suppression of constitutional and human rights by forbidding (via the legislature, which they dominate) non-bar members from helping victims. They are akin to lifeguards who go on strike when most needed, then demand the arrest of non-lifeguards who attempt to help the drowning victims. Non-wealthy people are hurt most by these practices and policies that effectively deny them access to the courts and a chance for redress of grievances and restitution for damages done by government criminals.  

Most lawyers strive to be part of the Injustice Juggernaut, not to fight it. They don't care one wit about truth, justice and the rule of law. Social responsibility is not part of the law school curriculum. The mission statement of the University of Hawaii’s law school includes a commitment to public service, ethical responsibility and pursuit of social justice. Most law schools make some such statement and most law students thus start their careers with a lie embedded in the matrix of their campus and their training. This is not a profession but a Machiavellian cult of cynicism, deceit and hypocrisy.
The lawyer guild’s monopoly must end. If a defendant or litigant, in either a criminal or civil case, cannot find an attorney to represent him at a cost he can afford, he will have the freedom to hire anyone he chooses, including a paralegal, to assist his pro se efforts. Such assistants will help with research, pleadings, motions and briefs; and will serve as advisors during proceedings. 

In the alternative, there must be a requirement that all bar members take on a minimum quota of civil rights cases (against governments or government employees) pro bono or on a contingency basis so that all litigants with legitimate claims have a shot at justice. All law students, whatever area of law they hope to enter, must learn civil rights law just as all medical students learn to administer first aid and perform basic life-saving measures in emergencies. Civil rights law is the foundation of all law in America, and law schools are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Therefore, it is right and just that lawyers should be obliged to use their privileged skills and knowledge to help protect the system of freedoms that make their lucrative profession possible.

The State will fund an independent Office to Aid Pro Se Litigants. This office will sponsor classes on practical law, evaluate cases for pro se litigants, counsel them on following rules and procedures, and teach them how to do legal research.
Also, see my post on local government criminals in my blog All these government criminals are lawyers except for the cops. 

Maui's future foretoldBarbarians In Paradise -- Terror Comes to Maui. This is a prophetic flash novel about a future police state and those who rebel against it. Available in paperback and ebook at

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