CBA Sept.-Oct. 2020

In the early 1980s Dayton went through the first of many severe economic down- turns. No one was building, factories were reducing their workforces by the tens of thousands, and there was no money for groceries. As the manufacturing industry tanked, construction projects withered and eventually dried up. As a teenager, I recall being confused by the white packages of food with the big, black bold lettering that mysteriously appeared in our kitchen: “CHEESE,” “PEANUT BUTTER,” “RAISINS,” and “MILK.” I still don’t know where they came from, but in high school I learned from my classmates, whose families had similar items in their pantries, that this was “government food” distributed to families in economic distress. Like then, people today who never had to rely on the government are dependent on unemployment and stimulus checks, food lines, and rental assistance. The current pandemic and economic crises lead me to reflect on this period of life when my family experienced its greatest financial challenges. I try to imagine how

my father—unemployed, with a deceased wife, raising two teenage daughters, trying to manage a household with all its respon- sibilities—would cope with those realities coupled with a flu pandemic. Frankly, the thought of being unemployed with no food or medical insurance and being in jeopardy of losing my home, while sup- porting minor children, takes my breath away. I recognize from my own work as an attorney and former Circuit Court Judge that invariably, there are many individuals whose financial challenges will land them in a court of law—civil or even criminal. Sometimes, the public criticizes the court system for being unsympathetic and lack- ing compassion. This is a time for all of us to disprove that viewpoint. We can disprove this view by looking beyond the case numbers and the usual practice to move people and their cases off the docket as quickly as possible. To disprove the view of a legal system that’s devoid of compassion means working to achieve the spirit of our laws instead of

rote administration of the law. In a recent interview, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke stated, “Justice is a service.” I agree. Lawyers and judges, as representatives of justice, materially impact how that service will be rendered. While compassion should be a requisite ingredient in dispensing justice, sometimes it gets left out. With more and more self-represented litigants attempting to navigate their way through a confus- ing court system, bearing the burdens of potential financial ruin while attempting to avoid Covid-19 infection, patience must be at a premium. Similarly, if we observe or hear colleagues being demeaning to or impatient with litigants who are struggling with the financial times, justice demands that such disrespect be addressed and stopped—in a manner you would want were you the recipient of such abuse. We must all recognize the reality of the difficult times we are living in. If there is a time when humanity, respect for the dignity of the person, patience, and yes, the Golden Rule should prevail, now is that time.


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