The Big Short in the Federal Courts

I recently saw an unsettling movie, The Big Short, about the blatant fraud and corruption on Wall Street  that led to the  global economic collapse and the.Great Recession.

Like many film goers, I felt deeply troubled about the Titanic-sized failure of the American government to protect ordinary Americans from predatory behavior and  criminality by Wall Street bankers and brokers.  But later my thoughts turned to another failure that  is currently being ignored by American government and the press, one that I see as an attorney who writes about  the law and workers who are victims of abuse and discrimination in employment.

There has been undisputed and powerful evidence for years that the federal court system, like America’s  financial system, operates to benefit powerful moneyed interests at the expense of ordinary American workers.  A major indicator of this trend is that federal courts routinely dismiss employment discrimination lawsuits at a far higher rate than other types of business lawsuits.

My book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, painstakingly documents how the U.S. Congress and  Supreme Court have made it inordinately difficult for workers to prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ia weak and riddled with loopholes compared to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin and color. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a completely unnecessary ruling in 2009 requiring that age discrimination victims  prove a far higher level of causation than is required under Title VII.  A proposed federal law that would fix the Court’s disastrous ruling has languished in a Congressional committee for six years.  Congress and the Court have legalized discrimination in employment based on age that would be illegal if the victim wore a hijab or hailed from Zimbabwe or Yemen.

At one point last spring, I attempted to contact the Judicial Conference of the United States, a 16-member body (with no citizen representative) that ostensibly runs the federal court system. I wanted to point out that discriminating against employment discrimination victims is tantamount to actual discrimination. I found the Conference’s web site but it contained no contact information. A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC)  suggested that I send my correspondence to the federal circuit court in my jurisdiction, which has a seat on the Conference body.  In exasperation, I submitted  an “open letter” to whom it might concern requesting legal reform via a web form on the AOC web site. I have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the “leadership” of our federal court system is unapproachable.

In the movie, The Big Short, some savvy observers figured out the housing market was about to collapse and they found a way to make money on the collapse.  It seems likely to me that one day the “bubble” surrounding the federal court system will burst.  Just as there was almost universal faith in the housing market, Americans historically  have shown a high degree of trust in the courts.  That trust is eroded every time the court permits  unscrupulous employers to use the legal system to deny workers respect, dignity and fundamental fairness.

Trust is lost when courts permit employers to use the legal system as a weapon against American workers.

Meanwhile,  President Barack Obama  encouraged age discrimination in hiring when he signed an executive order in 2010 that permits federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent” graduates and  U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez earlier this year endorsed a private initiative by America’s largest corporations that openly discriminates against older workers. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer.

All of this  is happening in plain sight but it has gone largely unreported by the tattered shreds of what remains of America’s once vigorous media.  (I may sound a bit cynical on this score because the 18th richest man in the world, Sheldon Adelson,  a casino operator and major Republican donor who owns a free newspaper in Israel, recently secretly purchased  Nevada’s largest newspaper and immediately began testing the limits of journalism ethics.)

Like the housing market bubble, the bubble in the federal court system is attributable in large part to inattention, neglect and failure of accountability. [Read more…]

Judicial Conference: To Whom it May Concern

The evidence has been building for years that federal courts are hostile to discrimination plaintiffs, and that corporate plaintiffs fare much better than individual plaintiffs.

The U.S. Courts were created under Article III of the Constitution to administer justice fairly and impartially.  So  it doesn’t seem right that federal judges appear to be biased, either consciously or unconsciously, against the discrimination victims and the individual plaintiffs who appear before them.

Individual federal judges are working to improve the operation of federal courts but this obviously is a systemic problem that deserves a systemic solution. Shouldn’t the entity that runs our nation’s federal court system be working to insure that our courts are independent and unbiased forums for all.

It seems the Judicial Conference of the United States runs our federal court system. The Conference describes itself as the “national policy making body” for U.S. courts and it is charged with “studying the operation and effect of the general rules of practice and procedure in the federal courts.”  The conference appears to be a 16-member body (with two observers) that is run by Chief Justice John G. Roberts. It includes the Chief Judge of the Court of International Trade and a district judge from each regional judicial circuit. There are no citizen representatives.

How do you contact the Judicial Conference? The web site of the Judicial Conference lacks  contact information, stating: “Requests for consideration of items by the Judicial Conference of the United States or one of its committees should be directed to the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.” There is no contact information or link to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts but I did a web search and found it here.

Nothing on the AOC landing page indicates how to contact the director of the AOC or what other individual(s) might receive a complaint about apparent systemic discrimination in federal courts. At the bottom of the page there is a “contact us” tab that leads to the AOC’s Washington D.C. address, the phone number of the “Public Information Officer” and a “Send us a Message” form. The “Send us a Message” form states: “Have a comment about uscourts.gov? Find a broken link? Need help finding a publication or statistics? Send us a message by filling out the form below. If you’d like a response, be sure to include your email address.”

I don’t have a comment, didn’t find a broken link and I’m not trying to find a publication. My problem deals with the nationwide apparent systemic unfairness of our federal courts toward discrimination victims and the apparent preferential treatment accorded to corporations. I want to know what, if anything, the leadership of our nation’s federal courts is doing to insure that these courts are independent and unbiased forums for all. Still, I left the following message on the AOC’s web site;

To Whom it May Concern:

I don’t have a comment, haven’t found a broken link, and don’t need a publication or statistics. I am contacting your because I think there is a major systemic problem in our federal court system that has existed for years. There is significant research showing that federal judges dismiss employment discrimination cases at a far higher rate than other types of cases, and that they accord preferential treatment to corporate plaintiffs. This doesn’t seem fair. What, if anything, are you doing to address this? Oh, I guess I do want a statistic after-all. What is the racial composition of the conference?  Thanks! Patricia G. Barnes

I might have directed them to my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, which contains several suggestions for improving federal courts, but I don’t want to seem impudent.

AOC Public  Information Officer, Karen Redmond said the Judicial Conference ordinarily addresses issues that are brought to its attention by the various federal circuits.  She said American citizens who have a problem normally go to the federal circuit court in their geographical area to seek redress.

Frankly, I won’t hold my breath waiting for the  answer from the Judicial Conference.  I get the feeling from its web site that the Judicial Conference isn’t keen on citizen input. But if I do get a response, I’ll be sure to tell you.

Federal Judges Slash Funds to Poor

Judicial Salaries Sacrosanct?

The sequester is wreaking havoc on the federal judiciary’s budget but, not surprisingly, “judicial compensation” remains unaffected.

 The judiciary is passing the budget cuts along to clerks, probation officers and, of course, the poor.

The federal judiciary depends on the “kindness of strangers” in the U.S. Congress for its funding. Earlier this month, the Judicial Conference of the United States appealed to President Barack Obama to make its case for funding in budget talks for 2014.

In the letter to Obama, Conference Secretary John  D. Bates states the judiciary incurred an almost $350 million budget cut in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

“In order to fund increases to must-pay expenses such as judges’ compensation and (General Services Administration)  rent,” Page writes, “funding allocations to court units had to be cut 10 percent below the FY 2012 level.” 

 Page writes that the “most significant impact” of the sequester and budgets cuts is being felt in the provision of federal public defender services to indigent criminal defendants.

The federal judiciary is required to provide legal counsel to indigent criminal defendants under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Criminal Justice Act.  These services are provided through Federal Defender Offices and private panel attorneys.

 Page said the judiciary has cut federal defender funding by $51 million by “reducing (Federal Defender Organization) staffing levels through layoffs and furloughs, or deferring or reducing payments to private (Criminal Justice Acct) panel attorneys.”

 He states that federal defender offices downsized by more than six percent between Oct. 2012 and June 2013. Since March, he writes, “their remaining employees have been furloughed for over 12,500 days.”

Even further reductions in the defender Ssrvices budget are expected in FY 2014.  At its August 15-16, 2013 meeting the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference authorized an unprecedented $15 cut in the hourly rate for panel attorneys from September 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.

 Page said funding reductions also put public safety at risk.  He writes that staffing in probation and pretrial services offices is down seven percent since 2011 and a “20 percent cut had to be made to the funding for drug, mental health, and sex offender treatment, as well as to drug testing services for offenders, searches, and electronic and GPS monitoring.