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Barnes & Noble.com: What made you want to write this book?
Catherine Crier: I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was a little girl. And after practicing in the criminal and civil areas, including on the bench, and reporting on this for 14 years now, I decided to speak out because I think the law and lawyers have gone off in the wrong direction, to the detriment of the American people and our democracy itself.
B&N.com: Have you faced criticism from your fellow lawyers?
CC: What I have been most interested in, truthfully, is the number of lawyers and judges -- both federal and state -- who have emailed or called and said, "You know, you say a lot of things that we have always known but just couldn't say." I think there are an awful lot of people who went into the profession with noble intentions, as I did, of guarding the Constitution and Bill of Rights, or preserving the rule of law, and they have found a very different job at hand and are truly frustrated and disillusioned. I may be speaking for a lot more lawyers than people realize.
B&N.com: You dedicate the book to Henry Drummond and Atticus Finch. Could you tell our readers who they are and why you feel as strongly about them as you do?
CC: My two heroes -- and unfortunately I had to reach into the world of fiction to grab both of them. Atticus Finch was the character in To Kill a Mockingbird played by Gregory Peck. This is a character who gave law to many young people, that inspired them to pursue a career in the law. The other character, Henry Drummond, is the lead played by Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind. Now, that was based upon the real Scopes Monkey Trial, the trial over creationism vs. evolution, but it was obviously fictionalized a bit for the film. Again, this was one of those wonderfully noble lawyers taking on what seemed to be a lost cause and changing society for the better as a result. These two great noble lawyers led me to believe that this was an extraordinary profession that could help and not hurt.
B&N.com: Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where you are from, how you became a lawyer, and how you rose so fast in the profession?
CC: I always wanted to be a lawyer. There had been no lawyers in my family. Mother used to say I would argue with the post, and she said I would have to find a profession that would pay me to do that, but who knows why you find a calling early. I was very lucky because at four, five years old, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. There was always the sense of trying to fight for justice. Even in arguments in our family, there was always that sense of "What was the just thing to do?" I am from Dallas, and wonderfully the Texas spirit is one of independence, of doing whatever you are big enough to do.
My parents, from the time I was little, said "You want to be a lawyer, go for it." There was never anything like "Girls don't do these kind of things." I went off to the University of Texas at 16 and the University of Texas Law School at 20 and first wanted to go into international law, because my background had all been politics and international affairs. I made the mistake of hanging around at the courthouse and fell in love with litigation and went to work for the D.A.'s office as soon as I graduated. So I was practicing law at 23 and became a felony chief prosecutor trying rapes, robberies, and murders. And then I went over to the really dangerous side of the hall where they fight over money and was elected to a civil bench on my 30th birthday in 1984.
B&N.com: What made you leave the profession for television?
CC: I actually was at a crossroads where I had been approached about the court of appeals or possibly the federal bench. But I also had been approached about possibly running for one of the congressional districts in Dallas or for [Texas state] attorney general, and so I had a lot of conversations going on in my head at that time. Then I was approached by a fellow who had been a former recruiter for CBS News, and he asked me if I was interested in doing a political issues show. This was right after my reelection in 1988, and I said I could take a joke with the best of them, but we ended up making a tape about six weeks later, on Valentine's Day, 1989, and a month later I was doing a pilot for several different news organizations, and six months later I was offered the Evening News with Bernie Shaw at CNN. So I stepped down from the bench, and six weeks later I was in Atlanta.
First, it was the Evening News, which started October 16th, and October 17th was the San Francisco earthquake, and for me things haven't stopped shaking since. I went from Evening News to also doing Inside Politics to also doing Crier and Company, which was modeled after Nightline but primarily for women. It was a show that was one of the first to bring a lot of the women experts and politicians onto the air. And we watched as other news programs began to steal them, and I would like to think that CNN and this program made a major contribution in having more women on the air in all forms of programming.
B&N.com: Back to the book, you speak about the corruption of the system, the corruption of lawyers and politicians being intertwined. Could you elaborate on that, please, and give some examples.
CC: Lawyers nowadays are partners in almost all civil litigation, because they handle them through contingency fees. Contingency fees were supposed to help the poor hire counsel by giving away a percentage of any recovery, but now in the mass tort litigation, the tobacco cases, for example, they are partners. What do partners want? Partners want to maximize profits. They don't necessarily want to do the right thing, the appropriate thing; they want the biggest reward for their investment. We're seeing a lot of injustices, I believe, and certainly a misuse of the court system, because this is more a business venture for a lot of lawyers than it is pursuing justice.
When you go to Capitol Hill, I find it very disconcerting that law is being created, manipulated, and selectively enforced on behalf of sometimes very big contributors. I submit that the tax code is the greatest form of corruption on Capitol Hill in terms of giveaways. The reason it is 36,000 pages long is because it is so full of subsidies and tax breaks and special provisions for contributors and industries and corporations that we cannot find our way around the code. No one, including IRS agents, has any idea what it says, because they have tucked away so many hidden provisions. The revolving door between lobbyists and legislators, allowing individuals to work for a big lobbying firm, industries, and corporations, and then a few years later they are right back in a government office writing laws, sitting with a congressman or sitting in a cabinet position, and only a year after they serve the government, they can go right back to making big dollars. So, what you are doing is seeing law used in what I would consider almost a fraudulent manner.
B&N.com: You are critical of the Americans with Disabilities Act and even more so about public education today. Why is that?
CC: The Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to help Americans with physical handicaps so they could have a fair place at the starting line, equal opportunity. And many of the provisions were quite appropriate to make sure that they had ingress and egress in buildings and elevator buttons could be read by those that were legally blind, these sorts of things. All of a sudden, we have created categories so that one statistician says that 374 percent of the population is covered by some disability. You are to the point where honest employers cannot possibly operate. I give an example in the book. You hire a young African American, a 40-year-old Asian woman with a bad back, a blind Hispanic, and a white guy over 55. On the same day, they are all qualified. You have to fire somebody -- whom are you going to fire and justify it for me? How are you going to keep out of court? The law was never intended to put people in such a box, and the same thing has occurred in the classroom. There are administrators that cannot fire teachers.
The quote "due process" is so long and convoluted in New York City -- the example being 60 hearings to simply suspend a single teacher. Administrators do not have the time or energy to do it, and don't. So we are stuck with bad teachers oftentimes when what we ought to be doing is giving teachers merit pay and encouraging them as the professionals many are and should be. On the other hand, teachers cannot discipline in the classroom because of student rights now. You can appeal the notion of detention, and you can appeal suspensions to the point where teachers cannot discipline.
B&N.com: How have things gotten so out of hand? How did this bureaucratic nightmare, aided and abetted by lawyers, as you claim, take hold? Or, to put it in the language you use in the book, has the law, designed to protect the people of the United States, become as tyrannical as any king?
CC: Absolutely. King George could say, "You don't pay the tax because you are my friend, but everybody else does." And we said, "No, no, we're going to have the rule of law, where these broad regulations and rules govern the American people with justice and with equity." The way we were to insure that was citizen involvement, to tell our representatives what sort of things we needed regulated and needed rules on, so that everybody would play fair. But once we got out of the game of democracy, which is a serious contact sport in this country, we created a vacuum, and into that vacuum comes the government and those with obvious authority, and the lawyers are at the top of the list. Alexis de Tocqueville told us in 1840 that the lawyers would take over the government. So what do you do then? You can write laws that benefit those that you like and oppose those that you don't like, just like King George.
It really got started in the 1940s when FDR threatened to pack the Supreme Court so that they would declare his legislation constitutional -- the New Deal legislation. And what he had them do basically was to rewrite the General Welfare clause [of the Constitution] which meant not what Jefferson said: that Congress could only pass laws that benefit the general welfare of the country, not specific groups here and there. But FDR made them flip and had them say, "They can pass laws for anybody they need to pass laws for." And what does that equal: pork barrel politics. That means I can write a law for you, thanks to your contribution, and I have no constitutional prohibition. Our Supreme Court basically flipped the Constitution in the mid-1940s. That is when a lot of this stuff started. The pork barrel politics, the selling of law, really grew from that point when the legislature got the fact that that was the biggest source of power that they had. People have to understand there is a political element to the law.
B&N.com: You are searing in your criticism of liability law when you point out the absurdities of judicial decisions granting large awards. You also talk about defensive actions by companies going to extra lengths to avoid being sued. What's specifically wrong with liability law, and what are some of these companies doing to protect themselves?
CC: Liability law serves a good purpose. There are many cases where the consumer and the American people have been protected because of these laws and the emergence of these laws. But when they go too far, it's like any pendulum, you find that you are killing the golden goose, I guess, taking away the very incentives and creativity of this country because people are so afraid of taking a chance with a product, with a service that they are going to be liable that you actually see the limiting of development in this country in many respects. Beyond that, you've got an enormous litigation tax on goods and services that is sort of built into the product because they know they are going to be sued or they are passing on those costs from all of those previous lawsuits -- so we are paying for all of this. Then we socially are paying for all of this when our playgrounds are disappearing or our kids can't go out to recess because the schools are afraid of liability. We all of a sudden don't realize that we are losing choices in our lives. We can't even make the choice to assume the risk and do something that might be a little dangerous or fun because people are so afraid. I can't let friends come to my house and go horseback riding. I don't care how good they say they are, because I cannot face the potential liability if they fall off one of my horses. I can't do it. But, thank you lawyers. I am in that box with a lot of other people. Where is the justice in some person or company which may be 1 percent responsible but is the only one with money, having to pay the entire judgment in the lawsuit? How in the world can we define that as justice? It is not. But that is the direction the world has gone...
B&N.com: You also criticize the regulatory agencies in Washington like the EPA, OSHA, and USDA. What irks you about them?
CC: The ideas are brilliant. But I ask, "What's the goal?" "Are the regulations of the laws designed to accomplish that goal and how are we doing?" You look at OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), it's supposed to protect the safety and health of workers. Tell me why they need to regulate the size of a warning bell on a boat or specifically the wood content of a ladder. Or the poor construction owner who had these welders' masks about 75 feet away in a trailer from where the welders were working. And the OSHA inspector comes in and writes a ticket because they weren't close enough for him. Now, the welders knew where they were, no problem. "No," the guy said, "having the masks in a trailer 75 feet from where the welders work is not close enough." So, when he left, the owner put a small sign on his door that said, "If you think OSHA is a small town in Kansas, you are mistaken," which is brilliant.
What we find is that OSHA is issuing more tickets -- violations -- for paperwork, bad paperwork, than for the types of things that could actually cause injuries. You will find the same thing with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). If your paperwork is in order, you are likely to pass; if not, you are likely to fail, no matter what is going on in the job site or the meat plant itself. It's all process over substance in the regulatory agencies. It's absolutely nuts. EPA is so valuable, it's so important, but why are they wasting their time chasing their tails? Or depending on the administration, they are apt to say one thing in a Republican administration and apt to say something else in a Democratic administration. So, they are keeping their finger in the wind, wanting to keep their jobs, and we are not getting a straight job from one of these agencies, we're getting a political response. That again, is the political manipulation of the law.
B&N.com: Do you see any solution to this major problem in our society? You put the ultimate onus on the average American citizen. What is he or she to do to solve the problem of excess litigation?
CC: I actually call complaining the coward's way out. But I thought, no, no, you have to stick your neck out and offer some solutions. So I have some very specific things that we can do, pass, and repeal for criminal, civil, and regulatory and political problems. Finally, it comes down to the American people because we are the ones that still have the power to make these sorts of changes if we use it. And that is the power of the ballot box, some activism. That doesn't mean that we have to march on Washington, it simply means that we have to decide the things that are disturbing us, what is costing us socially and economically, and take stands on them and let politicians know that we will vote on these issues.
Time and again, I cite these examples in the book. We step up to the plate at important moments and demonstrate overnight the ability to shake the political tree. But if we don't do this, we deserve what we settled for. We tell ourselves we are disillusioned, disaffected, and that voting is simply the selection of the lesser of two evils, so we sit on the sidelines and we just ensure that the vacuum that de Tocqueville warned us of will continue and will be filled by the legislators, the lobbyists, and the lawyers, to the detriment of the American people.
B&N.com: Do you have plans for another book?
CC: I have another book coming out next year on the trials that changed our lives -- significant trials of the 20th century. Most of these will be Supreme Court decisions. It doesn't just tell us about the case but also discusses its place in historical context. And I am working on the follow-up to The Case Against Lawyers, which I hope to have out before the elections in 2004. The working title is But It Is All Perfectly Legal, and it is a discussion of all of these things that are legal in our system but are absolutely outrageous when you examine the context.
Posted October 10, 2002
The book outlines problems with awards made by juries after the presentment of evidence considered to be arguably reliable -- on both sides -- was presented at trial. Does Ms. Crier know how much money it takes to care for a burn victim? Punitive damages are designed to punish. Didn't Bill Gates flagrantly ingore penalties of $1million a day for antitrust violations because MS was making more than that under the practices? And what about the overinflated costs of medical care? Ms. Crier considers all legislators to be lawyers from her Today Show interview. The reality is that the legal community considers the issue a priority because lawyers are in the minority of lawmakers, non-existant in some states. Lawyers may not be everyone's favorite, but they do know how the legal system actually works. I appreciate critical works; I consider them to be patriotic, adding to the discussion. I'm glad the book is out there. But in light of the all the undeserved press the book is getting, I hope people understand that this is a business venture, not a sincere effort at legal reform. Rein in fees that are unsupported and undeserved. But also rein in insurance executives who intentionally stall or deny legitimate claims. Examine the public resentment against corporate America (who is funding a new tort reform effort -- hence all the media on the issue of late). There are lots of really good ideas to make change. Just didn't think this book adds anything more than drilling holes in the boat bottom to let the water out. If you like her, you'll enjoy the book. I am grateful for the discussion the book may generate. $.02
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Posted April 6, 2012
Not often a lawyer writes about book against lawyers, but that is exactly what Catherine Crier has done in her book The Case Against Lawyers.
Maybe Shakespeare was onto something when he wrote in Henry VI the famed verse, “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers.” We laugh now, but Crier spells out a compelling case how this elite group has created a litigious environment that causes more harm than good.
Crier does not hold back as she asserts her distrust in bureaucrats, politicians, and all those who murk up the waters to complicate the calm waters of democracy.
In the end she points to reforms in Civil Litigation, regulatory laws, criminal laws to name a few. But this book is about ranting and raving on an easy target, the perceived elites of our systems.
Posted March 22, 2007
I used to think you were pretty nice when you were on Fox News, but what happened to you? Shame on you for bad mouthing the president all the time. I am concerned about you and for America. God bless America and you. Sam MillerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2005
Quickly read yet thorough. Skewers abuses of law and lawsuits across the political and religious spectrum (e.g., how the rulings to help form religious clubs on campuses set the precedent for gay-striaght clubs also). Shows why a lot of Americans think both major parties are going wrong.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 25, 2003
Bravo! Ms. Crier finally has the guts to say what everyone knows is true but no one wants to say out loud. The legal system is NOT the answer if you want truth or justice today. It has been turned into a GAME and every citizen of this great country pays the price. Litigation is not the answer but the problem. This book will scare you but TELLS THE TRUTH about the lawyers in this country. Thank you Ms. Crier for bringing out the truth from someone who has worked within the system. The critics of this book are all part of the rhetoric that keeps the cycle of insanity going. God help us all.
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