Wasted Legal Action

It is well known that courts in New York City are under-efficient, under-staffed, and arguably over-utilized.  There are many frivolous and time-wasting cases that should (and could) probably be weeded out through mandatory mediation sessions before seeing a judge.  As one student in my colloquium course said last week, “Courts are the emergency rooms for society.”  Unfortunately, this not only holds truth, but provides an interesting insight to the City’s (and other states’) crowded courtroom circus.  Specifically, family courts are insanely overcrowded at times with ex-partners from broken marriages and relationships who just can’t get along.  All too often I see parties in court who are filing another petition to add to the growing pile involving a divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal support, modifications, etc.  But, this isn’t just a problem with the family courts.  All too often frivolous lawsuits and over-dramatic criminal charges are brought to court to be sorted out as well.

This is partly a continuation of my February 6 posting on The Costs of Juvenile “Justice.”  I feel compelled to comment on an incident involving a 14-year-old bored high school student from Virginia.  He blew plastic pellets at other students during lunch one day, hitting three and probably annoying several more.  To the surprise of some, instead of being suspended, he was subsequently expelled from school.  In addition, the plastic pen he was blowing out of (referred to as a “metal tube” by school officials) and the plastic pellets he blew (referred to as “B-Bs”) were apparently considered a weapon by the deputy sheriff.  The kid was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault after the school called in the police.  He is currently being home-schooled, as his appeal to the school was denied.

While I completely understand and agree with (to some extent) the school’s “zero tolerance” policy for bullying and violence, I do not necessarily see what good will come by filing criminal charges against the boy.  Expulsion seems a bit excessive for a mischievous prankster, but surely it can be justified.  Misdemeanor criminal charges or the possibility of a year-long diversion program?  Now that seems overly-excessive and truly unnecessary for our legal system to have to deal with.

One thought on “Wasted Legal Action

  1. I imagine I will constantly be singing this same song: if Americans would institute and enforce the levels of progressive taxation that existed during President Eisenhower’s time — 92% in 1953 and 91% thereafter, according to the Tax Policy Center — we’d have the money for diversion programs, so that children who bully can be worked with rather than tossed out of school. (Yes, few paid that top tax rate, what with loopholes, cheating and breaks. But at least many paid more than the 35% maximum we do today, again minus the cheating, loopholes and breaks!)

    As advances in neurology reveal the lack of development of boy’s brains, particular the regions which involve self-control, you would think our responses to inappropriate behavior would advance in tandem with scientific understanding. Far from it, it would seem.

    But would it be otherwise, if there were public funds available to address such problems? Possibly. As long as we insist on a top tax rate for those earning millions of 35% (minus breaks, cheating, etc.), we’ll have crowded family courts and underfunded schools, that feel obliged to kick kids out because they haven’t the resources to handle them in other ways.

    And perhaps with more funds, we could find ways to make education more fun and engaging, so that the boredom that leads to making trouble in class would lessen. But youth have always acted out in class in these ways. Check out films portraying youth misbehavior in school from the 1930’s through 2010 — you’ll see the same sorts of “acting out”. If we know its going to happen, why don’t we have better ways to respond?

    Why won’t put our wealthier citizens’ money to work for us? Could it be linked to the fact that (as studies show), public media lead to a better informed citizenry, and the U.S. has by far the least well-funded public media of any “Western” nation (and have now put public broadcasting, once again, on the chopping block)? Of course the roots are deeper – in ideologies and beliefs long fostered by those who benefit from them, aided of late by a Supreme Court that enables those beliefs to dominate and control our political institutions.

    It is time we decided to do something about all this – if we can muster the political will. Or will neurological research will reveal that there’s something underdeveloped in OUR brains, along with those of our young?

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