“This is a public court…It belongs to the citizens. I believe in hearing everything in open court if I can.”
Federal District Judge L.T. Senter, Bossier v State Farm
Open court is not a place where Judge Senter presides. Instead, it is the envelope of the litigation process – the structural architecture holding together our system of justice for all.
Like the envelope of homes that stood against Katrina’s wind and water, not all damage to our system of justice is visible to the naked eye.
Neither was the damage to the Bossier’s home. Continuing with the analogy, tort reform and other system changes simply hide the cracks. What is needed is change that strengthens the structural architecture of the envelope, Open court – change that Judge Senter can make:
- Modify the Mediation Order so that the period of mediation immediately follows the filing of a Complaint and Answer.
- Improve the quality and oversight of the mediation process and require plaintiffs to attend a pre-mediation session conducted by the court that fully explains the process.
- Require all motions for a protective order to fully comply with the Rules requiring specificity in the documentation of “good cause” and deny any that do not with prejudice.
- Insist settlement conferences are documented with the technology used for video depositions and privately review the tapes before sealing.
- Limit the power a magistrate has to keep evidence out of court.
As one would expect from a construction-specialized CPA, Sop zeroed in on the foundation of SLABBED…we do not hide the fact we want these cases tried from a larger social good standpoint.
It is from that perspective these past two years that I’ve observed windows and doors to justice closed and locked in Katrina litigation. There can be no open court when evidence is sealed, protected or otherwise restricted – locked away to the extent there could be no trial.
I took AROD’s Bottom Line on Bossier; i.e., SLABBED did not adequately prepare us, as the opportunity to reflect on what more I could have done than point out each door and window as Judge Walker locked one after the other. Judy Guice took incredible professional risk by continuing to challenge the Magistrate’s orders to obtain the evidence needed to take the Bossier’s case to trial.
As one of the citizen-owners of the public court, I’ve learned a magistrate’s order stands unless clearly contrary to law – and I ask where is the law that prohibits Judge Walker from allowing State Farm to run out the clock and run up the tab on plaintiffs? Where is the law that permits State Farm to file their trial brief so late in the day that it does not show up on PACER until the day of the trial? Where is the law that restricts sanctions to only those requested by a plaintiff? Where is justice when there is only a law that requires Judge Senter to play the hand his Magistrate deals?
The justice for all that I seek is that required to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly…Such is not required of me alone – yet, there was no justice, kindness or humility in Judge Walker’s orders nor any excuse for his conduct of the pre-trial discovery in Bossier.
Open the doors and windows that hide the cracks in the envelope. Give juries the evidence needed to make just decisions. Open court so that open court is a reality and not a lofty ideal.