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The angry lawyer who wrote No One Will Lissen (sic -- 1970) is now an angry judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, daily confronting the fact that the law she administers has virtually ceased to function. The failings of the American legal system have been examined by such distinguished lawyers as Ramsey Clark (Crime in America, 1970) and Whitney North Seymour (Why Justice Fails, 1973), as well as journalists like Howard James (Crisis in the Courts, 1968). Judge Forer's approach is, paradoxically, more comprehensive because it is narrower. She concentrates on two issues: a massive national misunderstanding of what the law is and does, and a wholesale procedural collapse in its actual functioning at every step from arrest to Supreme Court appeal. Americans expect the contradictions, ambiguities, and inadequacies of the laws to be resolved by the courts, which thus must willy-nilly assume improper lawmaking functions in deciding cases frequently argued upon irrelevant legal and Constitutional pretexts because their true basis is not adequately covered by existing law. As law-enforcing bodies themselves routinely violate court orders with no criminal stigma, whole communities become committed to habits of scofflawism created by the crazy-quilt of malfunctioning law, and the legal process is increasingly debased. At the concrete level, Judge Forer paints an appalling picture of courtrooms where the wrong defendant is brought in to be arraigned after weeks or months of needless delay in jail, with a computer-printed record which may include inadmissible evidence and omit important facts, to be represented by a public defender whose lawschool training in the subtleties of appellate law has never taught him to prepare a simple criminal case, and who may never before have seen the accused. Aside from a random suggestion or two about ways of speeding up or simplifying some cases, Judge Forer does not seem to have solutions to propose. Some will see this as a cop-out from responsibility; we think it is a sensible decision which enables her to concentrate more powerfully on the definition of issues. Her narrow procedural analysis of the everyday failures of American justice turns out to illuminate the broadest questions of Constitutionality as well as our social goals.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1975
Publisher: McKay