Justice

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The
bumper sticker stuck to the refrigerator door behind the bar reads,
"It ain't justice, it's just court." It's always the first
thing I see when I walk in.

I
generally go over to the bar every afternoon about four and order
a pitcher of beer. The Lakeside Resort and Trailer Park was a hotspot
during WWII. No more. The bar is a black hole in the daylight, smoky
and stinking of human bodies and cigarettes and booze; light comes
from the jukebox and the pool table and the television set that
nobody ever turns off. The park itself isn't any better. The road
is dusty and potholed and lined with tall weeds, water pipes leak,
sewers stink, and wires dangle down from the maze overhead. The
place is a dump. I like it because it is cheap and because I have
a million-dollar view of the lake and the mountains from my old
travel trailer and because the people who live there are, well,
different — honest, you might say.

Depending
on how hot the day has been, the rush hour into the parking lot
begins about four. The pickup trucks roll in and big guys dressed
in dirty jeans and sweaty tee-shirts and thick-soled boots stomp
in and start yelling and drinking and shooting pool. The bartender
turns up the jukebox and turns off the sound on the television.
Wives and girlfriends show up from town and the park residents drift
in one by one. Pretty soon they're three-deep at the bar and the
place is packed. Everybody is smoking cigarettes.

Smoking
in a bar would not have been a remarkable observation a few years
ago and it still isn't in most places around the world, but in California
today it's illegal. Who better understands how working people ought
to live than Rob Reiner and his funny colleagues in Hollywood? Is
it any mystery that this tiny minority has much in common with politicians?
Or that they have uncommon clout in politics? Of course, they can
afford the new fifty-cent per pack sin-tax on cigarettes and they
can smoke and drink and snort what they like in their own bars,
so what does it matter if they screw the underclass? I mean, if
the working stiff is stupid enough to watch their movies, they're
stupid enough to take orders from them too, right?

Wrong.
The folks at the Lakeside Resort and Bar don't take kindly to being
told what to do or what not to do, so the Hollywood master plan
isn't working out too well there. The cops who like to prey on them
individually on the streets in town are at least smart enough to
leave them alone as a group in a bar. But what about that sin-tax?
Would you believe that some folks will go through the trouble of
buying their cigarettes out of state? You might even call some extremists
smugglers. I noticed that some of these people would sometimes go
to nearly any length to do what they were told not to do.

And
vice versa. Common people can be stubborn. Several folks refuse
to pay taxes. Maybe quite a few. It's not that they have some high
moral purpose in refusing to pay taxes, they simply hate the system
that collects the taxes. You see, most of these folks are ex-felons.
Felony drunk driving, felony drug sales, felony this, felony that;
no robbery or murder, mind you, nothing bad like that. One guy was
taking a piss in his own front yard when a school bus drove past
and he was arrested and convicted of public exposure and felony
child abuse. Stuff like that. (Sure he was a jerk, but he wasn't
a criminal.) So these people could not get a good, honest, payroll-tax
kind of job if they wanted to because they are ex-felons, so each
one has to find a way to make money under the table, which they
do adroitly and quite admirably.

I
was astonished by the many clever ways people contrive to make money,
but I will not list them here for fear of exposing them to the enemy.
Suffice it to say that the underground economy is alive and well
in this country and that the good old American can-do spirit still
thrives.

Okay,
I suppose that some readers are thinking that this bar was a den
of drugs and that the dirty, sweaty guys with thick-soled boots
were all dealers, the sort of thing Hollywood likes to dream. Nope.
These guys got dirty putting up sheet-rock or framing or plumbing
or roofing or digging postholes or fixing engines. They are actually
the buyers of certain drugs, like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and
marijuana. There is a dealer living in the park, however, no surprise,
under the remote supervision of the cops. The cops run the market
for drugs in this town and woe to any enterprising interloper from
the big city who tries to sell dope without a license.

I'm
not making this up. Why would a rural resort and retirement community
of thirteen-thousand residents need forty-two police cars, a fortified
police station, a half-dozen cops on patrol day and night, and a
barely literate police chief who owns twenty-two houses on a salary
of a hundred-and-twenty thousand a year? Big-time money pours into
and out of this city government and it doesn't come from little
old ladies selling cookies. Residents joke about it. One resident,
a tax-payer, by the way, and a good friend of mine, was shot by
the cops for joking about it. So much for loud-mouthed Italian electricians;
he won a substantial settlement from the city's insurance company
in private arbitration for this crime. The cop went free.

One
might think that a mild-mannered, middle-aged medical-technician
and writer might feel threatened in such a rowdy low-life environment.
Indeed, I will slink out the back door when the pool cues start
flying, but I never feel like I am in danger of being robbed at
home or mugged in the parking lot. I've lived in this town for twenty-years
and I know almost everybody who lives in the park or who visits
the bar. Some I have known as patients in the hospital. One of the
first new friends I made was a gentleman who looks exactly like
Santa Claus — except for the tattoos on his arms. He is, in fact,
a retired machinist and a Hell's Angel. He is seventy-two and he
likes my writing. Sometimes total strangers dressed in leathers
and chains are buying me a beer at the bar. Somehow I feel safer
here than I've felt in the San Francisco Hilton.

Some
years ago, a physician with whom I worked in the emergency room,
a man I truly respected, was accused of murdering a Native American
child. Nine months after the alleged event, the cops and the feds
arrested him in the emergency room and led him away in irons. Newspapers
and wire services and television publicly convicted him then and
there, just as the Grand Jury had done already in secret.

The
legal ploy was transparent. First, a routine malpractice suit would
have been settled out of court for peanuts, maybe a hundred-thousand,
while millions were there for the taking after a murder conviction.
Second, it was an election year and the State Attorney General needed
a popular hit. Third, the feds wanted to destroy the secrecy of
the medical peer review process mandated by the feds themselves.

The
legal shift of focus from malpractice to murder had begun earlier
in Denver, where nurses were charged with murder after a fatal medication
error (the mistake was made by a pharmacist – who was not charged).
It didn't take a genius to see that lawyers had discovered a new
Mother Lode. Thousands of nuisance malpractice suits could be worth
a fortune. Needless to say, we in the medical business looked at
it a little differently; if they can spin malpractice into murder,
then we're all in the wrong business and it's time for us to get
out.

Down
at the Lakeside Resort and Trailer Park, the trial of our local
doctor was a brisk topic in the bar. Many of the patrons knew him
from past visits to the emergency room. I was prepared to defend
him, but I didn't need to. These folks knew the score, they just
weren't quite sure about the game. They were trying to figure out
why the state had decided to persecute this man, they knew he wasn't
guilty from the start.

After
over a year of legal bickering in court, the now bankrupt doctor
won over his tax-supported attackers and the case was dismissed,
but not before the feds destroyed the privacy of medical peer review
— any advice or censure doctors may offer their peers in these meetings
is now a matter of public record in court. So they won't do it,
of course. They'll hold their required meetings and they'll say
nothing incriminating about anybody.

I
drink my beer at the bar and I look at that bumper sticker on the
refrigerator and I wonder where in hell do these lawyers think their
world is going? The common, ordinary, working people of this country
have no faith in the system and have no respect for the system;
in fact, they hate the system. I sit and I wonder, why don't we
change the system? Yes, indeed, why don't we?

I
suppose you could interpret my point of view as a lawyer-bashing,
a popular if futile gesture of rejection. I really don't feel that
way, despite having been bashed myself by a couple of lawyers. I
was favorably impressed by what happened to my gut-shot buddy in
private and secret negotiations between lawyers representing different
insurance companies in front of yet another lawyer representing
neutral arbitration. I think he got a fair hearing and a decent
settlement. I don't think that criminal prosecution of the cop who
shot him would have accomplished a thing, aside from forcing the
cop to search for honest work. We're not going to beat cops in court
anyway, it's their system. Private arbitration is something different
and more and more people are seeking it. It isn't perfect, but I
think it's better than court. Sometimes it's almost like justice.

April
16, 2001

Robert
Klassen is a medical technician and writer now living in north-central
Florida, where it’s legal to smoke in bars.

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