Medi(t)ation

(Title stolen from Sagramore)

When it comes to blogging, I tend to eschew posts recounting my personal life and activities. For one, I believe my life to be far from interesting. Unlike Sagramore, I do not live abroad, nor am I engaged in some grand life experience. My days are largely uneventful affairs revolving around legal research and legal school work, and I doubt such things are engaging to people outside of the profession. For another, there is some part of me that cleaves to the idea that posts must be about something, and that a record of my daily doings does not provide insightful commentary on the nature of life, the universe, and everything.

Nevertheless, I find myself enamored by the posts of my friend EmLem (who guest spots on the podcast as Cookie, and who also lives in Japan), even though they are personal and I cannot wholly relate to teaching English in Japan. Her style is somewhat colloquial, in that she writes much as one would speak, but there is strong compositional control behind it, so that the posts have a proper flow and craft to them, and are not merely the ramblings of someone putting thoughts on the page. (At times I envy that style tremendously. There is an artificiality to my own mode that I often resent. Perhaps that is the quasi-poet in me, who strives for rhythmical and grammatical balance above straightforwardness and clarity.) She also has a deft hand at interweaving more universal themes into her posts, which is why I enjoy them, though I am not a JET. In short, you should read her blog.

So inspired, and armed with the knowledge that perhaps personal blogging can in fact be about something, (not to mention such posts are a cathartic experience,) I think it worthwhile to try my hand at it. Today, after all, was not a normal day, and it was most definitely about something.

Today I participated in mediation to try to settle one of Dad’s cases. I say participate, but the truth is that I listened, and observed, and made a point to not become involved. Once or twice I was asked my opinion about the merits of settling for a certain amount, and I was flattered that Dad and Michie (Dad’s partner) valued my opinion, but each time I refused to answer, out of fear of my own inexperience and imperfect knowledge of the issues and facts of the case. But I was there in the room with the lawyers, the mediator, and the client, and I learned the ins and outs of mediation, at least from the plaintiff’s perspective, and I felt like I belonged.

The facts of the case itself I cannot reveal, nor do I think they are relevant. It is enough to know that we represent the plaintiff, and that she is suing for an injury, and that the defendant has denied any liability.

The mediation took place at a lawyer’s office on 2nd Avenue, in a building that looked like it had been built shortly after the Civil War. Inside it had been renovated, probably in the 60s, so it looked modern, but everything was weighed down by the wear and age that accumulates over fifty years. The suite itself was large, with a conference room, several meeting rooms, and about four offices. These rooms and offices were tastefully decorated and had a lived-in feel, which itself was odd because only one lawyer, our mediator, now uses the suite. He sits at the desk by the front door, where once I imagine a secretary sat clicking away on a typewriter, and the rest of the rooms, when not occupied by mediating parties, are used only by memories and specters.

The mediator first met with Dad, Michie, and myself, to go over the strengths and weaknesses of the case. He was also, I suspect, feeling out Dad to see how confident we felt, how much value we placed on the case, and how much we were willing to negotiate. Then he left to confer with the defense attorneys, and we brought our client into the room so she could wait with us. I don’t remember what we talked about.

The mediator soon returned, and this time he talked to our client while we listened. He began by asking her if she understood what could happen if we went to trial. She replied that she was not afraid to go to trial. He asked her what would happen if the jury decided to believe the defendant’s witnesses instead of her. She said she would be sad, and feel wronged, because she was telling the truth and the defendant’s witnesses were lying. The mediator said that didn’t matter. “Who is telling the truth is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what the jury will believe.” She began to stifle tears, and said that she did not like that they were making her out to be a liar. The mediator said that he believed her, but that his opinion was worth “what a cup of coffee used to cost.”

After the mediator left to talk to the defense, our client again expressed her dismay at the situation: how she could be telling the truth, and that the defense, in order to counter her, needed only to have their witnesses lie. It didn’t seem fair. Dad, looking more stern than I usually see him, replied that life isn’t fair. Twelve year old kids get cancer and die. People step out into the street and get killed by eighteen wheelers. Life isn’t fair.

“But I’m telling the truth.”

“So what?”

It doesn’t matter who is telling the truth or who is lying. What matters is what twelve people in that jury box choose to believe.

This was, as you can imagine, a bit of a shock to our client, and impacted me as well. Oh, I am aware of the subjectiveness of truth, and I know that there are two true sides to every story. The defendants no doubt believe that plaintiffs are greedy liars who fake injuries to try to get a payout, just as we plaintiffs think of defendants as unscrupulous liars who organize their business models around minimizing and sidestepping liability.

I do not like to think I am naive, though I am. I prefer the less pejorative idealistic. I believe in the law, in the ideal that the purpose of the law is to uphold fairness and justice. Yes, life is not fair, but we as a people refuse to let that stand, and so we seek to impose fairness on life. It may be corrupted by the lawmakers and the lawyers who only care about their bank accounts, but no amount of corruption can tarnish the ultimate ideal of the law. People may place their thumbs upon the scales of justice, but they cannot break the scales.

The mediation broke down soon after that. The Defendant offered too little, and we asked for too much. There is still work to be done, and trial is not for another three months, so we may settle it yet. If not, we will try the case, and we will see what the jury decides is just.

I have thought, in my naivete, that justice and truth are connected concepts. That proper justice is doled out when the truth is uncovered. But I do not think that anymore. Truth has nothing to do with justice. The truth is a pleasant fiction we wrap around ourselves like a coat.

Justice is the will of twelve strangers in a box.

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