Unequal Justice Under The Law.

Gary Neustadter, of Santa Clara University School of Law, recently published an interesting empirical look at how similar legal proceedings are dealt with at the trial court level. “Randomly Distributed Trial Court Justice: A Case Study and Siren from the Consumer Bankruptcy World,” examines how virtually identical legal claims can result in randomly distributed justice. Here is a brief description of the article, available here, to be published in the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review:

    Between February 24, 2010 and April 23, 2012, Heritage Pacific Financial, L.L.C. (“Heritage”), a debt buyer, mass produced and filed 218 essentially identical adversary proceedings in California bankruptcy courts against makers of promissory notes who had filed Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions.

    This article reports an empirical study of these bankruptcy adversary proceedings. Because the proceedings were essentially identical, they offer a rare laboratory for testing the extent to which our entry-level justice system measures up to our aspirations for “Equal Justice Under Law.”

    The results in the Heritage adversary proceedings evidence a stunning and unacceptable level of randomly distributed justice at the trial court level, generated as much by the idiosyncratic behaviors of judges, lawyers, and parties as by even handed application of law. We anticipate some randomly distributed justice as the inevitable byproduct of disparities in economic and other resources of the parties and disparities in the knowledge, capabilities, and attitudes of even well-meaning attorneys and judges acting reasonably in an imperfect system. We aspire, nonetheless, to equal justice under law. The findings of this study reflect a departure from that ideal on a scale both larger than we may have expected and larger than we should tolerate.

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