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THE DARK SIDE: Attorney assessments for legal services are unconstitutional

By: David Ziemer, [email protected]//January 24, 2012//

THE DARK SIDE: Attorney assessments for legal services are unconstitutional

By: David Ziemer, [email protected]//January 24, 2012//

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Back in the day, a bumper sticker on many a van read: “A**, gas or grass, nobody rides for free.”

I operate my law practice on much the same theory.

I don’t believe in pro bono. I probably did enough in the first nine years I practiced law to last a lifetime, but I’ve largely gotten out of that game. Not to say I never do it, but I certainly don’t look for it.

I do engage in price discrimination. For those of you who took critical legal studies instead of the Antitrust course offered in law school, that means I provide the same service for different customers at different prices, depending on their ability to pay. I charge my wealthy clients substantially more than I charge the poor ones. But everybody pays something.

I’m not the only attorney who does this and this is not a conservative thing either. I have a friend — very liberal, very active in Democratic party politics, a big union leader before he went into practicing law – who feels exactly the same way.

Our reason is the same: for the most part, when people get things for free, they don’t value them. Look at the welfare class in England. The more free food, housing, health care and “education” they get, the more they despise the workers who provide them.

Voluntary exchange in which both parties contribute something is the only arrangement in which it is normal for people to do business with mutual respect.

Nevertheless, I do take public defender appointments. First, I consider the right to counsel in criminal cases a constitutional right, regardless of means. Second, many indigents are fine, decent people being railroaded by prosecutors with no common sense or sense of perspective. I enjoy providing them representation as good as a wealthy person could afford.

But, the Sixth Amendment doesn’t apply in civil cases. On the contrary, such a “right” would actually be an unconstitutional violation of the genuine constitutional rights of every attorney, every taxpayer and every private party who pays for his own attorney in a civil suit.

Any “right” which requires another citizen to provide something of value for another is not a right. It is the unrighteous claim of a slave master.

Numerous claims on my labor are made. The $50 assessment every attorney must pay to provide legal services to the indigent in civil cases is a form of compulsory labor and the $200 assessment proposed by some{} would be even more unconstitutional.

Demands that attorneys perform mandatory pro bono, which arise from time to time, are an even more explicit infringement of my 13th Amendment rights.

So-called “civil Gideon,” to provide attorneys for parties in civil cases, is also abhorrent to me. But it is even more egregious to the opposing party, who must through his taxes pay his opponent’s attorney, regardless of the merits of the case.

I, as an attorney, am more than willing to do my part when it comes to assuring that defendants in criminal cases have representation, no matter what. I do so as a taxpayer as well, and I expect other taxpayers to do the same.

But when it comes to civil cases, the issues of whom I represent, and what they pay me, is my business, and my business only.

If somebody else believes people should ride free, he can use his own van.


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