People have been asking why we are not allowed to talk about the details of our lawsuit in a public forum. We have been asking ourselves the same question.
Legally, under the First Amendment, we have the right to freedom of speech and the ability to express ourselves without the fear of persecution or prosecution. But the right to free speech does not prevent someone from suing you if what you say makes them angry. And for this reason, we have had to keep our story out of the public discourse.
My blog post from last year revealing the lawsuit, was a risk on my part. Even though there was nothing defamatory or slanderous in its content, there is always a chance that someone will find a way to twist your words and the law, to use them for extortion. So why are we not revealing the details of our lawsuit? Because we don’t want to be sued over and over again.
Andrew and I sincerely believe you guys have the right to know what you are contributing money to. In fact, we believe if more people knew what the actual case was about, it would help our cause. But right now, we are being advised to keep the details of our case out of the public forum to protect us from any liability. We completely understand if that deters you from donating and we still love you either way.
So while we cannot divulge the details of our case, here is a little law 101 so you can understand the context in which we are fighting this legal battle and why it has dragged on for so long:
The American Justice System in a (very expensive) Nutshell
Justice in America is unfortunately something that has to be purchased. There was a point in U.S. history when the judicial system became profitable, and that is when justice was no longer affordable. This is why large corporations and companies like record labels are able to wield so much power over an artist.
In criminal cases, a defendant has the right to an attorney and does not need to pay for one if he elects a public defender. However, in a civil court case (like ours), you either have to hire an attorney or defend yourself as a pro se litigant. Since the average person knows very little about the complexities of law, most people are forced to hire an attorney and pay a hefty price in both time and money.
More often than not, one of the parties in a lawsuit can no longer afford the litigation costs and are forced into an unfair settlement agreement or lose the case because they don’t know how to litigate.
You Can Sue For Anything….I Mean ANYTHING
In American law, anyone can file a lawsuit against you no matter how false or frivolous the claim may be. Access to the justice system is a right afforded to every citizen. Unfortunately many people abuse this right in order to make money off of others. If you are sued by someone, even if their allegations are false, you have to respond to the suit or there will be a summary judgement rendered automatically against you. In Michigan there was a case where a man robbed a store by threatening to kill the store owner and all his employees. He was shot by the store owner and held until the police arrived. The thief tried to sue the store manager for over $100,000 for the injuries he sustained during his crime. However absurd this sounds, the case still had go through all the proper procedural legalities and was eventually dismissed after $7500 worth of attorney fees.
Virginia Law Needs a Makeover
In the state of Virginia (and only in Virginia), where our case is being tried, there is a horrible little thing called a non-suit. A plaintiff can drag you through years of litigation and then on the day of the trial, if he foresees an unfavorable judgement, he can file a non-suit, which in laymen’s terms means a do-over. The plaintiff has 6 months after the non-suit to refile the claims all over again and the ENTIRE litigation process starts from SCRATCH. So any progress made prior is essentially rendered useless and the defendant cannot do anything about it. A plaintiff is allowed one non-suit as a matter of right. It is a legal trump card that many plaintiffs and their attorneys use to bleed out the defendants. On top of that, the Virginia district courts are so backed up with unresolved civil cases, it can take months to schedule a hearing let alone a trial. This is partially why our case has taken three years to even get close to a trial and if we do ever make it to trial, there is always the looming fear of a non-suit.
I hope our brief introduction to civil litigation was educational and informative. http://gofundme.com/savetbt
Some Final Thoughts on Justice
My mom told me a story over the holidays about a man named Michael Morton who was wrongfully accused of murdering his wife and spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. His son who witnessed the murder at three years old was manipulated by the authorities to testify against his father even though the original police report indicated that the child had seen a different man kill his mother. Morton remained in prison until Project Innocence reinvestigated the case and found that the prosecution had hidden a key piece of evidence that would have exonerated him. When he was released, Morton had no anger or resentment. He forgave all those involved in his wrongful incarceration including the prosecutor who hid evidence.
What happened to Morton is a jarring reminder to me that with all of our attempts at executing justice in this world, we are working with an imperfect system run by imperfect people. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it horribly wrong. True, unadulterated justice will never come to complete fruition in this life. By no means should we ever stop pursuing it, but that is the underlying reality that we have to face.
During his time in prison, Morton met God. It was in that place of utter despair and loneliness that he experienced the depth of God’s love. And it was enough. Perhaps that is enough for all of us. To know that we are loved by a good God in the midst of a world that is inherently unfair. To know that justice, however elusive in our current existence, will be rendered by God in the age to come. That the wrongs done to us in this life will be rectified by God in the next.
Bill Maher, in his documentary “Religulous,” said that atheism was luxury he could afford. He acknowledged that he was fortunate enough not to have to rely on a deity for help because all his needs were met. But as for the rest of us, sometimes the hope of God is all that we have to cling to. We are helpless to deliver ourselves out of trouble so we need a Deliverer. That is the essence of being poor in spirit. And from what I’ve read, the poor inherit a kingdom.