Ernie Mullins Has a Question for Steve Zack!

Apparently tired of publishing my pal George L. Metcalfe’s “Messages from Leesburg,” the Florida Bar News has turned to Kissimmee lawyer Ernest J. Mullins for some fresh insights:

Here’s my question to Mr. Zack: “Hey Steve, when you were coming over here from Cuba, how many southbound rafts did you see?” Oh, and then there’s this: “We cannot fight to establish the rule of law around the world and watch it jeopardized in this country. When 80 percent of poor people, mostly women and minorities, have no access to the court system, we do not have the rule of law.”

Will somebody tell me what that even means? I go to court every day. I’ve been going to court every day for the last 25 years. I don’t know how many millionaires I’ve seen in there, but it’s not too many. When I go to court, I see mostly women, poor people, and minorities in there. Where is this 80 percent coming from? Is he kidding? Nobody, in 25 years, has said to me, “Gee, I tried to get into court on this, but they turned me away because I live below the povery (sic) level, and I’m a minority.”

Hmm, I only practice logic irregularly, but isn’t this a classic argument by anecdote (there’s also some argument by personal experience).

Here’s what one smart guy said about this form of argument:

Argument by anecdote is when you prove a point with a story.  It is a very compelling argument, because people like stories about other people more than they like cold, hard facts.   Too often, though, the argument by anecdote is used when the facts are stacked heavily against a position.  If you don’t have the facts, tell a story.  People will believe the anecdote because it demonstrates what they themselves believe to be true.  That’s why you’ll find more arguments by anecdotes proffered by those on the losing end of the “facts” battle.

I did exactly 23 seconds of Google research, and came across this March 16, 2011 ABA publication, “The Growing Crisis of Underfunding State Courts,” which has very few personal anecdotes but lots of pesky things called “facts”:

The ABA’s Task Force on the Preservation of the Justice System, co-chaired by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, has been investigating the under-reported but increasingly serious problems resulting from the underfunding of the nation’s courts. Today, as part of that on-going effort, we are releasing an informal survey of American Bar Association members that helps quantify the problems experienced by citizens and all persons seeking justice in jurisdictions around the country. The systematic underfunding of the country’s courts causes delays in court proceedings, loss of staff and reduction of services. It prevents court cases from being heard and leads to delayed justice.

So the ABA has a whole task force studying this issue — who knew?

Another four seconds of research and I came across this, from October 2010, reporting on the results of the World Justice Project’s new Rule of Law Index:

 [A] world-wide survey unveiled Thursday morning . . . ranks the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens — and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.

Particularly when it comes to access to and affordability of legal counsel in civil disputes, the U.S. ranks 20 out of the 35 nations surveyed, below not only developed nations but also such countries as Mexico, Croatia and the Dominican Republic.

The results are from the World Justice Project’s new “Rule of Law Index”, which assesses how laws are implemented and enforced in practice around the globe. Countries are rated on such factors as whether government officials are accountable, whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights, and how ordinary people fare in the system. The index will expand from 35 countries to 70 next year.

The lowest-ranking countries in this year’s survey included Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The U.S. didn’t lead the world on any of the rule-of-law measures, ranking near the bottom of the developed world on most — including even fundamental rights. But the most striking findings related to access to justice for ordinary people.

So we beat Nigeria and Pakistan! I’m glad things are ok at the local courthouse in Kissimmee.

But I guess it’s everywhere else that people seem to be worried about.