The people's voice of reason

A Grateful Conclusion

This will be my final article for the Alabama Gazette. As I compose it, my mind goes back to the hot August day 3 years ago when I first visited with Loretta Grant to propose this series of articles. I had grown up in Macon County, chosen law as a profession and watched tumultuous changes that had been wrought by law. I had deliberately chosen to stay close to a primary site of those changes. I had served as a circuit judge for 18 years. It had been a great learning experience. I felt burdened by the weight of that learning experience, and compelled to try to share some of what I had gleaned from it. The visit with Loretta was wonderful. What I had thought might be a 30-minute interview lasted almost all afternoon. Loretta graciously agreed to allow me to express my thoughts in the Gazette.

So I’ve had the opportunity now to express my concerns.

I wrote about family breakdown and the threat that it poses to moral formation.

I expressed concerns about the fact that our government placed the handling of the dissolution of a family into the adversarial legal system, where attorneys are “ethically” obligated to zealously represent their clients; i. e. fight it out. Surely there is a better way.

I moved on to discuss the breakdown of moral formation and its relationship to crime and incarceration. I argued that the criminal justice system is working at its very best when crimes are not committed, and success should not be measured by the number of people we lock up in a central penitentiary.

Then something had to be said about the ineffectiveness of central penitentiaries as the primary way of dealing with people who violate the law. It just doesn’t make sense to put all the bad guys in the same place, in light of what we know about the impact of the peer group on moral formation.

If we talk about penitentiaries, we have to notice that there are a lot more black inhabitants than white, and we need to understand why. The answer is available. Four hundred years of slavery and segregation forced the formation of a totally separate culture. The law as it existed during those 400 years did not resolve disputes for the black culture. Law was not beneficial to the black culture. So the black culture developed its own way of dealing with problems. That cultural influence did not disappear just because the evils of slavery in segregation were recognized. The fact that the culture was not closely aligned with the legal system explains much.

Central penitentiaries are not the only places where the continued influence of a separate culture that came into being without meaningful participation in the prevailing legal system is evident.

Law is a prerequisite to economic development. Our black belt counties in Alabama are dominated by the remnants of the black culture. The questionable legacy of the role of law (or lack of a role) in those counties (and elsewhere, of course) poses a major challenge for economic development. The systems of property and contract that are provided by law are essential to economic development.

That is not to say, of course, that the legal system provides perfect solution to problems. Plaintiff’s lawyers thrive on contingent fees while defense lawyers work by the hour. The impact of the economic motives of the legal profession causes the transaction cost of solving problems by utilizing that system to be very high. Such a system cannot address the small problems that plague the daily lives of most people. An effective “legal aid” systems is difficult to imagine, given the impact that economics plays in the system.

So we resort to alternatives for dispute resolution. But when we turn dispute resolution over to arbitration, we privatize law. The public doesn’t know what’s going on. Privatization undermines the normative force that makes law effective. Precedent has been an important part of Anglo-American law. With arbitration, there is no precedent. The people just don’t know what to think!


So I wrote an article describing ignorance as the mother of evil, which I can’t summarize and just a line or two. One thing for sure: most people feel the same way that I do about lawyer advertising, to which I devoted an article.

All of this stuff is not just interesting – it’s mind-boggling. So I took a little time to talk about philosophy and faith. I will always be appreciative to Loretta and Alabama Gazette for providing the opportunity to express these thoughts.

Judge Segrest,

The Alabama Gazette says “thanks” for all the great information you have provided to our readers. You have certainly filled a “needed gap” in todays view of our judicial system. Your insight into these problems shed a light not shared by anyone else. You have been pleasure to work with and hope you find time in the future to make an occasional contribution. Thanks for sharing your views and expertise with us!

Loretta Grant/Sam Adams and Gazette Staff


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