News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A nation of shams

I look up laws a couple times of week. I have held offices in organizations that require reference to laws on corporations, civil rights, and liabilities. It is necessary to reference laws in the correspondence we write and in supplying information to boards and committees. The Internet is a huge boon in looking up laws because most states have their codified laws available to call up. It saves trips to law libraries.

The other day I went to South Dakota's state website that I have bookmarked and wanted to look at the wording of a law. It used to be simple. You clicked on the Legislature and then clicked on Codified Laws and you had a menu where you could either call up the list of titles or enter a law number, if you know it. But the other day someone hid the damned laws. I was confronted with a new website that did not give the vaguest hint as to how to find the laws.

I spent some time browsing and found at the top of a page a little tab that says Know Your Government Agencies. I tried it and then found a link to the Legislative Research Council. They now have the laws tucked into their website niche.

But once you find the laws, you have another problem: finding a lawyer who can advise you on getting the rights and protections that the laws ostensibly provide you. Over the years I have had numerous occasions to ask for legal help for myself or organizations I worked for when civil rights were violated and when laws have been violated. In other states where I have worked , one could find lawyers who knew the laws and would aggressively pursue the legal processes to apply them. In South Dakota, I have had quite a different experience.

In a case where some money was wrongfully taken from me by a state agency, l had the laws and regulations and the evidence on my side. i went to a lawyer. He did not wish to pursue the matter, as he said no judge would put the case on the docket. The money amounted to only $54, but the petty bureaucrat who took it violated two state laws and the administrative regulations of her agency in taking the money. I thought the lawyer maybe did not want to handle a case that involved such a paltry sum of money, so I tried the legal process myself. The state's attorney dismissed the matter without any explanation of why the laws that were violated did not apply. In fact he cited some federal regulations that had no relevance to the situation. The legal system made a strong point to me. The laws may be on the books, but they are meaningless.

That's why when someone says we are a nation of laws, I tend to giggle and snicker and chuckle a lot. We are a nation of shams. Or at least a state of shams.

Recently, I have been involved in a case where defamations in the form of libel are involved. The state law says everyone has the obligation to refrain from defaming others It carefully defines slander and libel that make up the forms of defamation. The law also says that every person has the right to protection from personal injury by defamation. But just try to find a lawyer who will pursue a libel case. They are quick to point out that it is a difficult process and not very lucrative to pursue a libel case. One would think that at least the courts could tell slanderers and libelers to stop. But that is not the case. Those laws that appear to protect people from damaging falsehoods are shams.

Perhaps they are worse. The South Dakota code has laws against deceit. But that very code has laws that deceive people into thinking that they have protections against malicious insult and defamation and live in state where some concept of justice applies. The tort code on libel and defamation is in itself a fraud.

I have other examples of where what the law states is contradicted by how the law is practiced. When it comes to laws of personal responsibilities and rights, we are a state of frauds. And that says a great deal about the actual quality of democracy we claim to be. In open government and personal rights, we are state of systematic delusion.

Is that cynical? You bet. But if there are any judges or lawyers out there who would like to prove me wrong, I would be more than happy to hear from them.

Until then, I will lobby our legislators to purge the South Dakota Codified Laws of the sham and fraud. But in a state that lives in delusion, even suggesting that kind of honesty is futile.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Try to find a South Dakota lawyer who will represent you if you know a SD judge who makes decisions in cases where he or she has a personal interests which should disqualify him.

Try finding a SD Bar Association that thinks violations of Bar provisions that seem to bar lawyers from citicising judges should be enforced if the lawyer happens to be Bill Janklow attacking the Florida Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, the SD legislature specializes in writing laws that appear to protect rights, but which in fact are meaningless unless they can be twisted to benefit a large corporation or an influential.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States