Legal system should operate fairly, quickly

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By John Baker

In a recent column, retired Judge Don Rushing correctly stated that it is the people in the judicial system who are the problem, and not the system itself.

However, in that same column, Judge Rushing appears to disparage the people’s right to criticize a system that is clearly broken, regardless of the reason.

To emphasize my point, let’s take a look at the case that dominated the news in the days immediately following the publication of Judge Rushing’s column. It was a case from Utah concerning a murderer named Ronnie Lee Gardner.

On Oct. 9, 1984, Gardner robbed and murdered Melvyn Otterstrom, placing a pistol to one of the man’s nostrils and callously pulling the trigger.

Gardner was captured and held for trial, but on April 2, 1985, while being led into the courthouse, an accomplice slipped him a pistol. Gardner brutally shot attorney Michael Burdell through the eye. Burdell died 45 minutes later. Gardner then shot and critically wounded court bailiff Nick Kirk, who never fully recovered. Kirk suffered in constant and debilitating pain until his death in 1995.

On Oct. 22, 1985, Gardner was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the first murder, and to death for the second murder.

For nearly 25 years, the families of the victims waited for justice to be served.

Otterstrom was dead. Burdell was dead. Kirk suffered a slow and agonizing death. And still, the families waited for justice.

Repeated appeals kept Gardner alive.

Finally, early Friday morning, Gardner was executed, and I fully believe that he now is in permanent residence in a much warmer place.

But the underlying issue remains. It took nearly 25 years. Why can’t the system get the job done? Criminals laugh at the system because, to use Judge Rushing’s own words, the “people in it” make it fail.

Judge Rushing notes that the solicitor is not a part of the judiciary branch, but rather a part of the executive branch. Accepted. It really does not matter. It is the legal system that is failing.

Playing games with words, as Judge Rushing has done, does not solve the problem. It merely serves to confirm the people’s worst opinions of government in general, and in particular, the “legal system,” of which the judiciary is a part.

The inability (or perhaps, unwillingness) of the legal system to reform itself is leading the public toward taking the law into their own hands.

I would prefer a legal system that operates fairly, openly and promptly.

However, if the legal system cannot or will not take the steps necessary to meet those objectives, then eventually, the public will take whatever steps it finds to be necessary and appropriate for its security, whether or not those steps meet with judicial approval.