Audi et alteram partem Audi Alteram Partem © S.J. de Waard

Audi et alteram partem

Private justice can turn on you. Two American lawyers ended up in jail for trying to ruin a school volunteer who allegedly “mistreated” their son. If they had consulted the volunteer and school management first nothing bad would have ensued at all.

Here is one more fantastic story that will hopefully make you think twice about trying to execute private justice. A school volunteer left a boy aged about six years alone for a just couple of minutes. Nothing harmful happened to him at all during this time, but still his parents - two Ivy League lawyers - sought revenge, paying no attention to the volunteer's apologies: "I'll get you" the Mom told the poor volunteer. Court action (!) by the parents, against "the culprit" proved unsuccessful. So they turned to private justice, by secretly planting drugs in the volunteer's car and anonymously "informing" the police about “the volunteer’s erratic driving probably caused by drugs” - deeming themselves legally and “thus” totally untouchable.

This volunteer's total demise and downfall were however forestalled by unusually attentive cops and by vindictive courts who decided to ruin the power couple instead. Still it took a while before the vengeful parents disappeared behind bars, were ordered to pay damages of 5.6 million dollars and were removed from the bar. At the time of writing, payment to the volunteer remains uncertain since the former lawyers have "diverted" their money away from the administration of justice.

Who in his or her right mind goes to such lengths to exact such extremes of private justice, at such risks? How can a completely harmless incident lead to a mentally more or less broken school volunteer still waiting for justice to be done, and to the complete downfall of a power couple, no matter how much they deserve it? Do such lawyers really think they can - or rather could - get away with everything?

As is often the case, audi et alteram partem might have forestalled so much serious harm and suffering. Parents dissatisfied with mere excuses might just have asked all concerned about what had actually happened, from everybody's point of view; including the child, the volunteer and the school management. What rage might have survived such discourse? Why did lawyers "forget" such a basic principle of legal procedure or in fact of procedure in general for that matter? Apart from this, is audi et alteram partem not a basic expression of respect towards others?

And why take such existential risks indeed, as if enormous bad faith had to be revenged? How far out of their minds must these people have been in order to reinterpret a simple oversight as a willful crime against their son? And taking no account of their son's interests either.

Public justice, however, still held these parental perpetrators totally accountable, sentencing them to something like public death. How disproportional is this in turn? But then removal from the bar was unavoidable of course. This may be one lesson to be learnt from this story, certainly here in the Netherlands. A well-known Dutch criminal lawyer extorted 170,000 euros from a more or less penniless whistleblower and got away with a "warning" issued by a "disciplinary court". So crooks may still officially be lawyers, at least in the Netherlands.

As they say: "nothing is so vain and self-serving as the law". How much bad faith and crime is hidden behind such seemingly respectable façades? Legal people are just people of course, good, bad and everything in between, though too many of them think otherwise. Enough preaching for now! Be further edified by an extended version of this kind of lawyers' justice.


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