Page images
PDF
EPUB

their general incapacity and unfitness, they are certainly equalled, in this repect, by the inferior, the Alderman or assistant Justices' court of each state; amounting to several hundreds, and instituted for the purpose of securing to the creditor, a cheap and speedy mode of recovering small debts; varying in amount from the smallest sum, to fifty dollars, and in some instances to one hundred. They are generally, in the larger populous cities, in daily session; and were, no doubt, originally intended to answer the same purposes as our municipal, quarter sessions, or civil bill courts; though generally exempt from the control and inconvenient restraint of jury trial. The presiding officers are usually taken from the humbler walks of the legal profession, and are humble in talent and all useful information— frequently in morals, and always in the extent of their legal acquirements. It matters very little in any of these tribunals, on whose side, plaintiff or defendant, the weight of evidence, justice, or truth preponderates; judgment being awarded in nineteen cases out of twenty, in favour of the plaintiff; who in the language of a late talented writer— "retires with the consciousness of having gained profits and advantages by his superior cunning, and the vanquished, with the disgusting and demoralising conviction, that a tribunal of his country has allowed injustice to be done him."

The following characteristic scene is said to have actually taken place in the office or court-room of Alderman B—s, of the staid city of Philadelphia,

CHARACTERISTIC SCENE. 131

and in a case then before him, wherein the plaintiff claimed a considerable sum for goods sold and delivered; but produced no vouchers, nor examined any witnesses in support of his demand. We will not undertake to vouch its absolute authenticity, whilst we readily give the statement as affording a fair specimen of—" Justice of the Peace law" in America.

After the cause of action had been stated, the following dialogue is reported to have taken place between the Justice and Counsellor N—s, of the Philadelphia bar, who represented the defendant.

Justice B—s.—" Well, Mr. N—s, what has your client to say in this matter?"

Counsel.—" Certainly nothing, Sir; it can hardly be deemed incumbent on him to resist a claim wholly unsupported by testimony."

Justice B—s.—" What, Sir—do you imagine that a man would have the boldness to sue another before me, without some ground of complaint ?— the thing is impossible. It behoves the defendant, therefore, to prove that the plaintiff was in the wrong, and in the absence of such proof, the conclusion of law is against him."

Counsel.—" But may it please your worship, it is both illogical, and illegal, to call upon me to establish a negative."

Justice B—s.—" I call upon you to do no such thing. It is a clear affirmative, viz. that the debt is paid. Every plaintiff has a prima facue case, which must stand good, until something is shewn from the other side to destroy it. I have so decided one hundred times, without exception or appeal. Mr. N—s, judgment must go against you."— And judgment went accordingly.

From this, we shall now turn to another branch of the legal profession—the lawyers and attorneys, who, though altogether separate in the nature and character of their respective duties, are nevertheless held conjointly by the same individual. This practice, so opposite to English custom, is generally attended with inconvenience to a suitor in the American law courts; and apart from the increased profits it may bring with it, cannot prove otherwise to the lawyer whom he may select as his professional agent. It is impossible, that in the clashing of the separate duties of counsel and attorney, that require the former to truly and faithfully expound the law according to his judgment, and the facts submitted to him, on the one hand, and the interests and pecuniary inducements of the attorney, to increase and add to the number and amount of his bill of costs, on the other—to which his duty as an advocate is often made to give way—the interest of the client can possibly be preserved, or at least properly attended to; but that a plaintiff is frequently compelled, against his interest and better sense, to go into court, either as a complainant, or other « ise, to defend some unprofitable law-suit, merely to promote some sinister views of some corrupt or dishonest

AMERICAN LITIGATION. 133

agent, without merits, or the slightest legal justification to sustain his proceedings. Should he on the contrary, fall into hands disposed to deal fairly by him, he will also meet with difficulties from this conjunctive and complex arrangement of the two professions. The lawyer, in order to do him justice, is often obliged to neglect his most essential duties as an attorney, to afford him opportunities to search out precedents, if, indeed, that they are of any value in an American law court, and to make himself thoroughly instructed in the technicalities and legal bearing of every new feature of the case he has undertaken: whilst as the attorney, on the other hand, seeking to perform this equally essential part of his duty, he is oftentimes compelled to lose sight of the necessary share of a lawyer's profession, for the purpose of looking after, and instructing witnesses—copying records—preparing and serving notices, and otherwise arranging with proper care, such necessary evidence as will sustain his declaration, or plea, when called upon to prove, or defend his case, before a court or jury. The result of his exertions are consequently at all times uncertain, and generally unsatisfactory ; whilst a cause is seldom set down for trial, that either party are prepared to go into evidence.

There are generally from two to five hundred cases on the calendar for trial, at the opening or commencement of each term, of the principal state courts of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other populous cities of the Republic; one-fourth of the number being seldom called up for hearing; while the remaining three-fourths are allowed to descend to the next ensuing term—then to the next, and so on ad infinitum, so long as the attorney or lawyer, may assent to the postponement; the client being seldom admitted as a party in any negotiation of the kind, which is generally continued to the period, that no further costs are to be made by the delay.*

The restrictions usually imposed upon every citizen in qualifying for the profession of a lawyer, are so trifling, seldom exceeding three or four years' apprenticeship in an attorney's office—the probationary course of study to which he is supposed to submit, so very circumscribed—the inducements to enter the profession, from the inordinate litigation so prevalent in every part of the United States, so great—that it can scarcely be a subject for wonder, that but few of those evidences of respectability and talent, so remarkable in this influential body in England, are discernible in the American bar. In no part of the civilized world is so much dross, and base material, intermixed with so little

* The average, we apprehend, is nearer to six hundred! The "Bangor Courier," of the State of Maine, one of the least populous states in the Republic, in giving an account of the litigation encouraged amongst its citizens, says; "At the Court of Common Pleas lately held in that town (1836), there were twenty-five hundred cases on the docket; and on the docket of the Supreme Court, which was expected to be held in the same town in the ensuing week, there were sixteen hundred cases I"

« PreviousContinue »