Getting Past Indifference

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
By George Hatcher

In George’s Point of View

When we are working on a case trying to get compensation for victims of a crash, we find that the court relies on friends and family to paint a picture of who the victim was, and how they used to fit in the world. Of course we all know that every human being is priceless; but it is the court’s duty oftentimes to put a numeric value on a person for the sake of compensation. Some courts can be remarkably indifferent to individuals. I was reminded of that truism when reading the word-pictures rendered by the boyfriend of one of the Kazan Airport Crash victims, Yana Baranova …” an incredibly focused and mature businesswoman. Her colleagues describe her as a “rising star” of their industry, and her drive would have doubtless carried her beyond her own expectations….” He barely glances over this description of her, but in his words, we do see the snapshot of a vital young woman lost in her prime.

Yana’s boyfriend is unaccustomed to dealing with the Russian bureaucracy, and refers to “indifference and a lack of surprise boarding on apathy” and officials who write off that attitude with “This is Russia.” As this young man notes, my experience too has been that Russian courts that can be apathetic.

It is true that the opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy. Elie Wiesel said that, and it is true. Apathy is the callus that has formed—like a healed blister over an injury— thickened, hardened, insensitive tissue formed over a wound to protect it. Over time, it may become expedient for an official not to stop and feel the pain, but it is a tragedy when that happens. Something of humanity is lost. When dealing with government and the courts, one has to remember that they have seen it all, not once but a hundred, a thousand times. Their souls are probably more blistered than your worst blistered feet in new shoes with no socks, worn day after day, in grueling conditions. No wonder they are calloused, insensitive, even hard. It is a grievous fact that too often robes of government, of jurisprudence, which should be worn to empower and embrace the rights of man and the rule of justice are often worn as shields and blades against the individual. For the law to work at its best, it should be objective, but never sacrifice sensitivity to the victims, or the families of the victims.

Sometimes it is up to our lawyers to remind the courts that the best and brightest of the legal profession went into the field because they were idealists who love the law; who stepped into their professions because they wanted to spearhead change for good, rights of man; who probably had specific agendas where they wanted to affect change; who believed they would be more effective than they are; who ran into barrier after barrier and who may have given up; who may have substituted apathy for the appearance of objectivity.

After consulting for forty years on a huge variety of cases, maybe I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve come pretty close. I can’t claim to have a crystal ball, but there’s not a whole lot that surprises me. I’ve developed a pretty good instinct about where and when courts go left instead of right.

In the US, our “rights-based” ethics system means that we all have the right to be treated as equal to others. Other countries may have “utilitarian ethics based on “good outcomes” vs “bad outcomes”, often with the rights of the individual getting crunched somewhere under the wheels of the system.

We can only hope to do our best to represent the individuals who were lost. We can only do our best to remind those who sit in judgement that underneath the armor and callouses we all wear to protect ourselves from being fragile in the face of all the storms of life, that we are all human, all deserving of hope, concern, and ethical treatment.

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