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In the United States of America, May 1 is Law Day. Our country celebrates the elevated status of the law in our country, not our military prowess.

The foundation of the law is justice. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton stated, “I think the first duty of society is justice.”

An independent judiciary and the right to a jury trial under the Constitution protect the rights of citizens. A criminal defendant’s guilt is usually decided by a jury of their peers. Liability and damages in civil litigation can be decided by fellow citizens.

Please thank any friends, families, or co-workers who have sacrificed days or weeks of their time for jury duty to preserve this important right for you!

Justice in McLean County has benefited greatly from the efforts of all of its judges, under the leadership of Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb, to provide opportunities for justice through innovative alternatives to litigation.

Divorcing parents without an agreement must mediate their child-related disputes, mutually working to provide the best solutions for their children under difficult circumstances.

Larger civil lawsuits are subject to mediation requirements, and medium-sized lawsuits must be arbitrated prior to trial. Small claims mediation, under the guidance of Judge Lee Ann Hill, allows unrepresented litigants with claims of under $10,000 to work out a solution with a lay or attorney volunteer.

Criminal defendants involved in the legal system because of substance abuse can utilize the Drug Court, presided over by Judge Scott Drazewski.

The Drug Court has had remarkable success in steering persons away from criminal conduct through its combination of counseling, weekly court sessions, employment and peer support. There have been no subsequent convictions for the first 22 graduates.

The Recovery Court, supervised by Judge Rebecca Foley, will provide the same opportunity for persons with mental health issues.

A Pakistani International Friends student stated that the two things he was most impressed with in the United States were the people and justice.

In Pakistan, justice is for sale; some of the stories about women being mistreated by the legal system were mischaracterized as anti-female when it was rather just a rich male defendant buying off the judge. Monetary disputes are rarely taken to court, for obvious reasons.

Such injustice is not the standard in our country, and certainly not in McLean County. I can’t attribute any of the results of the judicial decisions I’ve been involved with over the past 29 years to a lack of integrity by the presiding judge.

For Law Day 2011, the bar associations around the country are celebrating John Adams and his legacy. “The colossus of independence,” according to Thomas Jefferson (whom Adams helped to assign the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence) was instrumental in appointing George Washington to lead the Continental Army. Prior to the Revolutionary War, John Adams, without any objection from his special wife Abigail, refused to abandon his advocacy for justice in the Colonies to take a special colonial judiciary position, one which would have afforded the Adams family great financial benefit.

John Adams defended British soldiers in Boston in 1770, because justice required that all defendants receive a fair trial.

Adams’ position is relevant today. Lawyers for Guantanamo defendants have been denounced by persons with political agendas and the media in spite of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that American laws were not being followed for Guantanamo defendants.

John Adams’ “Thoughts on Government” and “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” were instrumental in establishing a firmly independent judiciary. The core of Adams’ concept was three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial, including a clear separation of powers.

Adams’ writings were clear in emphasizing that an independent judiciary was absolutely necessary if the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the new Constitution would endure.

Since the enactment of the Constitution, decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have been both a protector of constitutional rights and a proper check against inappropriate legislation or actions by the president.

Today, the independence of the states’ judicial branches is being eroded by media campaigns and judicial election campaigns supported and funded by interested parties, on both sides.

An estimated $3 million was spent in the 2010 election in a contest over just one seat on the Illinois Supreme Court. Mining interests tilted a West Virginia Supreme Court election. April’s Supreme Court election in Wisconsin was more a mandate on the sitting governor than a vote for judicial merits of either candidate.

Please take time on this Sunday, in church or at any time during the day, to be thankful that our country is a nation of laws, and not of people, founded upon justice, as intended by John Adams and the other Founding Fathers.

-- Bloomington attorney Dan Deneen is president of the McLean County Bar Association. He  has practiced law in McLean County for 29 years.

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