Planning for justice after the revolution

Steven I. Platt, BridgeTower Media Newswires

Bernie Sanders and Steve Bannon meet at the local bar to talk about what they have in common.

“We need a political revolution,” Bernie says, as he did so often during his 2016 campaign and thereafter.

“We are in a war with The Establishment while attempting the deconstruction of the administrative state,” Steve says, echoing his Breitbart-inspired refrain.

“Be careful what you ask for – you may already have it,” replies the bartender, Theodore Caplow, the sociologist and author having some fun in his later years.

There is no evidence this meeting ever took place. But there is ample evidence that it could have occurred.

Particularly in the last year, the world has, at times, seemed to be spinning on its axis and emitting rapid changes, which are not as geographically or culturally confined as they once were. Equally significantly and noticeably the pace of these changes does not seem to be coordinated or even controllable by governments, “establishments,” “elites” or any other human-made organization or entity.

Caplow characterized such changes as “transformative” and describes the events that led up to them as “a revolution against society rather than against the state.” Caplow observed that “every form of personal authority by which social control has in the past been exercised has been weakened and replaced at least in part by a form of bureaucratic regulation” in the 21st century.

That “revolution against society” and the accompanying weakening of every form of personal authority by which social control has been exercised and maintained mostly by men in the past directly accounts for the comparatively recent and sudden willingness of women to now come forward to report sexual harassment. They previously did not disclose these incidents for fear of the repercussions on their jobs and careers over which mostly males had unchecked authority to administer in almost every industry and most of government until recently. Now that the media has highlighted it, the complaints will likely increase exponentially as the culture change accelerates.

Among the relationships clearly altered for better or worse, depending on your perspective, are those between managers and workers, men and women, parents and children, teachers and students, clergy and parishioners as well as politicians and electorates.

Even the most authoritarian relationships – physicians and patients, judges and litigants – are increasingly regulated by third parties and constrained by bureaucratic regulations. We see this in the enhanced regulatory and disciplinary authorities and regimens regulating lawyers and judges as well as the increased “access to justice” accorded to citizens, many of whom can now be seen and heard representing themselves in and out of courthouses.


Skillful management

What this means, according to Caplow, is institutions with reduced authority must be managed more skillfully than those which still have stronger internal authority accepted by its stakeholders. That means the judicial branch of government can no longer efficiently manage its limited resources and those of its supporting agencies and staffs by reacting to societal trends and developments rather than planning for them. It means the leaders of the justice system must accept the need for the same transformation and organizational change that is well advanced in many other private institutions all around us, including specialization and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

The managers and judges of the judicial branch of government should therefore institutionalize the means to continuously recognize and research present and future societal trends and then plan for the impact on the courts. In doing so, judges and lawyers should recognize that we do not have exclusive right, title and interest to the expertise to fairly and efficiently resolve all of our fellow citizens’ disputes and, consequently, justice is not to be found exclusively in our state and federal courtrooms or obtained after costly and time-consuming litigation.

We should begin to plan for citizens to have access to justice quicker and easier than they do today, and we should not in the future restrict its availability only to courtrooms or even courthouses. As we progress through the 21st century, those who will be leading the judicial branch of government must recognize that its mission to serve justice by providing a comprehensive and diverse public dispute resolution service capable of resolving disputes fairly and efficiently and in a manner, that enables the resolution of the dispute to be final and enforceable within a reasonable time. This is more than a trial service. It is a conflict resolution service.


Steven I. Platt, a retired associate judge on the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, writes a regular column for The Daily Record. He can be reached at