“Hand over the drives or you are going to jail.” I am in a courtroom and this was happening to me.
Did you know that, in Syria, over 80,000 people have died. For comparison purposes, the death toll in Nagasaki was 60,000 to 80,000. Nagasaki is now in history books. Syria is happening now… just now.
I am, of course, not comparing my situation with that of civilians in Syria, but bare with me – I do intend to make a point.
My parents brought me to the US when I was 12. And, until recently, most things just kinda happened. I wasn’t a dumb kid, so had decent grades. My parents took amazing care of me, so I grew up healthy and well adjusted. Life just happened – I was at the right place at the right time, that is until I wasn’t.
It happened slowly. First, college. Then living on my own. And then, a series of events putting me here now with one primary thought: I, along with everyone around me, am responsible for the way the world is and will be. And it isn’t perfect. And it will require work. And it will not be easy. But all of it: the good, and, especially, the bad, is and will be our fault.
Let’s get back to that courtroom. Five policemen behind me are indifferently waiting for a judge to give an order to put me in jail for Contempt of Court. Judge Curran is glaring down at me: “Your choice. Either hand over the hard drives or you are going to jail.”
Massachusetts Civil Procedure Rule 26.b.1 states in part:
“Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action,”
Judge Curran, in a previous hearing, verbally recognized my concern that defendant gaining access to my hard drives would violate the rule in granting access to privileged and irrelevant information. And then there is the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized
So, in principle, the Court should issue a protective order that would limit defendant’s access to information, which is relevant and not privileged. But, that’s in principle. Practice, however, is a different matter.
“Hand over the drives or you are going to jail.”
I’ve already filed a number of motions to get the Court to follow its rules of procedure. I can file another, or I can file an appeal. And while I am somewhat curious about experiencing the jail system first-hand, missing meetings would let down my partners and freak out my parents… not to mention that I borrowed a friend’s car and making her trek out to Woburn is selfish. Note to self: if there is a possibility of jail, get driven and free up the calendar.
I hand over the hard drives.
So why did this happen?
When the conflict with my business partners at JoVE began escalating, I consulted with a lawyer who, having heard my side of the story, chuckled and responded with “Well… how much justice can you afford?” My business partners are paying $400 an hour to a lawyer out of company finances (i.e. my money is going to a lawyer to act against me). I have no income and am working on a new venture holding to an entrepreneur’s diet. How much justice can I afford indeed?
At first I hired a lawyer to navigate the conflict a bit. Paid enough to get a car (small economy number, but still) – it was good education about where all those lawyer jokes come from. So now I am pro se. Pro se is when you represent yourself.
So: I am not a lawyer, I am going against a very reputable president of a law firm, and the court doesn’t seem to like pro se litigants. All that said, there is something that is in my favor: I am right and they are wrong.
It comes together…
And so, as I handed over the drives, it all came together – that thought floating about crystallized: I have a role and responsibility in the system. Men and women better than I worked hard to put together this society. And they did a good job thus far, but they didn’t finish. No one ever will. Our society is always in flux and it will be what we will make it. And I am a part of this system and I have a say.
So what sort of world do I want to live in? Is it one where one “affords” justice? Or one that is actually just? The choice is mine and I can do something about it.
If I want the system to be just, to treat pro se litigants with respect, to renders justice irrespective of whether you can afford an expensive lawyer, it’s not enough for me to point fingers. I must act and exert pressure to help shape the system into one that has the values that we all believe to lie at the foundation of our society.
Is it convenient? Not exactly. But then my great grandfather was hauled off nightly to be beaten by the KGB, so it’s a bit of a silly question.
And this connects to Syria… how?
We are a generation that doesn’t have the luxury of becoming dismissive and cynical. Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and a plethora of companies have sprung up and changed the world almost overnight. Heck, I was lucky enough to co-found JoVE.
And the world has problems: healthcare, poverty, education, etc. Next to what’s happening in Syria, my little scuffle with my business partners and an attempt at a scuffle with the US judicial system is negligible. But it made me realize this one important thing – we can influence everything that happens, and so everything is and will be all our fault. To quote Virgin Airlines, we are all in this together. And something about that is at once terrifying and amazing.