Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate enough to be actively involved in a number of professional organizations designed to bring justice and civil rights to the people of California. My work has included membership and or appointed positions such as President, Vice President, and Board of Governors in organizations including:
- Consumer Attorneys of California
- Alameda-Contra Costa County Trial Lawyers Association
- Trial Lawyers for Public Justice and Public Justice
- American Arbitration Association
- American Association for Justice
Today I am beginning a new chapter of advocacy in my career. I am proud to have recently become involved as a member of the National Crime Victim Bar Association (NCVBA).
Violent Crime in California
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) within the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), violent crime statistics are compiled for crimes including: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
Although FBI statistics reflect a slight drop in violent crimes over the course of the past decade, violent crime still remains intolerant in our communities here in California and across the nation.
The National Crime Victim Bar Association
My membership and support for The National Crime Victim Bar Association is an effort to meet and address the challenges faced by victims of violent crime in California. The NCVBA is an affiliate and program of the National Center for Victims of Crime. Founded in 1999, the NCVBA launched the first professional association of attorneys and expert witnesses "dedicated to helping victims seek justice through the civil (justice) system" in the United States.
Violent crime victims often suffer severe physical, emotional, and economic harms. In many cases, the debilitating results of violent crime leaves victims in precarious positions in which they are fighting to escape in order to return to a semblance of a normal life. It is the purpose of the NCVBA to utilize the civil justice system as a means to hold accountable those parties responsible for the victims’ suffering.
Civil Justice for Victims of Crime in California
Along with a number of my peers in the California legal community, I have pledged my support in the publication of an informational pamphlet, compiled by NCVBA, with the purpose of:
- Providing victims and service providers with a rudimentary understanding of the civil justice system
- Raising awareness that victims of violent crimes in California have the right to "seek financial compensation from perpetrators or other parties" whose unreasonable conduct resulted in "conditions which allowed the crime to occur"
- Documenting the resources necessary to find help in utilize the civil justice system as a tool for compensation
Benefits of Filing a Civil Lawsuit
After going through the traumatic experience of being victimized in a violent crime, many victims simply wish to do whatever it takes to put their tragedy in the past. Often times the effort to move on and heal requires far more than a short memory and a willingness to forgive. In many instances, victims require medical care, psychological treatment, and rehabilitation services long after the event. In addition, many victims want to ensure that no other individual falls prey to the same crime. Often the final overriding desire is to publically hold accountable the perpetrator(s) or other parties as a show of strength and commitment to protecting their civil rights and that of others. All of these reasons are important in the decision to move forward with a civil lawsuit. Equally important are some of the other benefits to utilizing the civil justice system.
Civil Law vs Criminal Law
According to the NCVBA, one of the biggest reasons victims sue perpetrators is the control civil court provides the victim. In civil court: "victims have greater control in a civil suit than in a criminal case because they are a party to the civil case, (victims) cannot be excluded from the courtroom, and have final approval of settlement proposals." Another appealing difference is the fact that in civil court defendants (perpetrators) found liable are accountable to their victims and must pay their "debt" to the victims directly rather than to society as a whole.
In the criminal justice system, defendants are held accountable for their "crimes against the State" and the civilians within society. The penalty a defendant faces is prison time as their restitution for their actions. In this setting, victims do not receive compensation that could help provide the resources to restore their lives.
An example of the stark differences between criminal and civil justice systems was illustrated in the infamous O.J. Simpson case. Although Mr. Simpson was acquitted of the criminal charges leveled against him, he lost a substantial civil suit where a civil jury found Mr. Simpson liable for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. The civil jury ordered Mr. Simpson to pay $33.5 million to the families of murder victims Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.