How to Make America Great Again

Legislatures do perform illegal acts. When they do, it is incumbent on citizens to litigate against those legislatures through the courts. Today the case of Florida's Fair Districts stands front and center -- the historic effort led by Miamian Ellen Freiden to reverse gerrymandered districts in by the GOP -- it is far from the only case.

In the past 25 years, I've been involved in many skirmishes that sought to hold legislatures and local, state and federal agencies accountable to state and federal law.

I am going to spend the entire day, today, as the only unpaid plaintiff from the "public" in a federal court mediation on the particulars of an Everglades case where $880 million was determined to be the "fair and equitable" settlement framework for clean water in the future, as measured by at least another decade.

A federal court agreed with Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe that the Florida legislature, under instructions from then Gov. Jeb Bush, violated federal law when it passed a 2003 law to protect Big Sugar's pollution of the Everglades. Our attorneys still have not received a dime, because the defendants -- the state and Big Sugar -- are still contesting the federal court decision even though Gov. Rick Scott declared "victory" two years ago.

It is not right in the case of attorneys like Richard Grosso, former director of the Everglades Law Center. Mr. Grosso was not only the most effective defender of growth management laws in the state, but also one who was unable to collect attorney's fees when he prevailed in defending the public interest. (Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP legislature solved that problem when they finally killed off growth management law in Florida, the same way mosquito control boards spray for mosquitoes.)

It is primarily a Republican ethos to bitterly complain about the litigious nature of American society, but shouldn't the public be protected when GOP or Democratic legislators break the law? Yes, the attorneys should be paid when they prevail. Instead, in the case of state law, the scales have tipped backwards the other way, often requiring plaintiffs to pay if they lose.

This would be a simple problem to solve if it were addressed as a moral matter.

Not only should lawyers be paid in cases like Fair District, but a fair and equitable society would figure out a way to pay defenders of the public interest during the course of litigation.

Government -- read the Republican legislature in the Fair District case -- spent many millions of taxpayer money. Corporations who intervene to oppose the public spend pre-tax income to compensate its squadrons of attorneys -- who are often paid double or triple the rates of government attorneys.

Through the course of my thirty years as a civic activist, if I made a commission from all the fees generated for lobbyists, consultants, and attorneys I'd helped to generate, by trying to get government to follow its own laws, I'd be wealthy. But I would happier if those consultants, lobbyists and lawyers paid through a licensing fee into a pool that public interest attorneys could access, and when attorneys who represented the public interest prevail in state and federal court just got paid competitively and in a timely manner. Period. Were this the case, ours would be a better state and a better nation.