Edited from the original publication on July, 2012
Words, powerful tools in service to all masters whether just or unjust, define us as a nation, as a people. If we are to be seen as just, then, those words must be based on truth. If our democracy is to survive, we can do no less. My experience with our system of justice may serve as one example of what can happen when words are used in service to powerful interests and justice is rationed and partial.
I have been an artist all my life and worked evening in data entry and processing centers, primarily, to support that love and to raise a family. My first and only paid job painting was for two years with a photography supply outlet from 1999 to 2002, and this involved painting mural-size backgrounds, many 10 X 20 feet, for approximately $10 / hour. I developed a line of over 50 “products” and, in the first year, painted well over 75,000 square feet of canvas and muslin.
The physical work was demanding and the work area, a store warehouse, required that I move inventory in an effort to clear space for painting. During one of these times, on March 2, 2000, as I moved a heavy barrel of scrap canvas, a 30-40 pound bolt of rolled canvas dislodged and hit my head from behind, snapping my neck back. As there were murals to complete on a deadline, I stayed in spite of initial dizziness to finish the work. The pain came in the weeks and months following, from what was diagnosed as concussion and cervico-thoracic dysfunction. My employer encouraged me to submit a claim, which the insurance company admitted.
By summer, there was tingling in the pads of my feet, numbness in my toes, tremors and progressive symptoms. As a consequence, my doctor ordered me off work for two weeks in August 2000. By January 2001, my left shoulder was weak with decreased range of motion. I was disabled for more than a month and receiving temporary total disability (TTD), which was underpaid at a time when I needed therapy and chiropractic treatment to prevent a frozen shoulder. With no relief and struggling to pay my bills, I was forced to return to work and file a claim petition for the underpayment.
When the IME, or “independent medical examiner’s,” report was untimely filed by the insurance company, an objection was formally made, received and recorded. When the case was finally heard after a failed settlement and delays, my letter of objection to those reports and errors, was offered in evidence and denied. Instead, the judge gave deference to the insurance company’s paid medical experts’ opinions by making them “findings of fact;” though, by law, it was in the courts’ discretion to refuse these reports.
In addition, the judge took it upon himself to falsely claim that there was a head injury and other apparent injuries at the scene of an unrelated auto accident in 1993 by making this another “finding of fact”. In truth, at the scene of that event and at the direction of the police officer, I had driven my car home with no visible injuries. No conventional chiropractic or medical treatment was sought until 1997 when a whiplash injury was diagnosed, maximum medical improvement (MMI) given, with no restrictions required, no disability found or rated, no loss of work, and no head injury.
With each experience, one learns more about the nature of truth and illusion. In my case, crucial documents went missing from the official court file, including my deposition on July 11, 2001. The Court of Appeals’ judgment failed to note two periods of disability and loss of work in 2000 and 2001. My disability rating of 10%, given after this period, by both my doctor and an IME doctor, was ignored; though, by law, the court should have made a determination. Mention of restrictions and disability following the work accident, ongoing therapy from 2000 and legal parameters were disregarded.
The final judgment affirmed by the Appeals Court and the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed the insurance company to abdicate its contractual obligations for an admitted work injury and a legitimate temporary total disability claim. Retroactively the courts declared that MMI had been reached only five months after a traumatic injury in the workplace, when I was disabled by it and getting therapy as a consequence. In effect disability, restrictions and medical care payments from the work accident were denied based on the lower court judge’s opinion of a pre-existing head injury, which did not have factual basis.
My fight for justice, eventually pro se, took me four long years and left me jaded concerning our for-profit health care system and the courts. It was disappointing to see doctors forced to walk a line between their practice and getting paid, to see funds that should have gone to my care going to pay the profit-makers and their support systems. As a consequence, I work within my restrictions when possible, and without because I must. The symptoms have stabilized, I could no longer work painting murals and had to leave that job … my intention tremors remained.
Though my condition could have been worse, it most definitely would have been better in a just system. Being human, I made mistakes, and as an imperfect being, I relied, as many do, on laws that were intended to protect us and to serve the common good. Is this the kind of system we have today under Citizens United v Federal Election Commission 558US50?
When each individual of a corporate body already has a vote and the right to support candidates of their choice, wherein lies this additional privilege of corporations to essentially influence votes in aggregate using money as speech? Did our forefathers have the rights of corporations in mind when they fought and died for freedom?
We have civic duties and limits associated with our right to vote, the political contributions we make, and our speech. Where are the duties, the limits associated with corporate “free speech”? As natural persons, we are born, live, and die; we fight wars, toil, suffer, are subject to laws, and are liable for our words as well as our actions.
Did our forefathers dream of a land where only those who could buy “justice” would have “justice”? Money, by its very nature, procures power and influence and, as a form of barter, it is obviously not free.
In 1787, Benjamin Franklin spoke to this issue in his oration, “Dangers of a Salaried Bureaucracy”:
“… there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice – the love of power and the love of money.”
“… what kind are the men that will strive for this preeminence…? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government and be your rulers.”
“This catastrophe, I think, may be long delayed, if in our proposed system we do not sow the seeds of contention, faction, and tumult, by making our posts of honor places of profit.”
My trial in the worker’s compensation courts was made necessary by a for-profit health care system in which cost trumped the legal obligation to pay a claim, and profit, not health, triumphed. Have we grown healthier as a nation under this system when skyrocketing costs devour income and leave us wanting for basics? When the influence of money pervades our institutions and decides election outcomes, are we free? Money obviously influences, not as speech but as a medium of exchange, making tyrants of those who have it, and slaves of the rest.
Words perverted to serve moneyed interests corrupt our systems of justice and risk the health and sovereignty of nations; and by turning our eyes from injustice and failing to stand for truth, we lose our freedom. For without justice, fairness and impartiality so intrinsically linked to the spirit of legal, political and social equality, we will have democracy in name only.
Edited from the original publication on July, 2012