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How to Legal: Identifying real problems in the U.S. legal system to combat fake news and misinformation

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Threats to federal judges have increased 400% in the past five years (2016-2021). Dark money & funny business.

Welcome back to How to Legal where you’ll learn how to use the good side of the Internet to combat the dark side, in this era of fake news, misinformation, disinformation and/or defamation against ethical judges and innocent people.

To simplify, hereinafter, "fake news" refers to "fake news, misinformation, disinformation and/or defamation." 

First, we’ll look at some of the real problems and challenges facing the United States justice system so you won’t be duped by the fake ones. Then we’ll shine a light on real solutions to the real problems, and wrap up with a legal open source primer to get you warmed up.

Yes, there are real problems that need to be fixed, but they’re not going to be fixed with people wasting time and resources, freaked out, fighting over fake news that creates more problems that need to be fixed.

On that note, the problems and solutions we’re looking at today include:

  1. fake news and defamation means more injured people, lawsuits and criminal indictments.
  2. the Declaration of Independence; words can lift people up, and words can kill;
  3. fake news and threats against judges + solutions; and
  4. the unethical, oath breaking, law breaking judges. Dark money and funny business that’s potentially influencing court decisions and thwarting justice + solutions;

The good news is the solutions to fix the problems in the U.S. justice system (real news) are peaceful, and they simultaneously combat fake news. There’s more good news.

Supreme Court Justices are also waving red flags about problems with the court. Here, in this example, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is waving a red flag.

You can read and listen to his full address at, “Justice Clarence Thomas says Supreme Court ‘may have become the most dangerous’ branch of the government,” by Bryan Metzger and Oma Seddiq, at Insider.

There’s a lot of information here, so pace yourself. You can bookmark How to Legal and come back. If you aren’t interested in the real problems and solutions, scroll down to a legal open source primer to get warmed up.

It’s towards the bottom. Thanks!

Okay, let’s do this.

Problem. Fake news and defamation = more injured people, lawsuits and criminal indictments

For starters, at the criminal level, people who were induced into action because they acted on fake news were arrested while terrorizing innocent people. This cannot continue if you want to live in a civilized society. This FBI Intelligence Bulletin shows you examples of some cases where this has happened.

Unfortunately, that number will likely increase this year because more people who believed fake news, acted on it, and have been charged with crimes and misdemeanors. This trajectory is going in the wrong direction.

How to Legal Fake news

Some of the criminal cases include, but are not limited to a father who “killed his kids over a QAnon ‘serpent DNA’ conspiracy,” according to U.S. officials, and over 600 indictments in 40 states stemming from the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capital.

In addition, fake news is not just an American problem. Fake news can spread like cancer. Here in this example, we have another Qanon inspired kidnapping case, this one in France. As the Associated Press reported on October 5, 2021, see:French child kidnap plot shows global sway of QAnon style.See also: Will Sommer, “QAnon Mom Charged With Kidnapping Her Kids,The Daily Beast, March 28. 2020.

Defamation lawsuits

At the civil level, there appears to be an uptick of defamation lawsuits, as the number of people caught up in fake news has increased. This also means more cases for courts with busy dockets.

Tragically, this has included families of murdered loved ones, like the Sandy Hook families and Seth Rich family. This should not be necessary or tolerated in a civilized society. Grieving families should not have to spend years in litigation on top of dealing with their unimaginable, devastating loss because of fake news.

Just the other day I read another horrific defamation lawsuit (60 pages) filed in Pennsylvania. In this case, it’s a supervisor of a voting machine warehouse in Pennsylvania who is suing Donald Trump, attorney Rudy Giuliani, attorney Jenna Ellis, and others, in a defamation and civil conspiracy lawsuit.

According to the complaint the dissemination of “these outrageously defamatory claims and/or insinuations against [redacted],” subjected “[Plaintiff] to threats of physical violence … causing Plaintiff to suffer inter alia two (2) heart attacks.”

Two heart attacks.

Words can lift people up and words can kill …

While people have freedom of speech, people also have the right to be left alone, to live in peace, be happy, and be able to find happiness. What’s happening online with this fake news crisis that’s spilling over into the real word is the opposite of the Declaration of Independence. It’s dangerous.

The Declaration of Independence was intended to guarantee the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The problem is there is no life, liberty or happiness when you are being defamed, harassed, stalked, intimidated, bullied, subjected to abusive gaslighting, and/or threatened, and having to litigate for years in the justice system trying to obtain some relief and redress. See below.

See also, “Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election officials,” in part:

“This might be a good time to put a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ pistol in your f‑‑‑‑‑‑ mouth and pull the trigger … Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”

–ANONYMOUS THREAT TO VERMONT ELECTION OFFICIALS …

In all, they are responsible for nearly two dozen harassing communications to six election officials in four states. Seven made threats explicit enough to put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death, the U.S. federal standard for criminal prosecution, according to four legal experts who reviewed their messages at Reuters’ request.

Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election officials, November 9, 2021

See also: “U.S. election workers get little help from law enforcement as terror threats mount,” Reuters, September 8, 2021

I don’t know about you, but I need a music break here. The cruelty, the terror and pain that people have suffered and continue to suffer because of fake news… There are no words.

For me, my music pic is Portishead – Roads. What’s yours? See: Portishead’s official website.

Problem. Threats to Federal Judges have increased 400% in the past five years (2016-2021)

Another problem facing the courts is there’s been an increase of threats against judges.

A little history here is necessary. In a September 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The Threat to Judicial Independence,” retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor wrote, in part:

[W] hile scorn for certain judges is not an altogether new phenomenon, the breadth and intensity of rage currently being leveled at the judiciary may be unmatched in American history.  The ubiquitous “activist judges” who “legislate from the bench” have become central villains on today’s domestic political landscape.

The Threat to Judicial Independence, Wall Street Journal

Since Justice O’Connor’s 2006 op-ed was published attacks on the Court have skyrocketed.  As CBS’s 60 minutes reported on May 30, 2021, threats to federal judges have increased 400% in the past five years (2016-2021). 400%.

According to ABC News, some experts say misogyny is a part of the problem. Tragically, one judge’s son was murdered.  Now Judge Esther Salas fights for better protection for judges who are doing their jobs.

But it’s not just the judges who have to worry about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. Judges safety concerns can affect you even if you have nothing to do with the legal system.

Why? Without judges faithfully and impartially discharging their duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, there is no justice, and society can devolve into chaos.

See for e.g.: National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, and Summary of Terrorism Threat to the U.S. Homeland

To wit, fake news and threats against ethical judges must not be tolerated in a civilized society.  It must not be tolerated against anyone.

Solution. The Rapid Response Guide to Fake News, Misleading Statements, and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary and How to Legal

To help combat the fake news problem against the judiciary, the Committee on the American Judicial System (“Committee”) created the “How-to Guide for Rapid Response to Fake News, Misleading Statements, and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary.”

This rapid response guide was created to:

provide a mechanism through which a bar association and members of other constituencies can provide timely responses to the serious, unjust criticisms of judges and the judiciary, to fake news, or to misunderstandings about the role of a judge or the judicial system. The focus of these responses is to provide the public with information to help them better understand the legal issues related to a specific situation, including the role of judges, the application of the law, and the restrictions and responsibilities placed on judges in the canons and rules.

Committee on the American Judicial System

In brief, the Committee’s mission is to protect “judicial independence and the rule of law. To preserve “fair and impartial courts,” and respond “to unjust criticism of the judiciary and the media.”  Great.

How to Legal: Solutions to Fake news crisis

Problem. The unethical, oath breaking, law breaking judges. Dark money and funny business influencing court rulings

Another challenge facing the courts, and the judges, who faithfully and impartially discharge their duties, and stand firm against corruption, includes the problem within.

It’s the unethical judges who thwart “justice.” These are the judges who abuse their authority and don’t follow the rules. They violate their oaths, and break laws. They may unjustly enrich themselves via dark money, a kickback, a bribe or something that’s influencing their rulings against a party trying to obtain due justice.

See also: 5 Corrupt Judges & The Countless Lives They Tried To Destroy, Crimefeed.

How to Legal: Tilted justice
Justice denied.

It’s such a problem that some lawyers, judges, and journalists, have been waving red flags for years trying to address it. Fix it.

  1. See for e.g.Justice in Jeopardy, Report of the American Bar Association Commission on the 21st Century Judiciary (2003);
  2. Judge Paul L. Friedman, “Threats to Judicial Independence and the Rule of Law,“November 18, 2019;
  3. Alicia Bannon, “The rise of dark money is a threat to judicial independence,ABA Journal, July 5, 2018; and
  4. Michael Berens and John Shiffman, “Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,Reuters, June 30, 2020.
  5. James V. GrimaldiCoulter Jones and Joe Palazzolo, “131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest: The judges failed to recuse themselves from 685 lawsuits from 2010 to 2018 involving firms in which they or their family held shares, a Wall Street Journal investigation found,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2021.

In addition, it’s the oath breaking, law breaking judges who give the public a legitimate reason not to trust the justice system.

Further, just like fake news increase court cases, the unethical judges increase case loads for their colleagues too.

Why? Because eventually ethical judges, and other officers of the court, will have to clean up the mess created by their oath breaking colleagues and restore due justice to the victims (survivors) of judicial misconduct.

See for e.g., “Texas District Judge Sentenced to Prison [in part for accepting bribes],” Department of Justice, September 25, 2019; “What did former judge Tracie Hunter do? An explainer and timeline,” Cincinnati.com The Enquirer, updated July 24, 2019; and Federal Judge Files Recusal Notices in 138 Cases After WSJ Queries: Rodney Gilstrap initially argued he didn’t violate financial-conflicts law,” Wall Street Journal.

Like all institutions, the justice system is as strong as its weakest links.

Solution. Education, exposure and accountability

All this fake news, reported judicial oath and law breaking, also undermines the public’s trust in the judges who serve with honor and distinction and are broadstoked with the same brush as their unethical colleagues. It’s not right.

The solution?

As elucidated by the Committee is to educate the public about the legal system. Education informs the public about proper judicial procedures. Like everything in life, when you know the right way, you can identity the wrong way.

Solution: Journalists investigating and reporting on potential judicial misconduct

Among the solutions to restore integrity in the legal system is by exposing and holding the oath breaking, law breaking judges accountable.

The good news is there are journalists, lawyers, and law students who are doing this important work.

Following, in part, is how a former chief justice described the justice system to Reuters journalists, Michael Berens and John Shiffman who broke, “Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,Reuters, June 30, 2020.

“It’s a ridiculous system that protects judges and makes it easy for them to intimidate anyone with a legitimate complaint.”

Sue Bell Cobb, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court

Michael Berens and John Shiffman, Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,” Reuters, June 30, 2020.

Senior Judge Arthur Grim is another judge who wants to see his unethical colleagues exposed and held accountable. He’s seen the horrific damage caused by two judges in Pennsylvania against thousands of teenagers.

From Reuters: Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench.”

[Senior Judge Arthur] Grim told Reuters that every state should adopt a way to compensate victims of judicial misconduct.

“If we have a system that holds a wrongdoer accountable but we fail to address the victims, then we are really losing sight of what a justice system should be all about,” Grim said.

Michael Berens and John Shiffman, Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,Reuters, June 30, 2020.

A system to “adopt a way to compensate victims of judicial misconduct,” should also deter future misconduct from the bench like punitive damages deters defendants.

Costa Ivone, a personal injury law firm, provides an in depth explanation on punitive damages if you wish to learn more. You see, you can learn a lot when you How to Legal from some law firms websites.

Punitive damages are meant to punish particularly egregious behavior by the defendant…

Punitive damages are sometimes referred to as “exemplary” damages because they also serve as an example to dissuade the defendant from behaving that way in the future, but more so to deter others from engaging in similar conduct ..

Costa Ivone

One would suppose it’s reasonable to assume that oath breaking, law breaking judges would qualify as “particularly egregious behavior.”

Solution: Lawyers and law students exposing unethical, oath breaking judges

As Reuters also reported, in part:

In another review underway in Ohio, state public defender Tim Young is scrutinizing 2,707 cases handled by a judge who retired in 2018 after being hospitalized for alcoholism. Mike Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University whose students are helping identify victims, compared the work to current investigations into police abuse of power. “You see one case and then you look to see if it’s systemic,” he said.

The review, which has been limited during the coronavirus pandemic, may take a year. But Young said the time-consuming task is essential because “a fundamental injustice may have been levied against hundreds or thousands of people.”

Michael Berens and John Shiffman, Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,” Reuters, June 30, 2020.

Thanks to this important work, there’s hope for victims (survivors) of judicial misconduct while restoring trust and integrity in the legal system at the same time. Thereby, it’s a win, win for everyone except for the oath breaking, law breaking judges.

Now that you know some of the real problems facing the justice system, you won’t mix up real news about unethical judges versus fake news about ethical judges.

I hope How to Legal  will give you an appreciation and respect for the ethical judges, who live by their oaths, and stand firm against corruption. As such, we will be highlighting some of them here.

A legal open source primer to get you warmed up.

Okay, moving forward. Among the scores of open source legal resources I used to learn How to Legal was I watched Moot Competitions to become familiar with legal arguments and process. 

These are mock trials conducted by law students with judges like this one from Harvard Law School. You can do that too.

I also enjoy listening to and learning from “Stay Tuned with Preet.” Preet Bharara is a former U.S. Attorney at the Southern District of New York. With his colleagues, he breaks down “legal topics in the news and engages thought leaders in a podcast about power, policy, and justice.”

You can tune in, subscribe, and read the written their content too.

How to Legal Dance dance
Get up and move!

Okay, let’s wrap this up.

It’s time to get up, stretch and move around before we head over to How to Legal: The Rules. Part 1.

For me, its Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with Ray Dalton, “Can’t Hold Us.” What about you?

Legal Disclaimer

None of the information I publish on this website is legal advice.  This information is for educational purposes, and a public service, to help combat fake news . If you need legal advice, please consult with a licensed professional.

If you are stressed out by fake news, real news, or for any reason, check out Stuff for Stress. I have merch too. Doesn’t everybody have merch these days?

The Break Free from Media Echo Chambers 30 Day Challenge

If you are stuck in a media echo-chamber and need help breaking out, or know someone who is, check out The Break Free from Media Echo-Chambers 30 Day Challenge. It’s time to heal and make fact-based decisions.

There are problems on both sides of the political aisle and real problems that need to be fixed. Acting on fake news just creates more problems that need to be fixed.

If you see any typos or mistakes kindly send me an email so I can fix it. No text messages please. Thank you.

** This post was updated to include, “Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election officials,” November 9, 2021, The Wall Street Journal’s131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest,” and yet another defamation case filed by a supervisor of a voting machine warehouse.