Perceived injustice can lead to violence

“In divorce there is no winning, only degrees of losing.”
—Danny Devito, War of the Roses

You’ve probably heard of the shooting of Family Court Judge Chuck Weller and the murder of Charla Mack. Both crimes (as of this writing) are alleged to havea been committed by Mack’s estranged husband, Darren Roy Mack. Last week, Mack surrendered to police in Mexico and has since been transported to the Washoe County jail. The crimes appear to have been the end result of an otherwise nasty divorce over which Weller presided.

Wasting no time to capitalize on this tragedy, Senate Democratic floor leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in the Senate that “Congress should take immediate steps to try to prevent a recurrence of the Reno tragedy in Nevada courthouses and in courthouses elsewhere in the United States.” He was speaking of the “Court Security Improvement Act,” which was introduced last year. And we all know that federal money spent on state courts’ security is a perfectly acceptable and legitimate issue for the United States Congress to consider. Or perhaps not.

But despite all this hand-wringing angst over this senseless tragedy, most of the reporting missed the real tragedy.

First, if you’ve never been involved in the blinding stupidity that is the family court, consider yourself fortunate. I’d suggest that you’d feel less pain by sticking pins in your eyeballs. (And considering I’m a recovered lawyer, here, I know of what I speak.)

Second, consider that if people are in family court, it’s because a once-loving relationship has spiraled down to the level of Dante’s Inferno. Sadly, it’s about to get worse. Much worse.

Here’s why: We take people who have (in some cases) already developed contempt for one another and put them in this Romanesque coliseum called “family court.” And family court is also a bloodsport.

And we do this because our judicial system in general is considered an adversarial process. Since every other court is run that way, it makes perfect sense to run the family court as an adversarial system as well. Or perhaps not.

We have lawyers who recognize that—while fighting for their respective clients’ rights—the longer the case drags on, the more billable hours accumulate. And of course, the corollary is that the case drags on longer if the adversity (and hostility) continues.

Now add to this judges who reign supreme over people’s lives and their children—people who are already emotionally overwrought, physically stressed, and dare I say, psychologically unstable. So we have the perfect set-up for a happy resolution. Or perhaps not.

Shortly after Judge Weller was shot, a number of anonymous posts appeared in Internet forums with some less-than-flattering remarks about His Honor’s abilities as a family court judge. Two other district court judges issued a statement defending their colleague or at least questioning the credibility of anonymous attacks on Weller. The reality is that the vitriolic Internet posts do lend some credence to this proposition: Whether rightly or wrongly, some people felt unfairly treated by the judge’s decisions. And that’s really the crux of the problem on these Internet sites—the perception of injustice. People don’t often get violently angry if they believe they were treated fairly and without bias.

When emotionally overwrought people already in a bad situation are placed in a veritable combat situation, otherwise normal people can get frustrated.

Add the perception of injustice and frustration gives way to anger. Anger to rage. And we’ve seen where rage can lead.