Former Civil Justice Foe Sees the Light

Comes the news today that one Mark Hemstreet and his friend Gregg Clapper filed a federal civil rights complaint for damages including economic damages, non-economic damages, punitive damages and attorney fees. The case reportedly arises from a prosecution for hunting license violations out in Eastern Oregon’s beautiful Malheur County.

It’s good that the courthouse is open so that these two aggrieved citizens may seek redress for the wrongs that they claim to have suffered. Federal civil rights laws provide important ways for ordinary citizens to seek relief when government officials act inappropriately, but anyone who has been in the trenches will tell you that they’re hard cases.

There is a bit of irony here. Some years ago, Mr. Hemstreet was one of the leading foes of access to the civil justice system for ordinary Oregonians. In the 1995 legislative session, Mr. Hemstreet strongly supported legislation that would have limited damages and would have barred the courthouse doors for ordinary Oregonians.

Maybe it’s just a simple question of whose ox is getting gored.

It would be interesting to hear today whether Mr. Hemstreet and Mr. Clapper now believe–as do most principled conservatives–that the jury system provides one of the best means of checking abuse of power. That is true whether the abuser is the government, an insurance company, an institution, or a large corporation.

So it will be interesting to see how this case progresses. And it’s good to know that Mr. Hemstreet and Mr. Clapper trust Oregon juries to sit in judgment. As well, it’s good that they feel confident that the court system provides them with a means of getting full and complete justice, based on the evidence that they will present at trial.

David F. Sugerman

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