Thursday

National Consumer Protection Week, Day Four

Do you care about your constitutional right to carry a gun? Did you know that there's another constitutioal right being taken away everyday - and you don't even know it is happening? More about that in a minute.

This is day four of National Consumer Protection Week and we are continuing our week-long series on common consumer frauds and scams, with tips on how to make sure you don't become a victim.

Monday we talked about the latest car dealer scam that we are seeing often in Ohio and elsewhere and Tuesday it was about the hassles of debt collector harassment. Wednesday it was the dangers of Identity Theft. Each day we explained the subject and gave tips on how to avoid it. Today we turn to something new. Something you probably don't even realize is happening to you.


US Bill of Rights in National Archives
There are lots of news stories about the controversy over gun control right now. When you hear all the debate, you quickly realize that there are lots of people who hold tight to the notion that they have a constitutional right to own a gun because of the 2nd Amendment. No matter which side of the argument you are on, most folks don't realize that there are other constitutional rights that are slipping away every day and which can hurt you just as bad - maybe worse.

The US Bill of Rights consisted of ten amendments to the US Constitution in 1791 that were intended to protect what the founders called the natural rights of liberty and property. Fundamental to those ten rights were the right to bear arms (2nd Amendment) and the right to trial by jury (7th Amendment). Both of them have to do with self protection.

They believed in Jury Trials
Our nation was founded on laws and the checks and balances of our social and legal system. The founders had seen the effect on Justice of Judges who made decisions that were influenced by their relationship to those who put them atop their benches. That's why they created the right to a jury trial in the 7th Amendment - to protect citizens from the dangers of judges beholden to unaccountable others and who were out of touch with the common citizenry.

"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved....."

That means you have a right to have a jury of your peers decide your case when you are in court. Well, that's what it meant and what it ought to still mean too. But not always anymore.

Over the last two hundreds years, you have steadily been losing that right as big business and elected officials beholden to special interests have chipped away at it for their own self-interest and benefit.

Why Trial by Jury Matters. Big Business knows something you don't. Most lawsuits in this country are not people suing people anymore. It's one big business suing another big business over their big business interests. It's all about the money.

And Big Businesses are in the courtroom all the time and they have learned something from it. And they've learned how to use what they learned too. And it won't be good for you.

Predisposed Judges Can Hurt Justice
Judges were lawyers first. And lawyers are trained to be analytical, skeptical, inquisitive, and doubting. They want strong proof of answers to questions, not just simple answers. Big Business saw that because Big Business was in the courtrooms of America every day.

Because of their legal training and their practical experience which hardens that training even more, Judges risk becoming too skeptical and doubtful. And too easily favoring the defendant in civil cases.

And now the Courts say that Big Business can donate money to political campaigns and keep their identity secret. Politicians that are bought and paid for aren't public servants. And Justice isn't blind when it's bought and paid for either.

Can Money Influence Justice but Not Influence a Jury?
The danger to the common man? Simple. Many people believe that after they are elected, politicians are often beholden to those who supported them and whose support they will need when their re-election campaign comes up. And if the donations are secret, you will never know who is buying who - or not. The average guy and gal can't contribute a lot money to politicians - but Big Business can. And the defendant in a courtroom is often Big Business itself.

People say that guns matter because it makes them safe. Well, the right to a trial by jury matters because it is the only thing that has a chance of keeping people honest.

Trial by jury - more important than the right to bear arms? Yes it is. Why? The right to own a gun is the right to use violence when justified. But the right to trial by jury can decide if you were justified at all in the first place. If you lose the right to have your neighbors and other citizens decide if you are innocent or guilty, or if you owe someone else money, or are being ripped off by someone else - if you lose that right, your guns won't matter.

We are a nation of laws first. If you don't have the right to equal treatment before the law, you lose. The only way to make sure you get equal treatment is to put that power in the hands of the citizenry - a jury of your peers.

How are you losing your jury right? It happens every day in little ways. Big Business with its big bucks in donations, realizes that judges may favor them over the lone individual who is just trying to get by in life and has no spare money to donate to high-cost political campaigns.

So Big Business puts into its contracts and sales documents what they call jury waivers and binding mandatory arbitration clauses that they later use to stop you from having a public trial by jury. And most people don't even notice it.

A jury waiver is a sentence or clause in a contract that says you agree to give up your right to have a jury decide if you are telling the truth or not in a dispute that may arise in the future. And you sign it before you even know a dispute exists.

Arbitration Clauses Close the Courthouse Door in Your Face
Binding mandatory arbitration is a clause in a contract that says you agree not to sue someone over anything that happens and that instead you will let a hired person decide in a private room where no one will know what happened or who won or lost and they can make the decision on any basis that they want. And you sign it before you even know you have a dispute. You promise never to go to court at all.

More and more consumer contracts have jury waivers planted in the fine print. You should wonder what a business is afraid of letting a jury find out. If they are honest and fair, they should not be afraid of a jury. But they are.

More and more consumer contracts have binding mandatory arbitration clauses too. You should wonder what a business is afraid of having come out in a public courtroom. If they are honest and fair, they should not be afraid of an open courtroom. But they are.

How can you keep your rights?  Read carefully everything you sign. If you see a jury waiver, take your ink pen and draw a line right over top of it, to strike it out. If you see an arbitration clause, take your ink pen and draw a big "X" right over top of it, to strike it out. Don't agree now - to what Big Business can use later to hurt you.

And if the business says you have to go along with the clause and they won't let you strike it out? Take your business somewhere else. There are plenty of businesses out there that don't require you to give up your right to a jury trial just to buy their product or service. They are run by honest and hard-working people just like you.

For more tips on understanding arbitration clauses and fighting back go to ArbitrationSucks.com.

Get your rights back. Stop going along with jury waivers and arbitration agreements that some businesses and merchants are sneaking up on you with. You want to protect yourself with your guns? You better start protecting yourself with your right to a jury trial too - or no one will be there to listen to you or help you find justice when you get ripped off.

Burdge Law Office
Helping consumers protect themselves everyday.