Hello, and welcome to our video on why the courts matter and how to use them. Every branch can contribute to policy change, of course, but in certain instances it's best to start in the courts. Picture this. You're headed for a lovely nature walk. You make your way to the local river, and the river is on fire. This actually happened near Cleveland in the 1960s. The Cuyahoga River fire really happened, and some people say it was the impetus for the Clean Water Act years later. This time you're the first to witness the river fire, and you think there's a chance that a government agency or one in charge of environmental protection or parks failed to do its job. A court can force that agency to do its work. The technical term for forcing the agency to act or not act is an injunction, and the ability to grant injunctive relief is one reason that the courts matter. Keep this protective injunction example in the back of your mind as we talk about other reasons that the courts matter, and then how to use the courts. The courts matter for a host of reasons, today I want to discuss five of those. First, the courts offer a public forum to file complaints. You as the citizen can file a complaint against individuals, organizations, government agencies, and actors. Now as a practicing attorney, I recommend that you seek counsel when you want to file a claim. That is meet with an attorney to discuss it. But you should know as a citizen, that you don't have to be represented to use the courts. That's the first reason the courts matter, you have access to them. Second, courts have to adjudicate legal claims. Now that may sound redundant with the first point, but it isn't. The first point is that you can access the courts. The second is that a judge has to do something once you access the court. The judge has to listen to your claim and issue an opinion about your claim. Third, the courts can call out elected officials. Court sit outside the policy process, judges aren't on school boards or regulatory agencies and judges do get a val of neutrality. That is the judge's job is to uphold the rule of law even if that means ordering someone who's elected to do their job. Forth, courts can help you bring information to light. Courts are evidenced-based. They examine the documents submitted by the parties, like receipts and technical reports of affidavits about who was doing what and when. During the discovery phase of litigation, the parties get to ask each other questions and request documents. They can even ask the court to use a subpoena power to require individuals like corporate officers to share information and explain their reasoning. Even if your case settles or loses, the discovery process can bring important information to light. Fifth, the courts can be a win even if you loose. The [inaudible] article discusses a few of the benefits that litigants can gain even when they lose in court. For example, you can solidify your movements through that court case. Now that we've discussed some of the reasons that the courts matter, I want to talk to you about how the courts work. The IJIS Institutes: Courts 101 is a useful overview of the US court system that I hope you will return to often. So I want to emphasize three points from this report. First, there are many courts and you have to file your claim in the correct one. Courts have different jurisdiction, authority, responsibility. Federal or our national courts hear virtually no family law claims. For instance, state and local courts hear those claims. Divorces, landlord-tenant disputes, car accidents, those are state and local matters. But the federal courts play an important role on issues that we often protest about. Federal courts hear Voting Rights Act claims, and Clean Air Act claims, and Clean Water Act claims. Of course, the United States Supreme Court is the final word on our rights under the United States Constitution. Let's try a thought exercise. You hear that a local company is forcing its workers to work 16-hour days on Saturdays. You think this has to violate some labor law, but which labor law does it violate? If it's a law passed by the United States Congress, then this case can go straight to federal court. But if it's a law passed by your state legislature, this might have to start in state court. Oftentimes it's a mix. The action actually violates maybe a federal law and a state law, even a town ordinance. This is why you should talk to an attorney about your claims. Second, you should understand if any case you're looking at is a civil case or a criminal case. If a citizen, or a family, or a member of an organization has filed the case, then it's a civil case. If the government, the prosecutor has filed the case, then it's a criminal case. Criminal cases are always filed by the government on behalf of us all, whether they're in state court or a federal court. This can get really complicated and police use the force cases because a family might be bringing a case and simultaneously a prosecutor might be bringing a case against an officer. In civil cases, plaintiffs cannot request prison time so the case of the family is bringing against an officer won't include prison time. Prison is reserved for criminal cases, and those always have to be brought by the government. The remedies in a civil case include injunctions as we've discussed, and money. Really, you're asking two questions of any case you're looking at. Who brought the case? Civilians or government. What penalties are at stake? Prison or injunctions and money. Those questions will help you determine whether it's a civil or criminal case. The third thing you should know and probably do is that our court decisions are appealable. Our trial courts at the state and federal systems; these parallel systems are the bottom layer in a three-layer cake. If the litigants don't like the outcome of that initial court case, they can appeal to the next level of the layer cake. You can see more on that in the IJIS report. What I want to emphasize is this, this information about the courts is available to the public, to non-attorneys. I feel like as changemakers, we need to make sure that reports like the IJIS report are circulating so that people feel that they understand the courts and can access the courts, can speak the terminology, can look at a case on the news and determine if it's a civil or criminal, if it's in it's early stages or on appeal. We've created a complicated judicial system, but it remains a public system open to all of us. As Judge Pratt explains in this week's video, procedural justice requires that judges treat us with respect and an openness to our claims. From my experience, they really do. But something is also required of us. We have to understand the courts and use them well. Please remember, the courts belong to you. They can help you change policy, and you can understand their terminology and processes.