This blog post is different from most I author; typically they stem from actual cases, professional experiences, and the corresponding attempt to develop the law and make daily life a little better by culling from such key life and legal lessons. Many of these address firearms law.
Today, however, I was a remote, after-the-fact observer of a long-running, hard-fought and finally decided case familiar to most everyone–the United States Supreme Court’s Heller v. Washington, D.C. (2008). How? On last minute day trip to Washington, D.C., in a chance encounter, I met and had a lengthy discussion with Dick Heller.
Through Mr. Heller’s case, the US Supreme Court decided the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is an individual right, not a collective right of the state or nation. This answered a question existing since the time the framers inked the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The circumstances under which I talked with Mr. Heller are perhaps as unique, improbable, and one of sharp contrasts as the Heller case itself–at a gun show in shadows of Washington, D.C., a place with some of the most restrictive handgun laws in the United States.
The three (3) things I learned from Mr. Heller are helpful–maybe downright inspirational– to everyone involved in law, litigation and on any side of the right-to-bear-arms debate. I believe Mr. Heller and his SCOTUS case embody what is uniquely American and a model for how to view the legal system:
Anyone Can Make a Difference.
When, as a lawyer, I review a SCOTUS case, being admitted to that Court and having filed a Petition for Certiorari, I think of mega-law firms, big business, and although I know better, initially an emergency stay of execution for a criminal.
Time with Dick Heller quickly re-focused to reality–at the end of the day, there is a person with a real problem. And anyone can make a difference and change the law. Dick Heller shows that. Indeed, I doubt Mr. Heller puts any stock on the old adage “you cannot fight city hall.” He did–and won!
He, with skilled counsel, made the biggest development in the constitutional development of firearms law in the time of anyone living reading this blog post. So, “yes”, you may be able to take your case to the Supreme Court. This is particularly the case if the legal issue has broader legal implications to other cases.
Life and Law is a Marathon, not a Sprint.
Most problems, including those of a legal composition, often build up over lengthy periods of time. When such hits a critical mass and a lawsuit is brought, the litigant has often endured hardship and wants and needs closure. However, the legal system, which is often used to unravel complex problems when all other institutions fail (like religion or medicine), is not equipped to turn back the hands of time and undo the problem.
Navigating legal remedies takes obtaining information and often brings in third-party experts. This is to gather evidence to use at trial, usually fixing the problem by some award of money or denial of liability. This takes time, and many litigants often need some time between the filing of a suit and the point of being raw or shell-shocked, also necessitating time. The adage “time heals all wounds” sounds here.
For this reason, and Dick Heller’s case reflects this very point, litigation is a marathon covering a lot of distance and takes a long time. Legal cases are not sprints to a quick finish line as a general rule.
And then when it is over–the judge or jury decides the case - that may only be the beginning, if there is an appeal through the courts and perhaps to the Supreme Court. Dick shared with me that his case was fifteen (15) years in litigation. Accepting this reality makes getting on with life-under-litigation possible.
Everyone Has Problems, and the Response is Defining.
Everyone has a friend of a friend who has a legal horror story. Anecdotally, we observe general dis-satisfaction with the entire process by a wide array of litigants. This is not surprising because the general model of law is based on conflict that cannot otherwise be decided. Both or all sides may think they are right, but generally one side loses.
Nevertheless, Dick is a humble, unassuming, but simultaneously an (extra)ordinary man. Despite prevailing this litigation took a large portion of his adult life. Even the most rational and reasonable amongst us tend to dwell on lost opportunity or time or money with the experience. Nevertheless, we believe the response to any given problem defines us and how we move on (or do not).
In my time with Dick, I found it remarkable that he does not harbor any ill toward any aspect of the legal system. As bad as litigation may have been for him, he has learned a great deal about himself, and instead of dwelling on this, he by all accounts seems to see it as a defining moment for his contribution to law, despite not being a lawyer.
Clearly, even if Dick had doubts about his case at any juncture, they do not leave him with legal baggage today. Instead, they appear to have empowered him. He freely shared with me his views and theories for “Heller II through VI” to do his part to further develop Second Amendment jurisprudence.
Through this blog post, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys hope you gain some insights into the legal system and make the most of it if you are involved in litigation. By way off summary, first, any one of us has the potential to change the law, at the local or state level–any yes even to petition to have SCOTUS decide the case.
Second, law is inherently incongruous with the need for closure by getting a case done. They drag on by design and necessity for a long tome. Find a lawyer you are comfortable with and trust to advocate your legal matter by proxy for you and compartmentalize it off. Go on with life.
Third, win or lose, it is your response to and handling of the legal problem that is key. Even a less desirable result has a point to learn from. Ultimately, you can consciously choose not to use the case as a platform to be an advocate or something similar. Unfortunately, it can also quickly become the last stand at the Alamo. No good can come by making this a defining point to fixate on and remain disenchanted with life.
Dick Heller appears to have made all of the right calls at these forks in the road in the legal proceeding. We could (and should) follow the spirit of how Dick Heller life/legal lessons from his cases’ impact on his life–for the better–now. If you do, you may find your significant problems of life open and afford new opportunities.
This blog post was written by Bryan L. Ciyou, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout State of Indiana. This blog post is not intended to solicit legal services or be a substitute for the advice of knowledgeable counsel.