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Letter from Ronald Sokol to Daniel Meador, Sunday, January 6, 1991

Ronald P. Sokol
B.B. 3
13540 Puyricard
France

January 6, 1991

Dear Dan,

I have been a negligent correspondent as I have both your
note of July 2nd and your more recent letter of November
27th. I seem to be going through a period when events unfold
at an ever-accelerated rate. I suspect it is related to the
ages of my children, and I am anticipating a slowdown
sometime in the midterm future.

I did get to Lake Lure this summer with my family. We spent
nearly three weeks there, breaking up the visit with a drive
to Charleston, S.C., a city which I had always wanted to
visit. I was fascinated by Charleston and deeply regret now
not having visited it long ago. I am thinking seriously in
fact about returning there this summer for a month, renting a
cottage near the ocean and going into Charleston to visit.

I apologize for not having phoned you, or anyone else for
that matter. My four boys and wife are extremely talented in
filling my time to the exclusion of everyone else.

I am glad you enjoyed my article on the law-making process in
France.

I would like very much to see your book on the American
courts. I am sure it will be of significant use to beginning
law students. I am more sceptical [sic] of its use to foreigners.
Looking at the American legal system from the perspective of
someone who lives and practices outside of it, I wonder how
any foreigner coming out of a non-English system can make any
sense at all of our legal system. Understanding the legal
system really requires at least a rudimentary understanding
of how the society functions.

The power and independence of a federal judge are [written above is]
inconceivable in French terms, and the result is that a
Frenchman, even one with a reasonably good understanding of
American life, is not apt to believe that the executive
branch cannot determine the outcome of the judge’s decision
in a case of sufficient importance.

[end of page 1]

A French magistrate is under the hierarchy of the Ministry of
Justice, much like a U.S. attorney in the U.S. If the AG
tells a U.S. Atty. not to prosecute a case, I presume it is
not prosecuted. That type of influence seems to operate here
regularly in cases in which the government has even the
vaguest interest. The judiciary is thus contaminated by the
executive branch.

Of course our U.S. Attorneys have not yet, to my knowledge,
gone on strike. Several times in 1990 the French magistracy
has gone on strike for short periods to protest inadequate
working conditions. That there [sic] conditions are inadequate,
there can be no doubt. While one of the strikes was
occurring I received my Wisconsin Bar Bulletin with an
article about the poor working conditions of judges in many
courts in Wisconsin–one photocopy machine for an entire
courthouse, lack of staff, lack of basic materials, pencils,
paper, etc. I found it ironic that this was happening in my
home state while the French judges were striking about the
same kinds of things. I feel confident, however, that things
are a good deal worse here. It is a very odd feeling to call
a clerk’s office about an important case only to learn that
the judges are on strike and nothing is happening.

After having spent 17 years practicing in this system, I find
myself depressed by the quality of the judicial system. The
range in quality is far less here than in the U.S. Here it is
a uniform C- or D+. In the states I believe it varies from F
to A. Curiously, the same thing can be said about the bar
here. It is far more homogeneous than in the states. It is
uniformly very mediocre. The best people don’t go into law;
the law teaching is bad, and the significant decisions within
the culture are neither shaped nor made by lawyers or judges.
However, the more I ponder these matters, the more I see that
this is not strange. It is our system that is odd. We end up
resolving within the legal system all kinds of problems that
in other systems are decided totally outside the formal legal
system.

I still hold to the observation I made to you many years ago:
That the The French legal system is honest, not priced beyond
the reach of the average person, and relatively quick, at
least in comparison to other legal systems. Those seem to me
to be such tremendous virtues that one is compelled to speak
of the system with respect. And that despite its biggest
fault which is the fact-finding process. The process is
terribly primitive, and no serious fact-finding really takes
place, at least not in American terms.

–2– [handwritten pagination]

Of course this is the reverse side of the coin of the system
being reasonably priced. Resolution of a factual dispute by
litigation doesn’t cost very much, but the product purchased
isn’t very much better as a system than flipping a coin. The
system works reasonably well in applying the law to whatever
the facts are determined to be. If one has a case with no
factual issues, just legal ones, then the system is fairly
reliable. However, such cases are few.

I look forward very much to reading the one-volume collection
of Hardy’s papers. As I recall, Hardy did not write a great
deal so the volume should not be too thick. I have Hardy’s
picture on the wall of my office in his judge’s uniform
decorated with what he called “some silly Belgian lace”. I
occasionally turn to it and wonder how he would handle the
problem I have on my desk and which particularly perplexes
me.

I wish we had a complete video set of all of his contract
lectures. Such a collection would be worth more than the
discovery of a new star. I can still hear him describing the
concept of consideration by contrasting it to a promise to
give his overcoat to Tim the Beggar near Mincer’s Pipe Shop.

My oldest son is now 18. He finished Winchester College last
July and has been at Harvard since September taking a course
in American literature and microeconomics. He returns to
London this month and is scheduled to begin an English
university, hopefully Cambridge, this Fall. He claims to want
to go to law school in the States after completing his
university studies in England. Lloyd Weinreb at Harvard whom
I met here in Aix-en-Provence last summer has been extremely
kind to him, and he has sat in on a few courses at HLS.
Son Number 2, who carries your name, is now 12 and has
returned to England this year and is working to try to get
into Winchester College like his brother. He has not yet
indicated his direction, but is a serious boy, and I am
hopeful that he will do well.

I have made a New Year’s Resolution to write and publish an
article before the end of 1991. I have not published anything
in about 5 years, and I do not want to lose whatever touch I
had. You may recall last year the protests that swept through
[“several” struck out] England, France and a few other countries concerning
the right of high school girls from fundamentalist Muslim
families to wear a scarf known as a hijab while at school. I
collected a fair amount of material on this, thinking that I
would do an article on it. In fact, it is such a difficult
subject. I may yet decide to drop it and do something else.

– 3 – [handwritten pagination]

I am also tempted to do an essay of reflections of a
comparative law type, kind of random insights. I suspect,
though, that such an essay would be very difficult to
publish.

I am glad to hear that Louisa Dixon is back working with you.
Please give her my best regards. I enjoyed talking to her
again last summer and meeting her when she came through Aix.

Please let me know both when your American courts book and
Hardy’s papers come out.

My very warmest wishes to you and your family for 1991.

[handwritten signature]

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