If we prosecuted perjury in this state, it’s the only thing we’d ever get done; which might not be such a bad result in the end, when one considers how many atrocities are perpetrated as a result of the courts not caring about perjury. For more than 20 years I’ve sat in family law courtrooms and listened to people weave their tales of treachery. I think I’ve developed a pretty good nose for distinguishing between the liars and the exaggerators, but I am still amazed at what people get away with in court. The hours that I’ve sat in the Santa Monica Courthouse, listening to absurd stories have given me a treasure trove of material for an eventual book.

The calculus that judges must engage in, is a balancing act of ferreting out credibility in the face of highly emotional testimony. It’s hard to see past the crocodile tears and impart a malevolent agenda to a person who is possibly traumatized, or merely a good actor.

But that is why the court system is set up the way it is. We have an adversarial system that is, in theory, designed to sniff out the truth, and if not punish the liars, at least reduce their credibility to zero. Sadly, the system often fails because, for the moment, it is still reliant upon humans, and frankly we’re less than reliable. Humans have biases and prejudices that influence our view of the facts and who is credible, which leads us to be incompetent truth seekers.

I started my journey in the field of law thinking that I could play my role as an advocate for one side in a conflict. It was my belief that if both sides had competent counsel that the truth would win out – and I continue today to hold that belief – however I am much more skeptical these days that it will happen, as I’ve seen the way the courts are biased.

I was very excited to see the movie Brian Banks. It’s the story of one man’s relentless fight to clear his name after the system failed, and he lost 11 years of his life. Brian was a top choice for colleges and eventually the National Football League when he was playing for Long Beach Poly High School. He grew up in Long Beach and had a burning passion to be in the NFL. Unlike many dreaming youth, he was actually on track to make it, when ‘she’ entered the picture.

Her name was Wanetta Gibson, and she lied about being raped by Brian. No one but her knows exactly why she lied, but the controls in our system that are supposed to prevent this type of injustice didn’t work. The district attorney ran with their usual overcharging to force the defendant to take a plea. The defense attorney that was supposed to defend Brian, failed miserably in their job, and basically was of the “bleed ‘em and plead ‘em” mentality. No one did their job in this case, and a young man’s life was irretrievably altered.

The movie stars Aldis Hodge in a standout performance of amazing depth as Brian Banks. Greg Kinnear plays the California Innocence Project attorney who takes up the banner for Banks in a role that should have had greater impact, especially for such a talented actor as Kinnear. Overall this movie was definitely worth watching and is a damning take on the judicial system that far too often is more concerned with clearing dockets and playing to stereotypes, than in find the truth and justice.

One of the saddest elements of the movie for me, was the futility that was faced by Banks, and is still faced today by any former felon who is looking for work, almost no one would hire him. As a society we make people “pay their dues” by their time in prison, but we don’t actually let have redemption. We make it almost a certainty that someone who is convicted of a felony will have to re-offend just to survive, because they cannot become employed. There are many reasons for this vast unemployment problem but primarily it is the insurance companies that are behind this as a way to limit their liability. It is yet another failure of our system to properly address major issues, and instead we rely upon this absolutist thinking that accounts for none of the grey in life.

Banks has gone on with his life and is now a father and professional speaker who has worked in and for the NFL. I hope to one day meet him, shake his hand and tell him in person what an inspiration he is to the power of persistence and maintaining a positive mental outlook.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist.  He welcomes your questions and comments.  He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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