Wanting Utah to have a world-class think tank, former Utah governor and now Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt founded The Oquirrh Institute. Only problem was, few people outside the state could pronounce the institute’s name (which it shared with Salt Lake Valley’s westerly mountain range, an Indian word meaning “first light”), and the governor left the state for more world-class opportunities. But the institute lived on, headed up by Jim Souby, and in recent months, became The Park City Center for Public Policy. A recent fall meeting looked at whether the American legal system is out of step with Americans’ desire for the freedom to act reasonably. Souby distilled five points from the panel discussion as follows:
• Although our legal system may often arrive at the right outcome—i.e., the guilty are sent to prison or fined—it creates a burden on people’s freedom to act reasonably because the boundaries are unclear.
• The law has not created clear rules. Rather, it all too often determines things on a case-by-case basis and asks people to “trust the system.” Asking people to trust legal actors—judges and lawyers—is a stretch, and it doesn’t provide predictability.
• In the absence of clear rules, people don’t trust the system and practice not only defensive medicine but also defensive living. By practicing defensive living, enormous amounts of time are spent protecting oneself against potential areas of liability that are kept vague by the courts.
• The costs of not making the rules more clear and predictable go far beyond litigation costs.
• The solution will probably require a major societal shift as people rethink the role of law in our society and realize that clear legal boundaries must be set and a certain amount of risk must be accepted by citizens to live in a society where people are free to act reasonably.