Legalese — Source Documents and Fake News

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The internet is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, we have access to unlimited information from literally wherever we sit.  On the other hand, we have access to unlimited opinion from literally wherever we sit.  It is often difficult to tell which is which.  People in positions of great authority speak opinion as it if were fact, and people who ought to know better say things that are objectively untrue.

One of the places where this happens most often is when we are talking about laws and lawsuits and other legal-related topics.  It is also one of the places in which you can rather easily find out for yourself what the truth is, often without getting up from your chair.

All legislation, from the minute it is proposed to the minute it is signed by the Executive authority, and all variations in between, can be found on line.  In Georgia, you can find it here:  http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/default.aspx.  You can find federal bills here: https://congress.gov/.  If you live in a different state, a simple search for “[state name] legislation tracker” will likely get you where you need to go in a matter of seconds.  You don’t need to be told what a bill says, you can read it for yourself.  Try it.  You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how different the actual words in the bill are from what your favorite pundit or yelly uncle tells you they are.

Lawsuits and criminal cases take a little more work, but you can get the source documents as well.  Except in the case of rape or child molestation or domestic violence or situations like that where there are legal reasons to protect the identity of the victim, all court documents are public record.  That means anyone (even my teenage children, who I have occasionally sent to the courthouse for me to get records when I need them for work) can simply go to the court clerk’s office and ask to see any file.  You can get copies of the documents in them, too.  You don’t even have to have a good reason.  This means that if you’re nosy and you want to find out what happened in your neighbor’s divorce or when your cousin’s kid got arrested, you can just go to the courthouse and look at the paperwork.  Really.

You can also do an open records request for things like police reports and other government documents.  And here’s where the great part about the internet comes in.  Odds are, if this is a newsworthy case, someone else with more time than you has already done this and slapped up what they found on the internet for you to see.  With a few targeted keystrokes, you can find it.  For example, when I learned that Congressman Devin Nunes of California had sued Twitter and Twitter accounts called Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom, it sounded fake to me. I did not have to drive to the Henrico County Circuit Court in Virginia to find out the truth, because someone else did and put it up on the web: https://www.scribd.com/document/402297422/Nunes-Complaint-3-18-19.  I can now draw my own conclusions, and so can you.

The point is this: it doesn’t matter what your political beliefs or philosophies are.  You are entitled to your own opinions.  You are not, however, entitled to your own facts, especially when the facts are so readily available.  Seek out source documents.  Fact check.  Then and only then will I listen to your opinion.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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