“Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is one of the proverbial sayings that seems to be proved correct by experience of people’s actual behavior.
It was coined by the English nobleman Lord Acton [John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902] in 1857, using similar ideas expressed by several of his contemporaries. It was part of a quote of his opinion expressed in a letter Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
He coined the phrase, but he didn’t invent the idea; quotations very like it had been uttered by several authors well before 1887. Primary amongst them was another English politician with no shortage of names – William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778. Pitt said something similar in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770:
“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”
More than 2,400 years ago, the Greek philosophers Plato (c. 428–347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) wrote about tyranny and the rule of law. In a tyrannical government, the government becomes corrupt and uses its power to further its own interests, instead of working for the common good.
Like Plato and Aristotle, our nation’s founders worried about tyrannical government. In John Adams’ (1735-1826) phrasing of the problem of power, he states, “My opinion is, and always has been, that absolute power intoxicates alike despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats”. Recognizing that tyranny could come from a single powerful ruler or from “mob rule,” the founders wrote into the Constitution mechanisms to prevent tyranny and promote the rule of law. They separated the powers of government into three equal branches of government: the executive (the president), the legislative (Congress), and the judicial (the Supreme Court). Each branch can check the other to prevent corruption or tyranny. Congress itself is divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House, elected for two-year terms, is more likely to be swayed by the passions of the people than the Senate, elected to six-year terms. The Constitution further limits the powers of the government by listing its powers: The government may not exercise any power beyond those listed. The first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, protect people’s liberties and freedoms from government encroachment. In creating the judicial branch of government, the framers gave federal judges lifetime terms, thus ensuring that judges would base their decisions on the law and not on politics.
The judicial branch of government further separates the power of government down through the lowest level of court in courtrooms by separating the duties and powers of courtroom staff, giving the court stenographer, a unique and separate power from the judge. A court reporter does not answer to the judge and is not directly controlled by the judge. The power of a court reporter is separate and apart from the judge, and I would assert, equal to or greater than that of a judge, because a court reporter can essentially overrule a judge’s order to change the record, on their own authority given to them by the state to protect and preserve the record.
The role of a court reporter is to protect the record, and their transcripts transcend the courtroom, where that judge’s rulings in a case can then be overturned by a higher court. This is the reason why judges always say, “The court reporter is the most important person in the room.” It’s the role of the court reporter who serves as the checks and balances in our judicial system, preventing corruption, precisely as the Greeks had predicted could happen, more than 2,400 years ago. For this reason, judges and the judicial council should play no role in minimizing the role that court reporters play in our justice system; it would seem to serve a self-interested agenda. Wouldn’t it behoove a tyrannical judiciate to get rid of court reporters, who are a threat to their agenda, that being one of having absolute power?
Fast forward to our current time in history, members of our judicial system stand at the precipice of absolute corruption and are venturing to drive America into a tyrannical rule of justice.
Case in point.
The country watched as Waukesha County jury convicted Darrel Brooks on 76 charges for murdering six people and injuring more than 60 others in the Waukesha Christmas parade attack Nov. 21, 2021. But what has received very little attention since being initially reported are the missing electronic recordings of his bail hearing on Nov. 5th, when Brooks was accused of running over the mother of his child with the same SUV police said was used in the Waukesha parade crimes. The bafflingly low $1,000 bail amount, even though Brooks was at the time in violation of his bail conditions for a 2020 case where he was accused of opening fire on a family member, was the subject of media attention and they requested a court transcript, only to be told that there was never a record created of the Nov. 5 2021 bail hearing because of a failure of audio recording equipment. Hearings from two other days, before and after, were also not recorded by the court.
Just a year before this took place, Waukesha County removed court reporters from their courtrooms and replaced them with electronic recording equipment, after being warned by the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association of the dangers that ER posed to the justice system. Court Reporters are known as the Guardians of the Record because the decentralized nature of keeping of the court records with licensed professionals, is the most superior way to protect the record. It protects from natural disasters, such as floods, fires, earthquakes, and it also protects from malicious data hacks. If hackers wanted to gain access to all the county’s transcripts and corrupt, destroy, or tamper them, they couldn’t do it, because they’re not there. They are with each of the individual court reporters who are using, at a minimum, 4 sources of backups for all of their court transcripts, individually, and are protecting them to ensure they are not tampered with and changed. The court reporters are responsible for the chain of custody of the record and certify that the record of the proceeding that they reported on their steno machine is 100% accurate.
When Waukesha County adopted electronic recording equipment, guess who was put in charge of the protection of the record? The court became the custodian of the record. That is a huge conflict of interest, which becomes clear in the face of the Darrel Brooks fiasco.
Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano claimed the missing electronic recordings were a result of a “human error” or a “technical malfunction.” Woops! My bad! The resulting investigation has been long forgotten now. It was the fox guarding the henhouse.
What would the judgment against Waukesha County have been in the resulting civil actions for six wrongful death cases and 60 injured victims have been? Settlement awards for successful wrongful death claims have ranged from $1,000 or less to tens of millions of dollars. With 6 victims, the county could have been bankrupted with hundreds of millions of dollars in just settlements. What those victims’ families needed was that transcript of the judge’s negligence in letting him out on $1,000 bail.
I don’t believe for one second that 3 days of recordings of hearings was “human error” or a “technical malfunction.” I believe it was intentional evidence tampering by the guilty party, who happened to be in charge of the evidence, and who had everything to lose if that evidence was not destroyed.
This is Tyranny. This is absolute corruption. This is where our justice system is heading, unless we stop it, unless we fight to keep human court reporters in charge of protecting the record.