Sue The Bastards - A Student's Do-It-Yourself Rape Charge
Denied Justice, She Uses Obscure Law, As Prof Did To Defeat Spiro T. Agnew
It's also a great illustration of the motto "Sue The Bastards," says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who helped popularize it, and frequently had his law students practice it to obtain justice.
Indeed, he says, this is very much like the situation when his students used an ancient legal principle to sue former VP Spiro T. Agnew to return to Maryland all of the money he had taken in bribes - even though the state had refused to bring any action against Agnew to recover the money.
In Smith's case, she relied upon a law, dating back to the 1800s, which allowed citizens to summon a grant jury when prosecutors refuse to bring criminal charges which are warranted.
It was originally designed to let citizens, rather than engaging in vigilante justice, initiate criminal proceedings against saloonkeepers when local prosecutors refused to use the criminal law to enforce temperance laws.
In the Agnew situation, when the former VP was permitted to plead guilty, but not required to relinquish the money he had admitted receiving in bribes, and Maryland refused Banzhaf's request that the state sue Agnew to recover it, his law students relied on a centuries-old legal doctrine which permitted citizens to sue on behalf of entities unable or unwilling to sue on their own behalf.
To Sue the Bastards successfully, one often must be creative in using the law, says Banzhaf.
His first legal action, fresh out of law school, forced radio and TV stations to broadcast hundreds of thousands of antismoking messages for free - a move while for the first time slashed cigarette consumption, and eventually led the ban on cigarette commercials, and then bans on smoking in workplaces, public places, and even in private dwellings both here and abroad.
Banzhaf's legal complaints forced major male-only clubs to admit women, TV stations to permit Black reporters to appear on air, an all-male state-owned college to admit its first female student, and much more.
More recently, his formal legal complaint triggered a wide ranging criminal investigation of former president Donald Trump in Maryland.
Suing the Bastards is a powerful weapon to fight wrongdoing and achieve justice, Banzhaf said, and sometimes the only way to succeed.