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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | What am I thankful for? A lot!

Although this year, like many over the course of four centuries, hasn’t exactly been a bargain, Thanksgiving Day 2020 brings us one thing we should all appreciate: hope that we’re on our way to a brighter future.
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Attorney David Betras

For the past 399 years, Americans have gathered together in the fall to pause, gather with friends and family, and give thanks for our blessings. 

Although this year, like many over the course of four centuries, hasn’t exactly been a bargain, Thanksgiving Day 2020 brings us one thing we should all appreciate: hope that we’re on our way to a brighter future.

Personally, I’m grateful for the usual stuff. My spouse, my kids, my relatives — well most of my relatives, anyway — my health, my co-workers, my clients, my boat. And because I’m lucky enough to practice law and oversee elections in the greatest nation on Earth, I’m also thankful for a number of things that impact my profession starting with our electoral system. 

This year 153,610,732 people cast ballots in the presidential election. The result? The 46th peaceful exchange of power in U.S. history. And while baseless conspiracy theories temporarily delayed the transition, Joe Biden will become president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021.  That this always happens without a shot being fired is a testament to the strength of our democracy and the wisdom of the geniuses who designed it.  

I’m truly grateful for and in awe of the election officials and workers here in the Mahoning Valley and across the nation who risked their health and lives to conduct the election in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Their heroic actions ensured that every person eligible had the opportunity to vote and that every ballot cast was counted.

I’m thankful for the rules of civil procedure that require attorneys to present evidence in court that is admissible, authentic, complete, reliable and believable. Under normal circumstances, those rules are the foundation of our legal system.

In the extraordinary aftermath of this year’s election, they also served as an impenetrable wall that blunted unfounded attacks on our democracy. It’s one thing for President Trump's legal team to scream “voter fraud” into TV cameras. As the outcome of lawsuits challenging the results of voting in a number of states demonstrates, their allegations turn to dust when judges demand evidence that comports with the rules.

I also hope you’ll join me in giving thanks for the civil justice system that helps ensure the gifts you put under the tree this year are safe — and that the tree itself won’t catch on fire. 

As I’ve noted in previous columns, lawsuits filed by trial lawyers have saved millions of lives and prevented tens of millions of injuries by forcing companies to pull dangerous toys and other products off store shelves. The fact is, the only thing that stands in the way of companies making and selling things like “Johnny Switchblade,” “Bag O’Glass” and “Teddy Chainsaw Bear” that were featured in a classic SNL skit is fear of litigation. 

Finally, I give thanks for the 1.3 million women and men including my son Joseph, who are serving in the armed forces this Thanksgiving. They protect our freedom, our legal system, our democracy, and all we cherish and hold dear. 

Their courage and commitment are among the blessings all Americans share. 

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.