Is lawyer forgetting that justice starts at home?
COLUMBIA, 5/23/12 (Op-Ed) -- I'm befuddled and irked at a reader post by local attorney and Craig van Matre in the Columbia Daily Tribune. Mr. van Matre is crying out for justice based on many of the same basic principles at work in his dealings with neighbors in the way of his developer clients.

It seems almost -- dare I say -- hypocritical.

Mr. van Matre is not just any developer's attorney, mind you. He is THE developer's attorney, the dark lord of the beleaguered neighborhood battle, a man most feared by the least powerful.

Most recently, he's been verbally body-slamming neighbors and City Council members over the rapid metastasis of Odle Acres, the student "Dormzilla" he represents stomping around the North Village Arts District -- and about to give birth. "What we have up until now is industrial strength stupid," Mr. van Matre said, about Council members questioning his client's sudden decision to build -- yes -- another giant parking garage, this one private on land just steps from residential Hubbell Drive.

"Industrial strength stupid" -- how Mr. van Matre labels questions about his powerful clients' plans -- is not the first brick in the road to justice.

The case of Shakir Hamoodi -- the object of Mr. van Matre's impassioned concern -- may indeed cry out for justice. Mr. Hamoodi appears to have run headlong into the buzz saw that is the Federal prosecutorial system. His crimes may be no more than trying to help his family financially, and preserve their quality of life.

I cannot comment on the particulars of his case because I do not know them well. But I can comment on the basic underpinnings of Mr. van Matre's plea for justice: the idea that someone with far less power has been taken advantage of by someone -- or someones -- with far more power.

"This is an American tragedy," Mr. van Matre writes.

But isn't that what neighbors in the way of his ardently-defended Odle project are saying, as they watch their American dream threatened with destruction? As they try to help their families financially, and preserve their quality of life?

"The result is understandable," Mr. van Matre writes. "But it isn't justice."

Isn't that the cry of people with little power forced to deal with Mr. van Matre's powerful clients? Couldn't that same argument be made about people forced to pay -- and pay and pay -- for the TDDs and the TIFs and all the other taxpayer handouts Mr. van Matre's clients line up for, with little or no accountability at the bar of justice?

"The task before us now -- for which much help is needed -- is to mount an effort," Mr. van Matre says, to change a result determined by a governmental body.

Isn't that what Columbia's citizens have been doing to overturn the Blight Decree, another developer handout?

"We need to think about how," Mr. van Matre concludes, "our laws cause pain and injury without any corresponding benefit."

Yes, Counselor! That is exactly what we need to do, for all people everywhere who face the buzzsaw of the powerful, and must deal with the application of powerful injustices for the rest of their lives.

I am sorry for Mr. Hamoodi, if indeed an injustice has been done. No doubt, justice starts with the recognition that people with less power need protection from people with more power.

But justice also starts on our front doorsteps and our sidewalks and our neighborhood streets.

Justice, in short, starts at home. If we can't recognize it here, how will we ever know when it is missing anywhere else?