By Andrea Welker • November 16, 2010•Writers in Residence
When I’m drafting a brief or other persuasive pleading, I like to throw in some unusual references whenever I can, in the form of obscure journal articles, treatises and other secondary resources that expand upon my argument. I imagine that it makes me sound smart, or at the very least befuddles my opponent. Unfortunately, those items are often unavailable when you are two hours away from the nearest law library. Even small libraries are very expensive to maintain for an attorney, as well as electronic research. However, a lack of research materials is the least of the problems concerning resources in rural Kentucky; a lack of local resources both causes and contributes to existing problems affecting an impoverished region of the country. It’s simply a very minor example of the limitations of small town practice, at least when you are geographically too far away from larger cities to avail yourself of urban resources.
One of the worst problems I faced as a young attorney in Appalachia was a lack of resources to help my clients concerning issues of substance abuse. Eastern Kentucky is full of problems, but one of the most alarming of these is rampant prescription drug abuse, and the resources to address this issue continue to be limited. It seemed as though every domestic relations case I encountered included an allegation of substance abuse, almost always in the form of prescription painkillers. I’ve subpoenaed pharmacy records that were simply extraordinary to review, revealing doses of medications being prescribed by licensed physicians that would raise eyebrows even if given to a terminal cancer patient, let alone an individual suffering from minor “back pain.” Yet, it was often difficult to address those issues in court because of a lack of resources to confront the problem. Being in the city, the difference is dramatic. When allegations of substance abuse arise in Family Court in Lexington/Fayette County, there will be random drug testing, and it remains affordable for the parties. The same applies for surrounding counties in Lexington, although those are smaller rural communities. However, in Eastern Kentucky, the resources simply do not exist for regular and accurate low-cost random drug testing. The more reliable hair follicle tests are expensive and the individuals involved are often of modest means, if not indigent, therefore, the tests are not ordered enough. The result is that often times the problems go unaddressed. Treatment is often limited as well, and considering that members of the medical community are contributing to the problem, there are no easy solutions. Drugs are a problem in urban areas as well, but not to the extent it is in Eastern Kentucky; the drug addiction there is truly an epidemic.
On the other hand, in some ways the resources in a small community can be greater. For instance, in a small town, the court dockets are significantly lighter and the pace slower. I can almost always reach an assistant county attorney to handle matters before appearing in court, making the process more efficient. In Fayette County, however, it is more like a factory with an assembly line. I attended “traffic court” a few weeks ago, and stood in line for an hour with the rest of the masses, waiting to talk to one of the assistant county attorneys, who were seated at the district clerk’s desks behind the glass. The guy I spoke with told me I could have cut to the front of the line since I’m an attorney. I asked if that was advisable, considering the crowd. (His answer was no.)
Now that I’m back in Lexington, I continue to have mixed feelings about practicing in Fayette County. In some ways it is more advanced, and in some ways it is so maddeningly inefficient and bureaucratic. But now that my office is only a block away from the law library, I can at least appreciate the unlimited access to research materials. If only I could find parking anywhere near my office…