The eggplant that gummed up the courts
Gian Antonio Stella
Corriere della Sera
Italy’s legal system is creaking at the seams, said Gian Antonio Stella, largely because our courts are clogged with absurdly trivial cases. In the southern region of Puglia, for example, a man has just been acquitted for stealing a single eggplant from a field—after a nine-year legal battle that cost taxpayers about $9,000. Police caught the jobless suspect leaving the field with the offending vegetable in a bucket in 2009. He claimed he’d only taken it to feed his starving family, and the farmer didn’t press charges. Yet he was still prosecuted, sentenced to five months in jail and fined about $600—penalties that were reduced on appeal. His lawyer, incensed at the unfairness of it all, lodged the case at the supreme court in Rome, where it languished for years, until the justices finally threw it out. The court has accumulated a backlog of more than 100,000 of such crazy cases. Most are domestic spats, like the man who sued his daughter-in-law for serving him shop-bought rather than homemade pasta, or disputes between neighbors over such petty things as wet laundry dripping onto the balcony below. No one wants arbitrary limits on court time. But is it really so hard to distinguish between important cases of principle and those that just waste time and money?