The degree to which the average American, even the average educated American, even the average educated and rational American, is ignorant about the ethical mandates and structure of the legal profession and the justice system is by turns shocking, depressing, and frightening. The consequences of this ignorance, for which the legal profession itself is largely to blame, bursts forth in all their ugly splendor after the acquittal of a Casey Anthony or, even more disturbingly, a George Zimmerman. Well meaning members of the public, who are nicely represented in this Ethics Alarms thread, think they are declaring their support for justice when they advocate cutting through all the troublesome bureaucracy and making sure what “everyone knows” is the correct result happens, and process be damned. Just do the right thing! How hard can that be? This blogger, for example, has it all figured out. Leave it to him and people of a like mind, and we’ll have a police state in no time.
Making this false analysis plausible is the ancient distrust of lawyers, the profession whose other label, “attorney,’ comes from an old French word for “one who is trusted.” There are bad lawyers, corrupt lawyers and incompetent lawyers out there, no doubt about it, but they are a very small percentage of the profession as a whole. The rest worry about and think about what is right and wrong, I think, a lot more than other professions, and one of the reasons they don’t work as hard as I think they should to educate the public about the legal system that serves it is that the legal profession detects no hint that non-lawyers, after centuries of bias and misconceptions, are capable of learning. Maybe they are right.
Today, on XM-Sirius’s MLB channel, I listened to two commentators mocking the fact that Yankee star Alex Rodriquez, now appealing a long ban from the sport because of his alleged steroid use, has hired the famous defense lawyer Joe Tacopina to face down Major League Baseball. Naturally, the two radio jocks agreed, this proves that Arod is guilty, after all, look at the other clients Tacopina has represented. “This guy defended Van der Sloot!” one of them crowed. ( He is the man suspected of killing teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba. ) “What does that tell you?” And they laughed.
It tells us this: Tacopina is an excellent and courageous lawyer who knows that the clients who are assumed to be guilty (like Alex Rodriguez: I think he’s guilty as hell) are also the ones whose rights are most likely to be trampled on and violated, and thus the individuals most likely to be the victims of a miscarriage of justice. Judging a lawyer to be an unethical professional because of the character of his clients is cognitive dissonance at its worst and most deceptive, because it is usually the best lawyers who represent the worst clients….and also the most vulnerable clients. They don’t like these people (necessarily) or what they may have done. They do honor the system that requires a stringent process before taking away a citizen’s freedom or property.
Every criminal defense lawyer cherishes Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2 b. which says,
(b) A lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.
Yet so many people seem incapable of accepting this; they just can’t get their heads around it. I know it drives lawyers crazy.
- Alex Rodriguez has the right to avail himself of every legal remedy and defense, just like you.
- Innocent or guilty, it doesn’t matter: he wants to avoid serious penalties for what he did or is accused of doing.
- Biases are powerful, and there is a strong human tendency to assume that anyone accused of wrongdoing is a wrongdoer. Overcoming those biases requires a great deal of skill.
- The lawyers who have acquired the most skill in overcoming those biases are, naturally enough, those who have honed their skills representing the clients who generated the most bias against themselves.
- These lawyers are, therefor, the most likely professionals to be able to protect the rights of any client, guilty or innocent.
- The fact that Rodriguez has hired a lawyer with remarkable success in defending infamous clients, therefore, does not mean that he is guilty, or that Tacopina likes to help bad people. It means that he wants the best available lawyer to ensure that he is treated fairly, and someone with Tacopina’s record is such a lawyer.
Plus the fact that Arod can afford him.
He charges over 700 dollars an hour.
OK, maybe Joe’s not likely to be your lawyer after all.
But if you could afford him, you’d want him.