“…What if he’s hired for a government job?”
This is a great question, and I’m going to bedevil the lawyers in my upcoming ethics seminars with it. It’s not a hard question, though.
The answer is, “No, it doesn’t matter, just as it doesn’t matter if the lawyer is a Republican, a vegan, a libertarian, a creationist, a global warming denier, an Adam Sandler fan, a Donald Trump loyalist, a Muslim, an ISIS sympathizer, a Druid, a Celine Dion worshiper, a New York Yankee fan or anything else. Lawyers have First Amendment rights. Lawyers can think what they want to, believe what they want to, donate where they want to and spout whatever unpopular or offensive opinions they want to, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their representation of their clients.
What prompted the question was this post on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) website, which attempts to use guilt by association and classic McCarthyism tactics to smear the City of Baltimore because of what the lawyer defending it in a law suit believes. The SPLC—which itself often resembles a hate group–writes,
Attorney Glen Keith Allen, 65…has a long history of supporting one of the most notorious hate groups in America, the neo-Nazi National Alliance (NA)…Allen’s history with organized racism and anti-Semitism is deep. Records obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) show he was a dues-paying member of the National Alliance for years. Allen was also a subscriber to the NA’s racist publications, purchased entrance to a Holocaust denial conference the group held and bought a Holocaust denial DVD the group sold…A simple search would have revealed that he has made political contributions to a racist political party, the American Eagle Party (AEP) National Committee, according to FEC records. An offshoot of the racist American Freedom Party, the American Eagle Party is run by perennial fringe presidential candidate Merlin Miller. Miller traveled to Iran in 2012 to promote a film project. In an interview with Iran’s Press TV, Miller claimed the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Allen also appears to be an officer in the AEP. A post on the neo-Nazi web forum Stormfront identifies him as the group’s national secretary, though he is identified in an AEP newsletter as the group’s “Vice Chairman/Parliamentarian.” The party was promoted heavily on Stormfront last year. FEC records show Allen is the AEP’s largest contributor.
All of this is an unethical tactic to impugn the City of Baltimore’s position by attacking the absolutely irrelevant political activities, philanthropy and beliefs of its lawyer, none of which is remotely relevant to anything, including the matter of how good a lawyer he is. I often rail here—yes rail, because it is maddening that so many citizens are so ignorant about the legal system—about how the false idea that a lawyer necessarily approves of or personally supports the objective or beliefs of her clients is harmful to the justice system, and that lawyers who perpetuate this fallacy are cynically misleading the public, because they know better. Do you think the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t know that this kind of attack is baseless and dishonest? And that what it is doing here is even more ridiculous than than that: it is arguing that a client should be held accountable for the beliefs, words, objectives and motives of the client’s lawyer!
Would evidence relating to Allen be admissible in the Baltimore law suit’s trial? No; in fact, a plaintiffs lawyer mentioning anything about Allen’s politics would probably cause a mistrial. Only one thing matters: how good a job attorney Glen Keith Allen does representing his client. If he wins the case, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Satan worshiper. If he loses, it is no consolation to his client that he is a devoted husband, a loving father, a hard worker, devout Christian, Scout leader, soccer coach, generous with charities, representing dozens of poor clients pro bono and his bar’s Ethical Lawyer of the Year.
What’s unethical, based on what we know, is the SPLC’s disgraceful effort to tilt a lawsuit by attacking the lawyer representing the side it opposes, misleading the public by implying that a litigant’s case should be judged by the private life of its lawyer, suggesting that the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to lawyers, and that groups like the SPLC get to decide what political beliefs a citizen can hold without penalties.