A Rittenhouse Verdict Inventory Of Ethics Heroes, Dunces, Villains And Fools, Part I: Not Many Heroes

We should condition ourselves to cherish those public events that lure so many into definitively exposing their character, values and acumen for all to see. The Jacob Blake shooting, the subsequent demonstration and rioting, and the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, all intertwined, constituted such opportunities.

There are very few organizations, publications and individuals who will leave the stage in this annoying act in The Great Stupid drama deserving the designation of Ethics Hero. Rittenhouse certainly doesn’t, and thus the misguided pundits, politicians and others calling him that are dolts. He might be called brave, but bravery without good judgment, skill and experience too often leads to disaster, as it did in this tragedy.

Among the easily identified heroes are, first by several laps, the jury. I thought it was possible that, like the Chauvin jury, the twelve citizens might yield to the unethical public pressure being placed on them and refuse to see the reasonable doubt that made a conviction of Rittenhouse unjust as a matter of law, once the non-felony charges were dismissed. They didn’t yield, and delivered the fair and correct verdict despite irresponsible statements by elected officials who should know better, a less than sterling performance by Rittenhouse’s defense, credible threats of rioting in their community if they refused to follow the Black Lives Matter/Antifa script, and legitimate concerns about their own safety. Also qualifying as heroic are the two high-profile contrarian liberal law professor/lawyers, Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz, who were reliable islands of sanity amid a profession, mine, that has nearly completely lost its ethical bearings as well as its appetite for inconvenient truths. I subscribe to a large and astoundingly active listserv of legal ethics specialists, and despite the obvious relevance of the events during the trial to the topic, nobody, nobody, had the guts to raise them. I presume that this is because those inclined to mouth anti-Rittenhouse talking points knew they would be outing themselves as being politically biased, and those with complaints about the prosecution knew that those anti-Rittenhouse list members would mark them down as likely right wing racists, and snub them at the group’s next cocktail party.

Who else qualifies as an Ethics Hero in this ethics train wreck? I’m open to hearing nominees. A few left-leaning pundits and journalists acknowledged during the trial as the prosecution’s case fell apart that they had helped circulate false narratives about Rittenhouse and sort of apologized. Good: they were obligated to do thisbecause they have been bad journalists. No Ethics Heroes for that.

Nor is anyone a hero for keeping their head while all around them are losing theirs and blaming it on them. I checked: my first mention of Rittenhouse (I had previously pointed out that Jacob Blake’s shooting was well-deserved, not race-related, and that the “mostly peaceful protests” in Kenosha were even less excusable than the other George Floyd Freakout uprisings) was on September 1, when I wrote,

In case you were wondering, Ethics Alarms will have nothing definitive to say about the Kyle Rittenhouse saga, and won’t until I read a trustworthy account of what really happened. There seems no question that the original mainstream news media narrative that this was a white supremacist gun nut hunting peaceful protesters is the MSM misbehaving again. The backlash characterization of Ritterhouse as a brave citizen protecting local businesses from rioters also seems overly convenient. The video available suggests an element of self-defense, but it seems clear to me that the kid irresponsibly placed himself in a perilous position while provoking members of a less-than-rational mob. In the situation he voluntarily placed himself, Ritterhouse was likely to be killed or kill somebody. He was also violating the law by carrying his weapon when he was underage. Of course, the failure of the Kenosha police and the state to keep minimally endurable order also added to the deadly conditions.

Yes, yes, I know that the underage gun carrying charge was eventually dismissed. Still, I can stand, and will, on that early commentary, which should have been the norm rather than an exception. I don’t deserve special credit because so many other people a lot more influential than me made asses of themselves.

Four days later, having seen what was available in the videotapes and done some research, I had come to some conclusions, writing…

I just read a thread on Facebook entirely populated by people I knew, some of whom have unfriended me. They are mostly lawyers, and after reading what was written, I could only comment that their conversation was deranged. I didn’t feel like arguing with people who could really write that if the Democrats didn’t win in November, Americans would lose their civil rights (when it is the ideological compatriots of these individuals who are stripping away the rights of free speech and association, championing race-based policies, and condemning the President for insisting that universities observe due process when a student is accused of sexual misconduct. How can they write that? What happened to them? Then there was the section of the thread in which they discussed that the President was certain to refuse to leave office if he is defeated, and my personal favorite, the assertion that those defending Kyle Rittenhouse are racists.

These are lawyers. They were taught about the requirement that every individual has a right to a fair trial, which means that he or she must not be pronounced guilty in the court of public opinion before all the facts are known, and proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They should know, as I do, D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2 (b), which says, “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.” Moreover, it is very likely that Rittenhouse, if he is ever tried, will be found not guilty. Did these deranged lawyer watch the video? I hope not, or they have really lost it. Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, and appears to be in the process of being railroaded by a racially biased justice system in Wisconsin, driven by the media and uninformed public opinion. I’ve seen the video. I’ve also been a prosecutor. I would not charge him, just as would not charge the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. I’ve also been a defense attorney, and  I would take on Rittenhouse’s defense confident that I had a winning case.

Now on to the “Dunces, Villains and Fools” in Part II…

7 thoughts on “A Rittenhouse Verdict Inventory Of Ethics Heroes, Dunces, Villains And Fools, Part I: Not Many Heroes

  1. Glenn Greenwald, as usual, has covered this fairly and well. He has also admitted that his early perceptions, based on news coverage, pegged the kid as guilty. He watched every minute of the trial and, as a result, put the blame for the train wreck where it most belongs: with the media.

  2. When are you going to start a Vlawg on Youtube? These WordPress posts can be whole shows and you could monetize them so you wouldn’t be working in vain. Law channels are really interesting and an ethics/law channel would be excellent. Plus, aren’t you a showman/theater guy? Would be perfect.

  3. What is disheartening is the media that is still trying to sell the story that Rittenhouse shot three black men. The proven facts make difference.

  4. Aside from a hundred other things that can be said, opined, claimed, or whatever else, on this one single point I do not think anyone can honestly say that Kyle Rittenhouse was not courageous to take the stand in his defense. He testified not for a chip on his shoulder, but for his life. Yes, he made a mistake out of poor judgment, but who of us does not make regrettable mistakes out of our own poor judgment? No other human being, regardless of color, affiliation, or any other factor, can say they walked (ran away, actually) in Rittenhouse’s shoes and therefore knows better than he what was truly happening in those few minutes that night in Kenosha in August 2020. The twelve jurors are the closest persons to having been in Rittenhouse’s shoes, and they are the only twelve persons who had a right …and a duty… to judge the young man.

  5. Bari Weiss


    Best part:
    “To acknowledge the facts of what happened that night is not political. It is simply to acknowledge reality. It is to say that facts are still facts and that lies are lies. It is to insist that mob justice is not justice. It is to say that media consensus is not the equivalent of due process. And that pretending otherwise for the sake of political expediency is why the National Guard is now standing watch in Kenosha, bracing for violence once again in the anticipation of a verdict that for many, has already been decided.”

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