Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan set off a lively controversy by alleging that the “grandpa” sweater Bill Cosby wore to court was a calculated and manipulative ploy to gain public sympathy. “Bill Cosby’s perp walk was striking for its overwhelming lack of grace and power. It was an exploitation of our assumptions of fragile old age,” she wrote. “It was the explicit manipulation of a studiously unattractive sweater.”
Was it? Lawyers often micro-manage a clients’ appearance in court; when it amounts to deception, I have written that it is unethical. Cosby’s attire seems hardly deceptive; after all, he is famous for his sweaters. There is even a pop song called Cosby’s Sweater. Ann Althouse agrees with Givhan that it was “a con,” but suggests that it’s an ethical con because “everybody does it.”
I don’t understand either Givhan’s logic or Althouse’s, and if Cosby’s lawyers talked him into this costume, they did him no favors. Cosby’s best armor against the verdict of public opinion is that Cliff Huxtable would never do the horrible things he’s being accused of. There is no better, more benign, more appealing image of Bill Cosby than “TV Bill Cosby” as we fondly remember him. In court, he looked like a dirty old man, which is what he apparently is. Cliff Huxtable wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a sweater like that to court. (Bill would have also been well-advised to shave.) Continue reading
Sharper, Mathis, Ted Bundy.
For whatever reason, there have been a lot of attacks on the legal profession lately—and some from within the legal profession—because of so-called “disgusting” and “frivolous” arguments by lawyers who are zealously representing their clients. These range from outrage over the so-called “affluenza” defense (which, it apparently does no good to point out, was explicitly rejected by the judge in that case), to the law suit against the Glendale, California memorial to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese in World War II, to the argument that Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy was complicit in his son’s allegedly murdering his girlfriend because Remy hired a lawyer who mounted a vigorous defense in the son’s earlier domestic abuse arrests.
Lawyers are ethically obligated to advance whatever non-frivolous arguments and theories that are most likely to achieve their clients’ objectives, whether it is avoiding prison or rationalizing the crimes of the Japanese army. That is their job and societal function, and it is essential to our avoiding a jack-boot system where any of us could be thrown in jail by popular opinion or government edict. The laws are there to be used by every citizen, even when the citizen’s objectives are unethical, or when the citizen is a cur.
Our rights are all protected well by this principle, and it’s high time we stopped bitching about it.
Undeterred by this, however, yet another defense attorney is being savaged in the news media and blogosphere, as well as by women’s rights advocates, for making an argument in defense of his client that they find offensive. In Georgia, Darriuos Mathis and his legal team are making the argument, among their efforts to show that the evidence against him is not sufficiently conclusive, that Mathis is too attractive--fit, handsome, sexy– to have to resort to kidnapping and raping a 24-year-old woman two years ago, which is what he charged with.
The accused, pre-donuts.
Based on his appearance at today’s preliminary hearings for his murder trial, George Zimmerman has packed on a few pounds since he was arrested and charged with second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Might this be an intentional strategy dictated by his lawyer? If so, it would be reminiscent of the memorable episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer decided to give himself the benefit of the Americans With Disabilities Act by eating himself into muu-muus. But would it be ethical?
The theory, I presume, is that the less threatening and mobile Zimmerman looks, the more plausible it will seem to the jury that he was not the aggressor in his fatal tussle with Martin, who, we heard today, the defense will try to portray as a violence-prone thug. This kind of maneuver exploits a structural defect in the jury system, aggravated by the now ridiculously extended justice process. Jurors can only think of a defendant and sometimes a victim as they look in the courtroom, when it is what they were like when the alleged crime occurred that matters. Years ago in the District of Columbia, a wily attorney defending a child molester who swore that his 13-year old victim had credibly presented herself as 18 managed to delay the trial for three years. It was enough time for the victim to get morphed by puberty hard, and she appeared on the stand not as the thin, immature child she was when she was sexually assaulted, but as an obviously sexually-mature young woman speaking in a attractively husky voice, whom one courtroom reporter described as looking at least 25. Her attacker was acquitted. This is considered excellent lawyering. (The prosecutor, who allowed the girl to wear a tight, low-cut dress and full make-up, was, in contrast, an idiot.) Continue reading
“A killer? Him? Come on, look at him. He couldn’t hurt a fly!”
More than a year ago, Ethics Alarms discussed the ethics of a current criminal defense tactic employed by lawyers with clients accused of violent crimes, putting them in nerdy glasses:
“It’s not a guarantee, but the Daily News report says that criminal defense lawyers “swear by the gimmick, believing the right spectacles can make a sinister-looking murder suspect seem like a perfect gentleman.” “Glasses soften their appearance so that they don’t look capable of committing a violent crime,” veteran lawyer Harvey Slovis told the paper.”I’ve tried cases where there’s been a tremendous amount of evidence, but my client wore glasses, dressed well and got acquitted.” Cordero, who was represented by Slovis, wore bifocals throughout his trial, but threw them away the moment he was free.”
I’ve quizzed lawyers about the ethics of this tactic in my CLE classes, and they nearly unanimously agree that the tactic crosses no ethical lines that can be drawn with appropriate precision. I’m not so sure. I think it goes beyond merely giving your axe-murderer a shave and a haircut so he doesn’t look like an axe murderer, and edges into the realm of intentional deception. Apparently some courts may agree. Continue reading
The Society of Professional Journalists issued the following release condemning the Buffalo Beast’s fake call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in which the BB’s editor attempted, spectacularly unsuccessfully, to trick the Governor into making inflammatory or embarrassing statements. All he managed to do was to prove that Walker had never spoken to David Koch in his life, effectively debunking conspiracy theories that the Koch brothers were calling the shots in the Wisconsin public unions showdown. It was still a low point in recent journalism—quite an achievement, really—as the SPJ made clear: Continue reading
In the current Rolling Stone magazine, teen singing sensation Justin Bieber opines on the morality of the U.S. health care system (Bieber is Canadian) and abortion, saying, among other things…
On abortion: “I really don’t believe in abortion. It’s like killing a baby?”
Abortion in cases of rape: “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”
On the U.S. and its current health care system: “You guys are evil. [Rolling Stone notes that he says this “with a laugh.”] Canada’s the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don’t need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you’re broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard’s baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby’s premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home.”
So to sum up: in the course of one interview, Rolling Stone managed to prompt a 16-year-old to… Continue reading