Monday, August 10, 2009


Here and elsewhere, I've talked (incessantly, some would surely say) about how criminal defense isn't just a job. Doing it right requires a commitment.

Sometimes you'll have to piss people off. Sometimes you'll have hard decisions about the ethical questions we face and about what rules trump what rules. Sometimes you'll have to answer the cocktail party question (How can you defend those people?) not just to the person holding a bottle of Bud or a glass of Chardonnay but, more importantly, to yourself in that dark night of the soul as you wander through your own private garden of Gesthemane.

And yet, if you're a criminal defense lawyer, if it's what you are and who you are, if you're cut out for and willing to do the work of representing the reviled and seeing to it that even the least of us is treated with compassion and dignity and respect, if you're a criminal defense lawyer because it's a vocation and you'd be that even if you were doing some other sort of law . . . if that's who you are and what you are, you get up the next day and do it again.

I took some time off from full-time criminal defense work, spent almost five terrific years as Legal Director of th ACLU of Ohio. The ACLU is, perhaps, even more reviled than the criminal defense bar. And we represent lots of people who do and have done horrible things. So I went from one group of despised lawyers who stick together because they share a commitment and passion to another who do. (Though civil work - yuck.)

But we ain't nothing.

In 1776, a bunch of folks, many of them lawyers, got together in Philadelphia and explained that they were declaring independence from Britain. It was revolution, and they knew the penalty if they failed.
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
The boldface is mine, but the language they used was sufficiently emphatic. We're not much called on to do that today.

But here, from Jonathan Turley, by way of Scott Greenfield, comes a reminder that some of our bretheren are. Its a reminder of commitment to the rule of law and, especially, to the ethics of what we do as criminal defense lawyers, of who we - well, maybe not who most of us are, but who we should aspire to become.

According to the Jerusalem Post,
Seven lawyers in Tabriz and Mashhad who had been representing young Iranians detained in post-presidential election protests have been killed by the Iranian authorities in recent days, according to sources in Iran.
In Ohio, as part of our continuing legal education requirement, we're forced to sit through a presentation every couple of years on "professionalism." Mostly, that seems to mean being polite to other lawyers. I'd suggest that this is real professionalism.

It's not about being polite. It's not about the bucks. It's about stepping forward. Because it's what you signed up to do. And because there's really nothing else you can do.

Lives, fortunes, sacred honor. I'm humbled.

No comments:

Post a Comment