Thursday, May 10, 2012

First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers

You think you've got it tough?
In 2010, the gross national income per capita in Belize was $ 3740 U.S.  And that would be a princely income in Burkina Faso where the per capital GNI was $ 550.  Of course, it was only $160 in Burundi.
Of course, those numbers don't really indicate much except extreme poverty.  Look at it this way: The average person in Burundi is alive.  You'd have a hard time matching that with the same $160 in Brooklyn.
But the point remains, if you're reading this, you're probably pretty well off, at least by international standards.
And when we talk about the encroaching police state, when we talk about that all-powerful evil government, when we talk about the nazification of America or the rise of fascism (or communism, if that floats your frightened boat).  When we talk about how the terrorists are winning because we've sacrificed our freedom to assuage our fears (and without actually enhancing our safety). And when we condemn, as we should, the show trials at Gitmo for denying the accused the basic protections of a fair criminal justice system (whether civilian or military).
Well, when we talk about those things, and we do and will and should.
Like I say, you think you've got it tough?
I represent the criminally accused and convicted. Many of my clients face lengthy prison terms, often life without parole, for sex offenses or homicides, lengthy terms for dealing drugs.  I've represented the Phelps family, those folks who cheer the funerals of the soldiers and hold up signs explaining that God hates fags. 
There are people out there who've done unspeakable things. When they're hauled into court over them, I'll stand by their side.
And as they are reviled, so from time to time, I am.  I've received my share of hate letters and e-mails and, even, comments on blog posts.
It goes with the territory.
If you defend someone, so the thoughtless goes, you must approve of what the person is alleged to have done.  Liz Cheney, daughter of the Veep who shoots his friends, believes that those who defend accused terrorists support Al Qaida.  (See here.)
And the feds have, from time to time, gone after lawyers whose zealous representation of their clients was perhaps too zealous.  Lynn Stewart, for instance. And of course there are the political prosecutions of brought by Sheriff Joe and Andy Thomas.
But really, we have it pretty good.
Let me introduce you to Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.
He's a lawyer in Iran.  He defends the accused.  Though he won't be doing that for the next 19 years.  Prison for 9 years, followed by 10 years during which he can't practice or teach law.  Because, you know, he represents enemies of the state. He told the Guardian:
I was in a court in Tehran defending one of my clients, Davoud Arjangi, a jailed political activist on death row when the judge told me that my own sentence has been approved and I will be shortly summoned to jail to serve the nine-year sentence.
Dadkah isn't alone.
"I have been convicted of acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and keeping banned books at home," he said. Iranian authorities have used such vague charges to incriminate activists and lawyers in recent years.
. . .
Other prominent Iranian lawyers have also been sentenced to lengthy prison terms including Abdolfattah Soltani who was given an 18-year sentence in March. Like Soltani, Dadkhah was a colleague of Iranian Nobel Peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi who fled the country in 2009 in fear of persecution.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, another acclaimed lawyer whose work against juvenile executions in Iran has been recognised internationally is also behind bars in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Some of the lawyers who have represented their colleagues in jail have also been arrested in recent years. 
Abdolfattah Soltani
Nasrin Sotoudeh

And yet they go on.
Knowing what they face.
We don't have it tough.
Not at all.
Outrage is easy.  I have more than my share.  Hell, part of why I keep at this blawg is that it gives me an outlet for it.
I've written a lot about the conflict between the Rule of Law and the Law of Rule and how the latter keeps trumping the former.  I do that in the context of events here, in the U.S. and, especially in Ohio.  Because that's where I am and where I practice law and where I live.  There's more than enough here to keep me busy.
But then I read about these folks.  And a country where the basic rule is to defend at your own risk.  Do it well, hell, do it at all, and you go to prison. For years and years and years.
Of course, it's not just the lawyers.
From UPI.
Amnesty International has reported a sharp increase in executions carried out in Iran over the last year or two.
These are widely seen by human rights activists as intended to intimidate dissidents whose activities have intensified since the crackdown that followed the 2009 unrest.
. . ."The escalating use of the death penalty in the Middle East is seen as a tactic by the authorities to spread fear among dissidents in order to prevent them from participating in pro-democracy movements," the Guardian said.
AI said confirmed executions in the Middle East increased by almost 50 percent in 2011 to 558.
More than half of the 2011 global total were conducted in Iran, which carried out 360 known executions.
But human rights groups say there's credible evidence scores that Iran carried out other unreported executions, including mass hangings, in secret in 2011.
The sharp rise in the number of executions reported in Iran has raised suspicions the Tehran regime has, according to British international affairs analyst Simon Tisdall, engaged in "a judicial killing spree" to intimidate its opponents.
And you think you've got it tough.
So here's another answer to the cocktail party question, courtesy of Martin Niemöller. 
First they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.


  1. I think you're underestimating the risk to lawyers in the US, and in particular the erosion over the last 20 years or so in the respect, approaching reverence, for the extremely important role independent lawyers play in preserving a harmonious polity.

    We may still have it "pretty good" here, but increasingly that is a matter of degree, not kind.

    1. I don't think so. I've written a bit about the assault on lawyers here before. I think it's real and ongoing. And sure it's a matter of degree. But when the gap in degree is sufficiently broad, and I think it is, pretending that we're all in the same sinking boat is misleading and not just rhetorical hyperbole.

      That much said, Niemöller's words are as sure an answer here as they are everywhere else.