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Originally posted at Fair and Unbalanced

"Is Atticus Finch's courage only virtuous because we all end up liking and believing in Tom Robinson?"  --  Prof. Lawrence Marshall
The popular version of the heroic criminal defense lawyer is one who tirelessly defends the wrongly accused, saving a client who is more victim himself (or herself) than perpetrator.  In real life, defense lawyers are usually called upon to represent the guilty, to provide a vigorous defense for those who have committed despicable acts.  This is a far more heroic calling. Indeed, it is critically necessary to our system of justice to have zealous advocates representing people who are hated and feared, and ensuring that the government is following the law.

Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common that those lawyers who take on the cases of notorious clients are themselves targeted.  As Dalia Lithwickput it, "[o]nce upon a time in America this was called advocating for justice. But in today’s America, it’s deemed a miscarriage of justice."

A few years ago, Liz Cheney and her group, Keep America Safe, launched a smear campaign against lawyers in Obama's Justice Department, referring to them as the "Al Qaeda 7," for previously having represented Guantanamo detainees.  A group of former Bush Administration officials and other prominent lawyers shot back, publishing a lettercondemning Liz Cheney's ad as shameful.  They rightfully stressed that "the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre."

Next, the ACLU and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) were chastised for representing (the now deceased) Anwar al-Awlaki.  The Obama Administration had authorized the killing of Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda and allegedly hiding in Yemen at that time.  A lawsuit brought by Awlaki’s father, who was represented by the ACLU and CCR, challenged “whether the government has the power to kill any American citizen it labels as a terrorist without review by the courts.”  This did not “cross the line” as Andrew Sullivan asserted.  Indeed, as Glenn Greewald, who more recently has been vilified for his work with Edward Snowden, passionately argued:  "How could it ever 'cross a line' for a civil liberties lawyer to represent an American citizen in an American court arguing that the Government is transgressing the limits of the U.S. Constitution?  The only thing that crosses a line is to insinuate that there's something improper about that."

And, most recently, the United States Senate voted to reject Depo Adegbile, an otherwise sterling choice to run the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, because he headed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund when it represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, sentenced to death for killing a police officer, in his successful fight for life.  (Abu-Jamal is now serving a life without possibility of parole sentence.)

Pennsylvania Democrat, Bob Casey paid lip service to “respect[ing] that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime" but added the disturbing non sequitur that "it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed.”  Casey added that “The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia."

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, defending Adegbile's rejection by the Senate, was more direct:  “When someone has a history of helping cop-killers, this is what happens.”

So, there you have it.  While it might be important for our legal system to ensure that all criminal defendants have effective advocates, a lawyer's representation of a particularly despicable client accused of a particularly despicable crime (such as killing a police officer) is a disqualifying factor for public office.  If, as Lindsay Graham says, "this is what happens" when a lawyer helps a "cop-killer" or any other unpopular client, our system of justice is in peril.

Originally posted to Lovechilde on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 01:51 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Until it is them (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    crose, Lovechilde, CenPhx

    The vast majority of people in our country live by the above, proudly I might add. Just look at the Patriot Act, and the the current grandstanding about the NSA. It is the same thing with criminal and/or alleged criminals. Everyone wants guilty people behind bars at all cost, but as soon as one finds themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, they wonder and yell about how little ability they have to defend themselves. Rejecting anyone for government service for specifically doing their CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED job is a prime example of why we have such weasals representing us.

  •  Good diary! (0+ / 0-)

    I couldn't agree with you more!

    Sorry you didn't get more eyes on it.

    Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.

    by CenPhx on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 04:20:10 PM PST

  •  I can disagree about the defendants; (0+ / 0-)

    but the lawyers are doing their jobs, according to their oaths, and in a system of oppositional justice like ours, they have to have that right -- it's not just a privilege; and indeed, kudos to those of them who do go the extra mile for the unpopular or the guilty, when there's a question about whether the case against them isn't kosher.

    The lionization of Snowden leaves me puzzled -- and chilled. Bradley Manning  wasn't such a manipulative, deliberate individual (who in the hell let a kid like him get hold of so much classified material, and why? THAT's who ought to be in jail!); but Snowden's trail of misdeeds leaves me to wonder whether he's only a hero in the eyes of people for whom the ends always justify any means.

    How is he different than the Watergate plumbers?
    How is he different than the Christiegate Port Authority officers?

    LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 04:42:12 PM PST

  •  You said: (2+ / 0-)
    Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common that those lawyers who take on the cases of notorious clients are themselves targeted.
    You forgot to mention Lynne Stewart was got convicted for her aggressive representation of her client.
    •  She wasn't convicted for aggressive representation (0+ / 0-)

      she was convicted for:

      On February 10, 2005, following a nine-month trial and 13 days of jury deliberations, Stewart was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government (18 U.S.C. § 371), providing material support to terrorists (18 U.S.C. § 2339A and 18 U.S.C. § 2) and conspiring to conceal it (18 U.S.C. § 371), and making false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001). Co-defendants Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Sattar were found guilty as charged.[37][38] Her conviction meant automatic disbarment, and on October 16, 2006, Judge Koeltl sentenced Stewart to 28 months in prison. Yousry and Sattar were sentenced to 20 months and 28 years, respectively.[39] Yousry was released in 2011. Sattar is serving his sentence at the Federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.[

      Not like she was convicted for zealous advocacy. Those are serioius crimes. Plus also very likely committed perjury as well.

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