Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Atticus Finch They Ain't

"How can you defend guilty people?" my mother once asked me. I told her that no one is guilty until the judge says they are. "But what if they tell you they did it?" she continued. I told her that the State has the obligation to prove each and every fact, and if they can't, even though my client admitted it, they can't reach a guilty verdict. I know that she wasn't satisfied, and I know that she is not alone in her belief, but I still believe in the Constitution, the presumption of innocence and the right to be represented by counsel.
I love being a lawyer. I love that I can use all of my skill, knowledge and ethics to present the best case on behalf of my clients in the pursuit of justice. I have defended all sorts of people, from the first time defendant who made a mistake on how many glasses of wine she had at dinner, to an incestuous torturing sadist. This isn't saying that I have to like my clients, although many I do, it is my job to put the State to the test and make them prove their case. That is what lawyers do.
Until now.
In case you didn't know it, the Obama Administration has taken the position that they will no longer defend DOMA, otherwise known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which basically prohibits federal recognition of same sex marriage. Now, I think the law is a travesty, violating the X Amendment, and none of their damned business. But the administration choosing not to defend a law on the books is really stupid. Do they not think about what happens when they are no longer in office? If the next Republican administration decides not to defend Affirmative Action, they will have an even greater basis for doing so, since Sandra Day O'Connor said that she thought the law should be invalid after 25 more years from her ruling. The Republican administration could argue that there was no reason to wait.
But this post isn't about the stupid choices of the Obama Administration. It's about lawyers, and the people they represent. Seems that the House Republicans decided to hire a prestigious Atlanta law firm of King & Spalding to represent the defense of DOMA. King & Spalding were apparently happy to take the work until gay activists were able to bring so much pressure on them, that they decided to abandon their client. The lawyer in the firm who took the case, has since resigned, taking the case with him. Former US Soliciter General, Paul Clement said
"A representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters," he wrote to Hays. "Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do."
The idea that lawyers can be chased from unpopular clients is completely alien to me. The (fictional) standard bearer has always been Atticus Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird." The small town country lawyer who defended a black man accused of raping a white woman. There was no evidence, and the accuser was shown to be a liar, but the jury convicted nonetheless and later expedited "justice" by lynching the defendant.
The law firm of King & Spalding do not honor Atticus Finch. In fact, they dishonor the entire profession. I may not like my client, his cause, or anything else, but if a lawyer can be forced to withdraw because of popular pressure, the right to counsel is meaningless.

UPDATE: I have since learned that Spalding is the correct spelling, but in my defense, it was spelled that way in the Post article.


Anonymous said...


Tom Robinson, the Black defendant in the book, was not lynched after conviction, rather he was shot at the prison farm when he tried to escape.

While Tom was in jail, a mob arrived one night, and wanted to lynch Tom, but were stopped when Scout and Jim, Atticus's two children, showed up and shamed them into leaving.

Milwaukee said...

Atticus Finch was one cool dude. Please get your quotes straight.

What did Atticus say after Mr. Ewell spit in his face at the post office? "I wish Mr. Ewell didn't chew." I'll bet Atticus wouldn't mess up an important detail of a story like that. You need to take your game to higher level.

As Anonymous alluded to, one armed men are usually not so good at climbing chain link, barbed wire topped fences with prison guards shooting at them.

Steve said...

Good points all. I was relying on memory, but the character of Atticus Finch was the real point.

Anonymous said...

Typos are one thing (wee awl maik tham), but misspelling both the name of a Justice (O'Connor) and the relevant law firm (King & Spalding) in the same article distracts to the point of weakening the argument.

Steve said...

Hey, I was drinking!