09 November 2004

The Attack on Lawyers

This article has a discussion on the modern trend of attacking lawyers. As the article points out by quoting Shakespeare, lawyers have never been a popular profession. However, I can trace it even farther back to the 13th century with a quote about St. Ives: "Sanctus Ivo erat Brito, Advocatus et non latro, Res miranda populo."

The article goes on about how it is a new tactic which "ha[s] not been advanced by the pitchfork crowd, but by highly educated and sophisticated politicos, many of whom are also members of the bar — people who are supposed to know better." Leaving aside the disturbingly elitist tone of that assertion, I do not believe it to be true. My point of view is closer to the local level but I can clearly see the effects that representation has had on attorneys.

I first noticed this when I was clerking for a firm in Kentucky. In Kentucky politics is a full-contact, blood sport. The particular race was for a seat which had been Democratic forever, in a Democratic area and the Democrats could have nominated a drone and he'd have won easily. They didn't. They nominated a guy who everyone thought was gay (although it was never said out loud, in public). Bumperstickers popped up urging people to "Vote Straight Republican." Still the Democratic candidate had a slight lead. Then, two days before the election an ad popped up. The ad laid out in graphic detail a rape which had occurred years before; at my high school no less - which meant there were racial undertones (with about a 50-50 breakdown we grew up with one another and had no racial problems but the rest of the world just didn't seem to get that). Then the ad pointed out that the Democratic candidate had represented the person who was found guilty of doing this in the trial court. Then it pointed out that the Democratic candidate had represented the person found guilty of doing this in the court of appeals. Then it pointed out that the Democratic candidate had represented the man found guilty of doing this in the supreme court. In case you haven't guessed, the Democratic candidate was a public defender assigned to represent this defendant. Still, the ad was devastating and led to a Republican victory. And yes, it was aimed at "pitchfork crowd" but it didn't come from them.

Now that I'm in Virginia I see it at work here. It's more subtle but it's present. Why has the General Assembly (not the "pitchfork crowd") refused to adequately fund indigent defense for many long years? Because we defend "those people." Seen anybody make it into office who has had any kind of recent experience doing criminal defense work? Most importantly, have you seen a lawyer who made his living doing criminal defense make it to a bench in Virginia or the 4th Circuit? Maybe a trial judge every so often but most positions which are taken by those who've practiced criminal law are reserved for prosecutors.

I realize the article is mostly about civil representations and national positions but this is just not a new phenomenon.

Thanks to anonymous who tells me this came from NRO.

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