Friday, June 5, 2020

Would you? Could you?

The overall title of this blog comes from a question I've been asked several times over the years in connection with my work as a criminal defense lawyer. Truthfully, it is rarely posed as an actual inquiry seeking an answer. It is almost always a rhetorical accusation flung out to express the person posing its disgust and disdain for my representing the people I do.

Understand that over the last 25 years or so, I have represented people charged with things that most other people can barely imagine. Truly awful things. Indeed, I am currently involved in what is probably the most challenging case of my career, with charges that are hard to even fathom. Despite this, I've never hesitated to accept a case. My immediate response to those who have posed the inquiry/accusation about the soundness of my sleep is that I sleep just fine. I've always said that it is my firm belief that if I fight as hard as I can to insure that the worst of the worst get a zealous defense, then the system stays fairer for everyone. I've had that immediate response even for people like Dylann Roof, who was welcomed into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and proceeded to shoot and kill nine people in some twisted white supremacist rage. 

But what of Derek Chauvin, the man charged with the murder of George Floyd? That one caused me to blink. What is my true answer? Chauvin appears, in the video footage of the incident I have seen, to embody everything I most loathe. Everything I've spent my life fighting against. He is a card-carrying member of the oppressor class. Certainly not the oppressed. Not, it would appear, an isolated maniac caught in the tangled, fevered webs of a tortured mind. A smirking bully, unconcerned enough about the damage he was causing to not even bother to take his hands from  his pockets as George Floyd begged for his life. 

But. But. I've always said that my hero is not Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". Finch represented a man he came to feel certain had been wrongly accused. Who was, in fact, innocent. That's always struck me as the easy part of the job. No one asks how you can sleep at night for defending the innocent. The far harder task is to stand up for the worst and say, "No, you must give this person, no matter what they've done, the rights to which they are entitled before you can punish them, and you have to go through me to do it." My hero has always been Darrow, "The Attorney for the Damned". But, only some of the damned? Is Derek Chauvin not one of the damned now? No. That cannot be the answer, at least not for me. The more I've tossed this about in my mind, the more clear my answer has become. John Adams defended the British soldiers accused in The Boston Massacre. America has done a poor job of it sometimes over the years, as much recently as ever it seems. But we must all stand equal before the law. That has to mean something. My phone is not going to ring with a call from Minnesota. But if it did, and the question was "Would you? Could you?", my answer would have to be "yes".

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