"What's the matter with you?" The speaker is a good friend and a well-known member of the criminal defense bar. "Why are you representing people like that?"
He was calling into question my representation of a former police officer. The cop was fired from his police force after being videotaped pummeling a man during an arrest. We entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor assault and no jail time last week. After the guilty plea, the client's former employer released the videotape to the press. Then all Hell broke lose. More than 100 newspapers and television stations have either run the video or commented on the case.
I've viewed the tape dozens of times. The victim was suspected of using a gun in a road rage incident. He fled from police. When he was stopped, my client thought the man reached for a gun. Rather than shoot the victim, my client pistol punched him. For a few terrifying seconds, he could not tell what the man had in his hands. When he saw the man's hands, finally, he stopped punching. There was also a struggle to get the man out of his car, onto the ground and into cuffs. The use of force in these circumstances was justified, in my view, and I've tried dozens of unreasonable force cases in the federal courts.
But the prosecution thought otherwise. My client was charged with a felony. The tape is shocking and their is intemperate language on it. There was a risk he might be convicted, so the plea, which carried no jail time. It was an intelligent means of managing his risk.
But here is the rub: I am a lawyer. I know I have choices and that I am not obliged to represent everyone who walks in my door. But I do not draw distinctions between folks accused of crimes. I represent people accused of abusing children, dismembering bodies, burning down homes, robbing banks; why, shocking to some, I even represent police officers. Indeed, this morning when I checked my messages, I see another cop has called. This is an officer I sued for false arrest 12 years ago. I won the case.
Quite frankly, I am troubled by the sporting view of law which pits one "team" against another. One of the reasons I fled Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College, and there were many other reasons, was the cult-like exclusivity of the program: No prosecutors or insurance defense counsel allowed. That's just plain stupid. "The people" need representation in many contexts. I know more want a person accused of killing a family member to walk free than I want my insurance company to go insolvent paying bogus claims.
Lawyers are mere ambassadors for other people's troubles. I don't have causes that transcend a particular case. When my agenda conflicts with that of my client, I may have a conflict that impedes my representation.
Baby-faced play acting at cowboys and Indians does not interest me. Sure, I represented a cop last week. Big deal. I am representing another one this week, this one a homicide detective accused of pilfering funds intended for confidential informants. Today is day two of jury selection.
I would not have it any other way, which is another way of saying, I suppose, that the Church of the True Believer is another door I will darken.