Criminal Defense Lawyers Need Not Apply

Word that U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton will soon take senior status makes this a good time to ask Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy why it is that no criminal defense lawyer ever makes the cut for nomination to the federal bench. It's been so long since a defender was nominated that the failure cannot be explained away as insignificant.

The latest appointee to the bench, Jeffrey Meyer, was a former federal prosecutor and law professor. There is no question that he is qualified to serve, and that he has the demeanor necessary to inspire confidence in the court. But the same can be said of hundreds of lawyers in the state, and it could just as easily be said of many criminal defense lawyers. Meyer was sworn in just the other day.

There's a scramble on to fill Arterton's slot now, and rumor has it that the secret committee vetting candidates has produced a list of potential nominees. Three of the four top spots are occupied either by federal prosecutors or a senior member of the state Attorney General's Office. In other words, once again, the committee appears interested only in people with a conventional "law enforcement" background.

I've never understood why criminal defense lawyers are not regarded as law enforcement as well. We are viewed as second-class citizens by the courts. It is evident in such seemingly trifling things as the requirement that criminal defense lawyers, but not prosecutors, be required to remove their belts and otherwise genuflect for court security officers before entering a federal courthouse. Prosecutors, on the other hand, are waived through.

Tell me, if you or a loved one were accused of a crime, where would you to go to assure that your rights were protected? To a criminal defense lawyer, that's where. These lawyers stand in the well of the court making sure that both the prosecution and the court respect the rights of the accused. The role of a criminal defense lawyer, as both advocate and officer of the court, is to assure that the law is obeyed, one accusation at a time. Systemic disregard of their contributions is an insult not to be borne lightly.

Yet we tolerate such disregard, and even welcome it.

Consider the U.S. Senate's utterly pusillanimous and disgusting treatment of Debo Adegbile's nomination to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. He was rejected by a vote of 52-47. Primary among the reasons for his rejection is that he had helped prepare a brief in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former Black Panther convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. Adegbile signed on to Mumia's defense while working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Let me see if I understand this: Appearing as counsel for the accused, the convicted, the scorned and the damned renders a lawyer unfit for appointment to a federal office? I suppose that explains why former prosecutors are greeted with open arms. Why is the Senate so wary of those who make a living vindicating the presumption of innocence? Why the disregard of a man whose only apparent failing was that he refused to stop fighting for a client who still had the right to appear in court?

There are good, even great, defense lawyers in Connecticut who would make outstanding federal judges. I've never understood why Bill Bloss has not been appointed. I noted the other day that Steven Ecker accepted a state appointment. I am aware of several other defense who have been interviewed, but not sent on to the president for consideration as a nominee. Why not Hope Seeley, now a state court judge?

Why the systemic refusal to consider a criminal defense lawyer as a federal judge? Why so many prosecutors? The next nomination should address this shortcoming, or, in the sake of intellectual honesty, the Senators ought simply to declare that criminal defense lawyers need not apply.

Read more:



Why Not Record Cops At Work?

I will never understand why police officers don’t embrace video recording of their work. But they don’t. Whether in the interrogation room, or on the street, lawmen fight for the right to keep the public they serve from seeing them in action.

Lawmakers are now considering a proposal to make it unlawful to video record a police officer making an arrest. That’s just plain stupid. Those arguing in favor of it should have their mugshots placed on a wall of public shame and ridicule.

Is videotaping distracting?


Many departments are moving in the direction of having video cameras in police cruisers. In some instances, the cameras are activated automatically when an officer turns on his hazard lights, for example. I doubt seriously that police brass would require this if it truly created a distraction.

Police departments ought to be embracing any low-cost technology that promotes transparency. Indeed, some departments make it impossible for officers to tamper with these car videos by using technology that downloads the images automatically. I’ve represented police officers accused of tampering with these videos. Police brass know the truth: Many officers don’t want what they do recorded for fear it will reflect poorly on how they do their jobs.

Public confidence in policing will only improve with broader public understanding of what police officers do and how they do it.

A standard tactic in a police interrogation is to challenge a suspect reluctant to talk with some version of the following: “Hey, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide, right?” It’s more than a little ironic that officers are now running for cover in the name of truth and justice.

For years, police fought recording interrogations of suspects. To this very day, agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation refuse, as a matter of policy, to record, or to permit to be recorded, their interviews. Instead, two agents attend every interview. One asks questions, the other takes detailed notes. When a dispute later arises about what took place at the interview, it’s the agent’s word against the accused.

You know how that generally works out, don’t you?

Recordings of interrogations generally resolve disputes of fact about what was said and how it was said, so long as the recording captures the entire interrogation. Unfortunately, many departments still permit lengthy interviews before a camera is turned on. All that gets recorded is the polished script, the one worked on in secret, when the recorder or camera was off.

Many disputes could be resolved by use of widespread recordings. Lawyers refer to “swearing contests” as hearings in which the decision about what took place revolves entirely on which witness is believed. When two sides swear to tell the truth but their testimony is at odds, someone is often wrong. Recordings rarely lie.

The more transparent we can make the investigative activities of police officers, the better. Police are public servants, right? Aren’t they supposed to be our friends? Friends don’t ask to cover their tracks.

There already are laws on the books making it a crime to interfere with a police officer doing his job. Connecticut law makes it a misdemeanor carrying as much as one year in prison to obstruct, hinder or delay a police officer in the performance of his duties. If the manner in which an officer is being recorded keeps him from doing his job, he has a remedy. We don’t need another law criminalizing the commonplace.

Smartphones have transformed the world. We are all mobile film crews. Thousands of new videos are posted on YouTube each day; many of them are brief, candid views of events taking place in real-time recorded with a cellphone. Some of them involve the police. A new law isn’t going to prevent these films from being taken. It will simply make criminals out of folks who are trying to hold the police accountable. That will not promote respect for the law.

Every day, folks call my office to complain about how the police have treated them. Most of these complaints don’t amount to much. The police were rude. Well, the Constitution doesn’t impose on them a duty to be polite, I tell the callers. An officer was gruff and used force to make an arrest. Again, all the Constitution prohibits is unreasonable force. Not every push, pull or shove, when seen from the calm of the well of the court, is unreasonable, a famous Supreme Court cases teaches. I remind potential clients: I don’t write these crazy laws and screwball judicial opinions — I just read them.

What all of these callers share is a sense of indignity, of having been violated. They expect decent and civil treatment from police officers. Many are offended when told the law does not require that. But it’s true: The courts are hostile to claims against cops. Most are tossed out the courthouse door before a jury sees them. At the very least, can’t we make a public record of what the police are doing? If we won’t let juries see the truth, can’t we at least let the community see it?

The police are the public face of the law. Most of us never meet a congressman, or attend a public hearing. But almost all of us have had an encounter of some form or another with a police officer, whether at a traffic stop, asking directions or as part of a crowd being directed to move from one spot to another. A bad cop, a rude cop, an uncivil cop is the face the sovereign snarling. It offends people to be treated poorly.

There is no good reason to prohibit people from recording the police at work. None. If we are going to permit police officers to use force, to arrest, to impose themselves on others in the name of the public, the public has a right to see what’s being done in its name. A law denying us that right is an outrage not to be endured.



About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

Personal Website

Law Firm Website

I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

Pattis Video