You Have the Right to a Lawyer…

Accusing lawyers who represent criminal defendants of being criminals themselves seems to be the GOP’s flavor du jour.

Some of you reading this will recall a truly despicable ad run by Mark Massa (now sitting on the Indiana Supreme Court thanks to Mitch Daniels) when he was challenging Terry Curry for the prosecutor’s office. The message was simple: Curry had once represented a criminal defendant, and was therefore unfit for public office.

Massa lost the votes of several Republican lawyers with that one.

A similar political attack advertisement is being used in South Carolina , where the Republican Governors’ Association has used it to target former prosecutor Vincent Sheheen – an attorney who now represents both civil and criminal clients in his private practice.  (Sheheen happens to be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina facing off against incumbent Nikki Haley.)

These attacks are deeply disturbing. If those running them actually believed that representing a criminal defendant is a sign of moral depravity  (which I rather doubt), that belief would be evidence of a total lack of constitutional competence–a total ignorance of the due process guarantees of the Bill of Rights.

I don’t think the people who run these ads are that ignorant. I think the truth is far worse: they make political ads that employ these accusations because they believe the voting public is that ignorant, and because they are willing to play on that perceived ignorance–indeed, reinforce it!–for political advantage.
This is the same tactic that is routinely used against ACLU lawyers when they represent an unpleasant person whose rights are being violated. As I used to explain over and over, I can defend your right to read a book I wouldn’t read. I can defend your right to preach doctrine I believe to be evil. I can defend your right to hold bigoted opinions without sharing those opinions. I defend your rights because liberty is indivisible: the government that can take fundamental rights away from you is the same government that can take them from me.
 Defending accused people is what lawyers are supposed to do. Otherwise, the system doesn’t work. If good lawyers are made to pay a political price for doing the right thing, fewer of them will do it–and justice will suffer.
This is one political tactic that should be beyond the pale.


  1. “You have the right to a lawyer…” I totally, 100%, fully and whole-heartedly agree with this right for all of us, no matter how low-down the defendant is. But I am going to bring this down to a personal level (don’t I always?) regarding MY right to a lawyer, the Deputy Prosecutor who is supposed to be representing “the people” which includes the victims of a crime, prosecuting the criminals who attacked and robbed 4 – FOUR – elderly women last month raises questions in my mind. The original court document, filed May 1, 2014, list four charges of felony Robbery and one charge of felony Fraud. The one charge of felony Fraud is the result of the criminals using the credit card of their fourth victim. When I sent copies of 8 – EIGHT – felony Fraud charges due to using my two credit cards I was told they may not be allowed to file these charges. Why not? I am still battling two major financial issues resulting from being mugged in my own driveway at 11:00 in the morning on April 21st. One is the result of a returned check due to closing my checking account and the other is due to the charge card transferring 5 – FIVE – charges to my new account, the 3 – THREE – charges on another credit card apparently are being ignored by the Prosecutor’s Office. When I asked about charges regarding my injuries, I received no response. My head injury is not yet healed after almost six weeks, is stiff and painful with numb areas; I also have facial scars. I do understand all Deputy Prosecutors have heavy caseloads and the crimes against four elderly women in Marion County is probably low on their list of priorities – but they should not be. We also have the right to a lawyer; getting down to the nitty-gritty, we victims are paying the Deputy Prosecutors to defend us with our tax dollars and are probably paying for a Public Defender who is defending our attackers. We deserve a full defese; this means charging the criminals with each and every one of their crimes, not whittling down the list to an easier case to prosecute.

  2. I suspect a Lawyer defending the likes of Ken Lay of Exon infamy or a Wall Street Firm would be A-OK for GOP.

  3. I meant on my previous post Ken Lay of ENRON instead of Exon but I think you get the picture.

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