One of the cardinal rules of the legal profession is to zealously represent your client–to put the interests of that client first. To be an effective and ethical lawyer, you must put aside your personal prejudices and obsessions, and focus upon the job you’ve been hired to do.
Back when I was in practice, we all knew which (few) lawyers took their clients’ money and proceeded to posture to the media, or file unnecessary pleadings, or otherwise use the lawyer-client relationship for self-aggrandizement, personal gain or ideological vendettas.
Which brings me to Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.
The Attorney General is elected to protect the legal interests of Hoosiers. Zoeller, however, has consistently used the position to advance his personal religious beliefs, intervening in national high-profile, culture war cases having the most tenuous connection (if any) to Indiana. He has been especially eager to volunteer in cases involving gay rights; he spent enormous time and energy–and taxpayer resources–opposing same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court’s Windsor case.
Last week, a federal court in Indiana required Indiana to recognize the out-of-state marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney. Niki is battling a particularly aggressive cancer, and has been told that she is terminal. The couple has two children, ages 1 and 3. Niki wants to be recognized as married in her home state while she is still alive; she wants the comfort of knowing that her family will receive the legal protections that all other married families in Indiana receive.
Zoeller immediately announced his intention to appeal. As Lambda Legal noted,
No other attorney general in the country has chosen to appeal after a court has protected the marriage of a same-sex couple on a temporary basis as a lawsuit moves forward because one of the partners is terminally ill. For example, the Ohio AG declined to appeal a court’s temporary order protecting the marriage of a man fighting Lou Gehrig’s disease as his lawsuit challenging the State’s marriage ban moved forward, even as the Ohio AG fought to uphold the ban.
When a Lambda attorney characterized the decision to appeal as “a display of cruelty,” Zoeller’s spokesperson accused the organization of an “unprofessional approach in their utterances toward opposing counsel, one not consistent with standards of civility and respect that Hoosiers and Hoosier lawyers uphold in our legal system.”
Let me tell you what is “unprofessional.”
What’s “unprofessional” is using your elected position to further a theocratic agenda at the expense of voters who elected you to a secular office.
What’s “unprofessional” is volunteering your efforts–and spending our tax dollars–on cases that don’t involve Hoosiers.
What’s “unprofessional” is taking positions on behalf of all Indiana citizens with which a significant percentage of those citizens vehemently disagree.
What’s “unprofessional”–and utterly despicable–is homophobia so ingrained and obsessive that you would deny a dying woman the comfort of knowing that her children will be protected, by appealing a temporary order that applies only to her family.
And what is really “unprofessional” is having the chutzpah to complain when someone points out your own lack of humanity and respect for the limits of the position you hold.