Monday, July 18, 2011

Why We Dislike Lawyers

Question: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a shark? Answer: Nothing.

Okay, look, right off the bat I want to say that I work with a lot of lawyers and I count many of them as good friends. But we’ve all heard the old jokes, and, let’s face it, the public’s general perception of lawyer’s honesty and integrity is pretty rotten. The latest Harris poll on the subject puts attorneys way down at the bottom of the list with members of Congress, car salesmen, and, yes, journalists.

But since lawyers are the crux of our justice system I think it is important that we take a closer look at the way some of them operate. Why is it so many of us curl our upper lip at the very mention of dealing with a lawyer? Maybe it’s the sheer number of them these days. Maybe because we believe they make so much money on other people’s misery. Or maybe it is that so many of us are forced to turn to lawyers these days to handle things that used to be settled with a hand-shake and someone’s good word.

Despite what we see on TV in dramas like Law and Order and The Good Wife, most lawyering goes on in a stealthy way. It is done out of plain sight – in board rooms and depositions, in front of secret grand juries or in the confines of a prosecutor’s office. When engaged in their profession lawyers speak a different language than we do and they follow a set of rules most of us will never understood. It is human nature not to trust what we don’t know or what we can’t see or hold in our hands.

Casey Anthony Murder Defendant

I’ve spent the last few months closely covering a capital murder trial taking place in Orlando, Florida. And it struck me as I watched the defense lay out its presentation in the case of Florida vs. Casey Marie Anthony that there is another more basic reason why we think the way we do about lawyers. They often destroy innocent people in the name of defending their clients.

To watch defense attorneys Jose Baez and Cheney Mason conduct their case on behalf of Ms. Anthony was painful. Of course, they had every right (and a duty) to do what they could to insure their client got a fair trial, especially since she was facing a possible death sentence. But they did not have the right to vilify and destroy bystanders to the murder of 2 year old Caylee Anthony. The scorched earth, take-no prisoners behavior should not be allowed.

Defense Attorney Jose Baez in Action

During the defense’s opening statement Baez promised the jury they would hear evidence that there was no murder and that the little girl had drowned in the family’s back yard pool. He blamed Grandfather George Anthony for discarding her body. There has been no evidence presented to back up that claim.

Baez told the jurors that repeated sexual molestation of his client by both her father, George, and her brother, Lee, had turned her into a trained liar who naturally kept secrets. He promised evidence to explain why his client let 31 days go by before finally admitting her daughter was gone. At first, jurors heard exactly the opposite – clear denials that any sort of sexual abuse ever took place. The jury also heard testimony from more than a dozen of Casey Anthony’s friends and co-workers that showed she was a known liar and thief long before her daughter went missing.

Roy Kronk Found Caylee Anthony's Remains

Baez’s opening statement also smeared the reputation of a man named Roy Kronk, a county meter reader who found Caylee’s skeleton remains in the woods six months after she was last seen. He reported the tiny child’s skull was still wrapped in duct tape which had snarled in her long hair. The defense lawyer called Kronk a “morally corrupt individual” and promised evidence that would show he had stolen Caylee’s remains after she drowned in the Anthony’s backyard pool and waited for the reward money to grow. Kronk came and went from the witness box and no such evidence was presented against him.

I’ve highlighted the Casey Anthony case, but it is far from the only trial in which lawyers have made reckless claims on behalf of their clients leaving human despair in their wake. Believe me, it happens all the time in courthouses across the country.

The question for all of us–including honorable lawyers who read this now–is what do we as a society do with attorneys who deliberately demolish the reputation of others in their quest for their client’s acquittal? If they make promises to a jury at the expense of others and don’t follow through shouldn’t there be some sort of penalty? If you or I repeatedly lied about important issues at our job, wouldn’t we face consequences?

Most other professions have a code of behavior. I submit that criminal defense attorneys should be held to one as well.


James said...

I think it's a hopeless cause.

In law school professors routinely humiliate students who express the same views you are espousing.

The worst case I recall was that of a defendant accused of sneaking into a neighbor's house, abducting from her bedroom a young girl who he raped and murdered. During pretrial bargaining the defendant's lawyer offered to reveal where the girl's body was buried in exchange for waiver of the death penalty. The prosecutors turned down that offer and the case went to trial where the defendant pleaded not guilty.

During the trial the defendant's lawyer (the same guy who offered to id the grave) argued that the child's parents, not his client, were responsible for the murder.

I listened to Bill O"Reilly severely criticizing the lawyer. The next day I listened to lawyer Neal Boortz scornfully laughing at O'Reilly's position, taking the view repeated advocated by law school professors: the lawyer's job is to do anything to protect the client.

Anonymous said...

Has it always been this way? In the last years, the public has had much more information about these high profile trials with this kind of distorted justice. A fair defense does not mean a fabricated defense. Shocking how hard some defense lawyers work to set known criminals free.

Katy England said...

Stupid question from someone who knows nothing about lawyering... Where does libel or slander come into these things? Can the lawyers be sued for defamation of character?

Seriously, I know this is probably a silly question, so be gentle.

Cozy in Texas said...

This was probably a confusing case all round for the jury. I've worked for attorneys for over 30 years and the one thing that I find despicable is the attorneys who keep taking money and do nothing that takes any effort. After spending $10,000 a father ran out of money and gave up his rights. All he had asked for was to enforce an existing order for visitation and the attorney, rather than taking it to the judge and hopefully a reprimand for the mother, constantly scheduled mediation. If the mother wasn't willing to abide by an existing order, obviously mediation wouldn't help. He thought it was more detrimental to the little girl's well being to continue fighting as he had no one on his side, including his attorney. Very sad. Surely the bar association should step in, if the attorney is blatantly lying whether it be to the client or the jury.

California Girl said...

"Making sure the client gets a fair trial" is sort of oxymoronic in this case. How can they get a fair trial if their attorney is a blatant liar like some we have seen lately?

Anonymous said...

California Girl:

Hear, hear. And did Cindy Anthony's repetitve perjury in her daughter's trial in any way contribute to a fair trial and/or a fair verdict? I think not.

A Voice of Sanity said...

"Most other professions have a code of behavior. I submit that criminal defense attorneys should be held to one as well."

No doubt it is too much to expect that prosecutors will abide by the rules and ethics of the profession, not to mention abide by their oath of office. They would lose too many cases and never get to be made a judge. I'm sure that's why they only make minimal efforts to abide by Brady and to avoid suborning perjury from other defendants and from jailhouse liars (so called snitches).

It's a good thing there are good defense lawyers to protect the guilty and the innocent from such violators.

FRG said...

Ms. Dimond,

I was hoping to read an article about JB's book just released last week, on WCI. I know you said you won't be reading it, I don't blame you, I didn't either, I just read the articles mentioning what's in the book and I am really disgusted, even more. I just can't believe JB keeps accusing George of molesting KC, he has no evidence, didn't have in trial, doesn't have now. It's sad how far a person will go to make a buck! This is beyond disgusting! Sometimes I think that most lawyers, have some kind of personality disorder, they feel no empathy when it comes to defend their clients. That's when I wish there is karma!

Thanks for allowing to vent. I love your articles!

Have a great day, Ms. Dimond!

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