At the South Carolina Criminal Defense Blog, Bobby Frederick raised an interesting question.
Plus, if I am going to blog about police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct (which somehow doesn’t find it’s way into ethics opinions), I need to balance the blog with some defense lawyer misconduct as well, right?
The post provides a laundry list of lawyers suspended or disbarred for various types of misconduct, some egregious and some merely foolish. Apparently, Bobby has caught some flak for putting the unpleasant stuff by his brethren on the small screen.
I’ve gotten some negative feedback from attorneys for putting links to disciplinary opinions on my blog. My only response is that I do not typically put the attorney’s names in the post – I don’t want people to find this blog and the link if they google any particular attorney’s name – and the opinions are available to the public anyway. I am not trying to shame any attorney by blogging about their disciplinary matter. Although some are a disgrace to the profession, many made a mistake or an error in judgment that could happen to anyone, and some are excellent attorneys who will continue to serve the public as effective and ethical advocates.
I can well understand that sense of imbalance, writing about the wrongs of cops and prosecutors without mentioning that lawyers do wrong as well. It feels dishonest, as if we’re beyond reproach while the others guys, the ones who so many criminal defense lawyers and those who sit on our side of the courtroom whether or not they like or hate lawyers, are subject to constant scrutiny and criticism.
Bobby’s position is in stark contrast to the Happysphere folks, who would only have blawgers mention the agreed-upon enemies of the tribe, and never write an ill word about their own. It’s a tried and true method of marketing, where the group circles the wagons for their mutual protection and promotion. Bobby specifically notes that by posting about the misdeeds of fellow lawyers, there’s nothing to gain for himself.
Obviously, blog posts about ethics opinions serves no marketing purpose for myself – I have never represented attorneys in disciplinary proceedings and I’m not interesting in doing so. I read them for my own education, and the opinions I put on the blog are either related in some way to criminal law, or they are just interesting enough that I want to share them with my readers (all three of you).
While there are arguments to be made that any content that brings eyeballs to a blawg serves a marketing purpose, there’s little doubt that Bobby’s intentions are exactly as he claims. He’s just trying to be a straight shooter, an honest broker, whose virtue in calling out the cops and prosecutors for their wrongs is demonstrated by his willingness to lay bare the errors of his own.
Yet, there’s something about providing a laundry list of lawyers that doesn’t quite sit right. What struck me first was that Bobby doesn’t name the bad ones. If they’re bad enough to write about, they should be bad enough to name. Bobby says he doesn’t want to shame them. Why not? Lawyers who engage in unethical conduct harm clients, and that’s a very good reason to shame them, just as we shame prosecutors who harm defendants, or cops who beat them to a pulp. We shame them because they need shaming.
The reason, I believe, that Bobby doesn’t name the bad guys is that they don’t find their way into his posts because of the particulars of their conduct, their outrageous conduct or the terrible harm they caused. Rather, it’s a laundry list, inclusion being based on nothing more than a significant bar sanction. The point of the list is to provide that sense of balance, fairness perhaps, in general.
Bobby’s posts regularly note all the bad stuff done by local cops and prosecutors, a list of local horribles. In one sense, this list begets the next. But there’s a reason why Bobby would provide this list, this being the focus of his blog, and the interest of those who look to his blog for information. This isn’t the South Carolina blog of bad lawyers, a conduit for the bar association to air out grievances.
There is nothing here to fault, as it’s both fair and right that we are as tough on our own as we are on the other side. It is, as Bobby tacitly asserts, necessary if we are to maintain the integrity to criticize the cops and prosecutors. There are too many within the ranks of criminal defense lawyers who lack this integrity, though it doesn’t stop them from naming names.
But our integrity means that we never shy away from making a point when there’s a point that needs making. If it involves highlighting the misconduct of one of our own, then the Happysphere can shove it. Bobby is absolutely right to post about lawyers as well as cops, prosecutors and judges. The moral imperative is no different.
Yet, we write about things that demand exposure not because it fills the blank page, but because there’s a point to be made. There are far more wrongs committed by cops than appear on these pages, and we pick and choose which ones to discuss because of what they contribute to the discussion.
The same is true for lawyers, for our own kind. Rather than a laundry list of those lawyers subject to discipline, without any discernible reason to put someone into a post beyond the fact that a sanction was imposed, write about those whose conduct compels discussion. Write about those to make a broader point, to serve a greater purpose. And when you do, name them.
If they aren’t worth naming, then they probably aren’t worth writing about. Don’t be afraid to make enemies, but make enemies for a reason.