[Ed. Note: As noted in the comments, this post is flawed in that Winthrop House is an undergrad dorm, and as far as the available information shows, this protest is by undergraduate students, not law students.]
Students at Harvard Law School have gained a bad reputation. Too social justice warrior, not enough lawyer. But when one of their prawfs announced he was taking on an outside gig as part of the Harvey Weinstein legal team following Ben Brafman’s falling out, what did he expect to happen?
Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film producer who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women, has hired Harvard Law School professor and Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. to represent him in his Manhattan sexual abuse case.
Sullivan — who heads the Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute — will serve on Weinstein’s legal team with lawyers Jose Baez and Pamela Mackey.
If the choice of lawyers strikes you as, well, peculiar, you’re not alone, particularly for a case prosecuted in New York County Supreme Court. But defendants get to make choices, for better or worse, and complain about them later when it becomes obvious that they were exceptionally poor. This is America, and a defendant is entitled to counsel of choice, provided he can afford them and they are willing to undertake the defense. And Ron Sullivan decided to take the case.
“I am pleased to confirm that I, along with Jose Baez and Pamela Mackey, have been retained by Harvey Weinstein,” Sullivan wrote.
Sullivan also wrote that he looks forward to defending Weinstein, pointing to the producer’s continued claim of innocence.
“Mr. Weinstein steadfastly maintains his innocence in this matter and we are looking forward to assisting Mr. Weinstein in his defense,” Sullivan wrote in the email.
Everything he says is certainly correct, and just because Weinstein is assumed guilty by so many doesn’t mean he’s any less entitled to a zealous defense. There is nothing whatsoever improper about a lawyer defending an accused, even if he’s hated. Indeed, the most hated are the defendants for whom the right to counsel is most important.
But while Sullivan is a defense lawyer, that’s not his day job.
More than 50 students called for College administrators to remove Winthrop Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., from his post at a rally in front of Massachusetts Hall Monday afternoon.
Toting signs that read “Do Your Job” and “Remove Sullivan,” attendees laid out a set of demands for Harvard administrators. They called for Sullivan’s removal, a public apology, and a formal inquiry into faculty deans’ responsibilities to students.
It would be fair to ponder the question of how Harvard Law failed its students by not instilling in them an understanding and appreciation of the presumption of innocence, for having already concluded that Weinstein is a guilty pariah, the conflict arises. But this comes as no surprise, as HLS is long on passionate students and short on wise ones.
Even so, these students may have a disingenuous grasp of the Bill of Rights, but they remain the students admitted to law school. As such, are they wrong to question whether a prawf who has taken an engagement they find reprehensible, so utterly contrary to their social justice sensibilities, to be someone who should be holding the post of Winthrop Faculty Dean?
“Your role is not just in filing paperwork or smiling in our faces. Your role is to deal with the culture that you establish as a Faculty Dean. So Dean Sullivan, please reconcile how you can care about sexual assault and at the same time, have claims against a Harvard affiliate being nothing more than coaching?” she said. “You are a faculty dean, not just an attorney.”
Despite HLS students having minds of mush, they are what they are, and need a faculty dean to whom they can turn for tummy rubs and hugs when their sensibilities are traumatized. Can Ron Sullivan do his dean job and wipe away their tears while defending Harvey Weinstein? At a law school, particularly Harvard, one should view this as a teaching experience, an opportunity to teach the students that how they feel and what lawyers do will give rise to a great many conflicts.
But having already encouraged students to reject constitutional rights in favor of social justice, to obsess over their feelings and sprain no body part by thinking, their complaint is entirely understandable. It’s not that Sullivan is wrong at all, but given the prevailing perspective at HLS, there wasn’t a chance in hell the students would have the capacity to rise above their tears.
There was a time when law students would take pride in a professor defending an accused, without regard to how horrible the crime, knowing that their teacher, their house dean, was doing in real life what he taught them in a classroom. Not only is that no longer the case, but it reflects what sort of lawyers they will become when they flip their tassels.
As for other Harvard Law prawfs, this is a lesson that shouldn’t be ignored. Something about sowing and reaping. There is no compromise on constitutional rights when it fails to align with their feelings that won’t come back to bite you in the butt. If you have any hope of being a lawyer on occasion, or even writing about ideas that defy your students’ expectations of social justice, they may well call for your dismissal as they do for Ron Sullivan’s. And, from their perspective, it makes complete sense.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re teaching law or you’re indulging their feelings. If you don’t hand them a dime, they’re going to hand one to you.