When Defense Lawyers Become “Those People”

He may only be woke lite, but South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg asked the question (at ~the 9 minute mark) to “what extent do you invite those people, or appear to be conferring honor on them?” By “those people,” he was referring to criminal defense lawyers in general, and Harvard lawprof Ron Sullivan, in particular, for representing Harvey Weinstein.

Of course, Sullivan wasn’t up for the Nobel Prize for his representation, but stripped of his position as Winthrop House dean. Is it too nuanced for Buttigieg to distinguish conferring an honor from being punished? He was a Harvard College grad, a Rhodes Scholar, but then again, he’s not a lawyer. Perhaps he just lacks an appreciation of the Constitution, in general, and the Sixth Amendment, in particular.

Except what appears otherwise obvious to lawyers, that the right to counsel is fundamental, is now subject to “reasonable” dispute among a certain cohort of lawyers, the public defenders.

Sadly, I can believe that a defense lawyer thinks this way, and in fact, find it entirely unsurprising, having watched as the inherent conflicts between their social justice views run head first into a principled adherence to the Constitution. Zeigler offers his arguments in a series of twits.

He’s not losing his job as a law professor, he’s losing a position as an advisor and counselor to undergraduates about issues related to student life. He chose to take a high-profile case that arguably meaningfully compromises his ability to perform that job.

And one of those issues is sexual assault. If enough students feel uncomfortable with that, he maybe can’t effectively serve as their faculty dean. These kids dont need a lesson about the right to counsel, they need someone who they are comfortable going to with difficult issues.

And he didn’t have to take this case, he wasn’t appointed by the court. Weinstein could have gotten a stellar defense from any number or lawyers, Sullivan wanted to be the one to do it, and this is a reasonable consequence of that decision.

And the fact that he *wants* to be the one taking this case bears on the way it will be perceived by students! I like Sullivan a lot, he’s a legend in the PD world, but this is a situation where the perceptions of the students matter, even if they’re not completely accurate.

I’m saying that in this particular situation, where a dean volunteered to take a high profile case involving allegations that directly implicate the issues he might be called to confront as dean, and students actually feel uncomfortable with this, the two jobs may be in conflict.

There are numerous ideas involved in these argument, and not all public defenders or indigent counsel agree, but they reflect themes that have been percolating in their ranks for a long time and manifest in Sullivan’s situation because it presents the “perfect storm” for social justice public defenders.

On the one side, Weinstein is male, white, rich and accused of crimes that are so reviled as be worthy of defense in theory only. So what if he has yet to be convicted of anything, since all the woke kids know he’s guilty. Presumption of innocence may be critical when it applies to the “right” sort of defendant, but not the loathsome Weinstein.

On the other side, Sullivan chose to defend this defendant. Public defenders can rationalize their virtue because they’re compelled to defend repugnant people. It’s the job, and if the boss says defend, then defend they must. But Sullivan agreed to do this and he had a choice. He could have chosen to have nothing to do with this horrible criminal, but instead chose to defend him. To the sophist’s delight, this provides a distinction, that only evil defense lawyers choose to defend evil defendants, as opposed to virtuous public defenders who only do it because they have no choice.

But it’s also the crime, even if Weinstein is still “technically” presumed innocent. Sullivan no more promotes rape and sexual assault by defending someone accused of it than a lawyer defending an accused murderer is a big fan of murder. This seems too obvious to explain. But the students at Harvard, at Winthrop House, nonetheless feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

There is no rational connection between Sullivan’s representation of an accused and their feelings, but then irrationality is the hallmark of feelings, in general, and childish feelings, in particular. The question is which takes precedence, infantile and irrational feelings of discomfort or the right to counsel, and a lawyer’s representation of the accused? Zeigler argues the former prevails, even while conceding these feelings aren’t “completely accurate.”

Which is to be master, feelings or principle?

Honestly between replies and DMs, the Sullivan/Harvard (Sullygate?) seems to have a pretty even split between the people on here whose opinions I look to and respect. So at a minimum, this seems to be something where smart, reasonable and like minded people can see it either way.

Putting aside what and who he considers “smart” and “reasonable,” as he qualifies them by “like minded,” meaning blinded by social justice, there is a serious problem that’s been brewing for a while and has come to the surface in the case of Ronald Sullivan. It’s not that the social justice/public defender crowd doesn’t approve of constitutional rights, but that they are subject to qualification by whom they like and hate, what crimes are acceptable and which are not, who gets the presumption of innocence for real and who get lip service. And which defendants a lawyer is permitted to represent by choice.

Or to put it more succinctly, they’re all for constitutional rights, and the ability of a lawyer to make those rights happen, as long as it aligns with their feelings. If not, let the bastard burn, and let the lawyer who chose to defend burn with him. Much like free speech, which they obviously support unless it’s hate speech, in which case they don’t, because the Constitution should only protect words, as well as people, they favor.

This is where woke lawyers can reasonably differ. This is where other criminal defense lawyers reject rhetoric and sophistry to adhere to principle and constitutional rights no matter how uncomfortable the children feel. It’s one thing for criminal defense lawyers to be “those people” to Buttigieg, but now we’re “those people” to some public defenders as well.

15 thoughts on “When Defense Lawyers Become “Those People”

  1. Fubar

    These kids dont need a lesson about the right to counsel, they need someone who they are comfortable going to with difficult issues.

    When you’re woke enough, some issues become difficult, and anyone who makes them clear will make you very uncomfortable:

  2. Rendall

    Try as I might, I cannot find anything explicitly linking Sullivan’s dismissal to his defending Weinstein. I mean, yes, some students didn’t like it, but the actual statement of non-renewal was about Sullivan’s inability to redress a deteriorating social climate at the residence.

    Apparently he was extremely disliked, staff churned under his watch at a much higher rate than at other residences, and even undergraduates had been intimidated by the fellow. My take is that the Weinstein thing could have been weathered by a good Dean, but he was kind of a prick.

    1. SHG Post author

      Don’t feel bad. There’s always someone who can’t see what everyone else, including the woke, sees clearly. Usually it’s Jake.

    2. Lawrence Kaplan

      Rendall: And what did you expect the statement of non-renewal to say? “Wr are not renewing him because he joined Harvey Weinstein’s defense team”?

  3. B. McLeod

    Pretty well sums up SJW’s view of “law” as a tool that should only exist to get rid of words, thoughts and people they don’t like.

  4. Frank

    By this logic, John Adams should never have been elected President after defending those Redcoats in Boston.

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