Short Take: The Bombs Lawyers Throw

It’s not as if lawyers lack opportunity to use their skills, their license, to do whatever it is they believe to serve the public good. Heck, if any profession is well positioned to stand up for whatever their flavor of justice, it’s law. Which is why this accusation is so confounding.

Two lawyers were charged with taking part in a Molotov cocktail attack on a police patrol car over the weekend — a human rights lawyer and a Princeton-educated associate at a Manhattan law firm.

The attack during the Brooklyn protests left the dashboard of a blue-and-white police car charred after a night of violent clashes between protesters and police, a symbol of the chaos wrought over a weekend of sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent demonstrations.

The two lawyers involved in the attack were identified by federal authorities as Urooj Rahman, 31, the human rights lawyer, and Colinford King Mattis, 32, an associate at the midsize law firm of Pryor Cashman LLP, who graduated from Princeton.

To be clear, I have no idea if they did it, if there’s any basis for the accusation or if they have a brilliant defense. They are innocent, no asterisk needed, and will remain so unless and until they are convicted, whether by plea or verdict.

There is no allegation that anyone was physically harmed by their conduct, and they were released on bond, set in EDNY at $250,000 PRB, with their parents and friends as FRPs. The government is appealing to the Second Circuit.

“The defendants’ criminal conduct was extraordinarily serious. Amid the largely peaceful demonstrations taking place on Friday night, Mattis and Rahman committed an act of potentially deadly violence,” prosecutors wrote.

“The actions endangered NYPD officers, as well as other individuals on the street in close proximity to the attack,” they added.

The argument, of course, puts the cart ahead of the horse, presuming guilt to argue for their detention. It’s the usual backward logic, but one that’s long been favored by prosecutors and courts, who would prefer to take no chances of harm or embarrassment because they care no more for the presumption of innocence than most people.

That said, the abstract notion that two young lawyers might have believed that they could better serve their cause, their ideology, their people by throwing Molotov cocktails at squad cars is a horribly sad and inexplicably bad idea. If two lawyers believe strongly in a cause, whatever that cause might be, they are fortunate to be possessed of a degree, a license and the ability to further it through the law. Sue the assholes. Fight the good fight, but fight it in the trenches. Call the judge mean names if you must, and take your hit on contempt if that’s what you feel you must do.

But you’re lawyers. Lawyers. Not killers. Not destroyers. Lawyers.

On the one hand, to squander the opportunity given you to take up arms against whatever you believe is evil by getting arrested for throwing bombs is to forsake the huge opportunity your license gives you. No one said it was easy or quick, but laws can be changed, rulings fought, good guys saved and bad guys held responsible, through the courts. Who else will fight that good fight but lawyers?

You cannot, however, do it from a cell.

On the other hand, if you’ve so lost faith in the law that you consider it futile to use your knowledge, experience and license to fight for what you believe in, why are you still practicing law? Are you collecting a paycheck during the day and putting on a black mask at night to do violence, harm and destruction? If so, you aren’t the good guy you pretend to be, but just another utilitarian hypocrite sucking on the teet of law when it feeds you and trying to destroy law when it’s cool.

This is not a critique of your ideology, even though I do not agree with it and am vehemently against it. You are entitled to believe in whatever you want, and that I disagree is irrelevant. You do what you must. But do it as a lawyer. It might not bring you the visceral thrill of tossing a Molotov cocktail when you thought you could get away with it, but if you want to build a better world, destruction isn’t the way to do it when you can use the law to promote whatever you believe is good, just, moral and decent.

22 thoughts on “Short Take: The Bombs Lawyers Throw

  1. Skink

    A first-year and a second-year lawyer. The one with vastly more experience has been on furlough for a couple months, so they’re about equals. Like most, they are years-short of the experience to know what lawyerin’ isn’t about. Sadly, or perhaps happily, they may never get the chance.

    1. SHG Post author

      Too many of the baby lawyers minted in the past few years come to the job with their heads ideologically twisted. I don’t know if they’re good lawyers (although I hear from their supervisors that they believe they’re all Bill Kuntsler but few can manage to get an argument out without tripping on their dicks), but at least they’re using law.

      1. B. McLeod

        An emotionalist school of “law” appears to have extensively infiltrated the profession in the last few decades. I find a surprising number of my colleagues defending the rioting and looting. One is siding with posters who want to get rid of police. Others support turning the prosecutor’s charging decisions over to “protesters.” Once trials of the officers begin, I foresee those colleagues also wanting to turn over the court’s handling of the trials, and the juries’ verdicts. The officers did it all, so now let the mob do the same. Some of my colleagues are simply protesting for the asserted goal of “justice for George Floyd,” without an articulable concept of what that means. The people who would (on sunny days) speak up for the integrity of the justice system and the independence of prosecutors and courts are eerily silent.

        1. SHG Post author

          I posed the question yesterday on the twitters. The answers were illuminating, not necessarily in a good way.

          1. LocoYokel

            The army showing up in full battle gear and busting a few heads should do it. At least go after the rioters.

          2. B. McLeod

            I’m seeing and hearing similar comments, so the discussion is evidently pretty much like this all over the country.

            1. LocoYokel

              I said it would stop it, I didn’t say it was necessarily a good idea.

              Except for the rioters, go after them with whatever it takes.

  2. Hunting Guy

    Sounds like they’re in the running for a Darwin Award.

    IANAL but I know that if you threaten a cop with a real or possible weapon you have a very high likelihood of getting some extra orifices in your body.

    Did they get their law degrees from a school that advertises in the back of comics?

    (Yeah, I saw that one was from Princeton but based on his stupidity I figured it was for his undergraduate degree. I thought Princeton law school had higher standards.)

  3. Ray

    Confounded? Surprised?

    Lenin was a lawyer. The tossing of Molotov cocktails is straight from the playbook. Agiprop. This is their moment. Take advantage of a tragedy and use the energy of an angry mob to accelerate necessary social change. If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack some eggs.

    It worked in 1917. It’s appalling, and it violates their oaths to protect and defend constitutional government, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. Out of hundreds of thousands of lawyers there are going to be a handful of Lenninists.

      1. Ray

        Yes. I hope so. Some you will. It really is appalling. It just makes me shudder to think what they are being taught in some of these schools. I went to law school 1987-1990, we had no shortage of “critical legal scholars,” but nothing like hard core Bolsheviks advocating violence. Maybe I just didn’t see it.

    1. B. McLeod

      I appreciate the mention of the oaths, as to which, I most often don’t comment anymore, because it makes me look really old. But yes, they did take that oath, to support the constitution of the nation and of their state, and to faithfully perform their duties as attorneys and counselors, and they became subject on that day to New York’s iteration of the professional conduct rules.

      In the day when I was in school, our ethics professor, who was also a serving trial judge, went over this a dozen times at least. Taking the license and the oath was not an opportunity only, but came with the obligation to comport one’s self as an officer of the court, to follow the professional rules, and not to commit crimes, especially crimes against the state.

      He had a packet of cases he had collected from around the country that provided concrete examples of things that were likely to happen in our futures, things that would be difficult to live with, like having to obey laws you might not personally agree with, or like not being able to tell the parents of a client’s victim where you know their daughter’s body was buried. In those days, this instruction was in the 2L year, and to be fair, law school was cheap then, and we could have easily fallen out and gone off to do something else. Each time we would cover one of these awful cases, and what the obligations of the attorney entailed, our professor would say to us, “If you can’t do this, if you can’t live with it, you need to come to terms with that before you take the oath, because after you take the oath, you will be a lawyer and you will be subject to these standards until you die or become disbarred.”

      It is too bad that in these modern days of passionate, social justice law school, there evidently isn’t anyone anymore to explain that to the students. It probably ought to be explained to them before the start ogf the 1L year now, before they spend the first $120,000 they borrowed to pay for law school. It is truly unfortunate that they get to the end, and take the oath, without thinking about or without understanding the obligations they have assumed.

  4. Jake

    That said, how quickly the presumption of innocence vanished in this post and the ensuing comments.

    1. SHG Post author

      It never disappeared, Jake. We have the capacity to discuss an issue that arises from an arrest without any implication of guilt. That you can’t grasp how that’s possible is unfortunate.

  5. Gregory Prickett

    “Are you collecting a paycheck during the day and putting on a black mask at night to do violence, harm and destruction?”

    I will only point out that Matt Murdock’s mask is red, not black.

  6. F. Lee Billy

    $120,000 is way too much. How many newbie lawyers are never going to see a return on their investments? They’re going to have to eat it, go into medicine or drive a busload of elderly folks to the casino. That is the Grim Reality of this pandemic era.

    Oh wait! The legal profession is a casino–as previously posted by me umpteen times. It’s dead, sick and dying. It seldom works. It’s a crap shoot for fast-talking, slick slackers who are unable to make an honest living and severely unawares of their shortcomings.

    (More about judges and prosecutors later.) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we don’t seem to be able to avoid these leeches on society and bottom-feeders.

    We saw our own newly-acquied lawyer yesterday and approved his demand letter for payment of culpable damages. It was not purrfect, but PDG. We approved and trust that money was well spent.

    Obviously, we have a “love-hate” relationship with the legal profession. Finally, we’re so happy we chose not to enter same in any way, shape or form. Furthermore, we recommend against any such notion or idea. Law Enforcement is a much better bet, as long as Commandante Trump is frantically pulling the levers of the reality game-show in his petty little mind.

    There’s more, but that’s enough!

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