The Making of a Lawyer: In Defense of the Defense Attorney

 

 

ID-100230451 copy[1]Television programs love to portray criminal defense attorneys as ruthless thugs that will lie, cheat and steel to help their client beat the crimes they commit. On the other hand, television has a tendency to hold prosecuting attorneys out as moral and ethical giants that are beyond reproach! It is so cliché, yet it has become standard for the general public to believe any person accused of a crime must be guilty by default. And their lawyer must also be a scumbag for defending them! So, what ever happened to the standard of presumed innocence until proven guilty? A pop cultural example of the portrayal of a criminal defense attorney as morally bankrupt is the character Mickey Haller from the book, which became a hit movie, The Lincoln Lawyer.[2] In the book Haller’s ex-wife, an assistant district attorney chastises him for representing alleged criminals and asks him, “[w]hy does it have to be you?” That is a question that I am sure attorneys are asked on a daily basis. The answer isn’t always easy because, quite frankly the job of an attorney is not that easy! Sure, many lawyers can hand pick their clients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be a “good client” to represent.

I will admit that I used to believe these myths myself! But, the truth is that a criminal defense attorney is bound by the canons of ethics to represent their client by providing legal counsel and a vigorous defense against charges brought against them. There is no requirement that the attorney share their client’s beliefs, ideals or opinions. Criminal defense attorneys have a very tough task. They represent clients that are accused of all manner of evil. Then they are faced with job of defending their client against the world, because let’s face it, that is who they are being accused by! The first question everyone wants an answer to is are they guilty? Well, that is what the justice system is designed to do, determine guilt and innocence. The justice system only works when every member of the system is doing their job. That includes the defense attorney!

In 2014 Jacob Hirsch Witz was accused of meeting a woman thru the social media application, Tinder[3], and raping the woman in her home. Witz was charged with Forcible Rape.[4] On February 1, 2016 Witz was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. The defense attorney for Witz, Robby Gill[5] was quoted by The Advocate, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana paper as saying, “Jake’s happy. Thrilled with the verdict. He wants to go back to school and graduate and be a productive member!”[6] However, on the same day a Facebook post was made, seemingly mocking Mr. Gill saying, “On the lighter side, the attorney said Jake wants to be a productive member. Didn’t he try that already?”[7]

Cases such as Witz are extremely unpopular because the crimes that are being alleged are offensive to society at large. In such cases it is common for the general public to look upon the defense attorney as being “the bad guy” right along side the accused. The fact is, Mr. Gill is a really great attorney and a fine human being. (I know this because I’ve met him and know his family well!) I’m not going to give a sweeping generalization by saying that all defense attorneys are fine human beings, but many of them are!

In the end, the criminal justice system is made up of the prosecution, the defense, the judge, and the jury. The prosecution has the burden of proving it’s case against the defense. The defendant doesn’t even half to testify! If the prosecution cannot prove it’s case beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge or jury, then the defendant goes free. It’s really that simple! Like it or not, defense attorneys have a tough job to do! Let them do their job. We never know if the day is coming when any one of us will need a defense attorney. At that moment, a great defense attorney will become a best friend!

[1] Photo by suphakit73. Published on 26 January 2014. Retrieved from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php?id=100230451

[2] Connelly, M. (2005). The Lincoln Lawyer. New York City, NY: Grand Central Publishing

[3] Tinder©2016

[4] LSA-R.S. 14:42.1 (2016). Second Degree Rape

[5] William Robert “Robby” Gill, Attorney at Law, Manasseh, Gill, Knipe & Belanger, PLC. http://www.manassehandgill.com

[6] Gyan, J. Jr. (February 1, 2016). Ex-LSU student accused of raping woman he met through Tinder acquitted Monday. The Advocate. Retrieved from http://theadvocate.com/news/14745275-84/texas-man-accused-of-raping-woman-he-met-through-tinder-was-acquitted-of-the-charge-monday

[7] Andy Ringswald, (2016, February, 1) On the lighter side, the attorney said Jake wants to be a productive member. Didn’t he try that already? Retrieved from http://facebook.com

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The Making of a Lawyer: Growing beyond preconceived notions of Family Law

It is amazing how law school changes the way the mind works. Students enter into the hallowed halls with grand notions of how the world works. It does not matter how old the student is, or how much life experience he or she has. Every law student begins the journey with the same “skull full of mush!”[1] But, if we are lucky we will leave thinking like lawyers! Now in my second year of law school, I find myself questioning everything that I have ever believed about the judicial system. This, I have been assured by my professors is the normal process.

As I began law school, I believed that I would never be able to represent anyone in a divorce proceeding due to my faith and family values. Although I have gone through a divorce myself, the very thought of being part of breaking up the marriage of another bothers me. One of the most important statements made by the officiant of a marriage ceremony comes from the Bible, “[w]hat therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:9 New International Version) I will always hold this to be a sacred command. However, now that I am taking the law school course of Family Law, I question whether all couples are truly joined together by God. Free will is something that God has given to all of humanity. God may not be surprised by the decisions we make, but he does not make those decisions for us. If he did, no decision could possibly be a bad one!

DivorceDivorce has become so common place that no one is ever really shocked when a marriage ends. I have experienced divorce, both as a child and as a party to the divorce. No matter which side one is on, the result is equally tragic. Unfortunately, as tragic as the destruction of marriage is, the result of remaining in a toxic marriage can be equally, if not more destructive. In divorce, I do not believe there are winners, as everyone suffers a measure of loss. Sure, the lawyers benefit by getting paid. But if they are honest about it, they feel the loss at some level as well.

RingsIn Louisiana we have what is called Covenant marriage. Covenant marriage is designed to protect the Holy bond of matrimony. This is accomplished by requiring spouses to commit to working out difficulties arising in marriage through cooperation and counseling. Before entering into a Covenant marriage the couple is required to read the Louisiana State Pamphlet on Covenant Marriage and sign a declaration of agreement. Then the couple must go through premarital counseling with either clergy, or other qualified counselor. Although there are grounds for which divorce may be granted under Covenant marriage, the rules by which it is governed are very strict. My marriage to my wife is a Covenant marriage, and it is wonderful!

Once I am admitted to practice law in Louisiana I will have to decide whether I am willing to represent clients in divorce proceedings. At this time I am still uncertain, but contemplating the possibility. There are circumstances where I believe divorce is the right course of action. However, all efforts should be made to reconcile and save marriage under the principals of Covenant marriage. Even if a couple has contracted marriage under the standard marriage laws, the principals of Covenant marriage, in my opinion could save many marriages from destruction.

[1] Bridges, J., Thompson, R. C., Paul, R., Willis, G., Jenkins, G., Thompson, W., Williams, J., … Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc. (2003). The paper chase. Beverly Hills, Calif: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

“Divorce Signpost Means Custody Split Assets And Lawyers” Photo by Stuart Miles. Published on 18 March 2014, downloaded from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

“Ring Stock” Photo by Salvatore Vuono. Published on 26 November 2009, down loaded from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net