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This article ran in the Vacaville
on April 17, 1997. It was published in a slightly different format.
"How Fast They
Change Their Stripes"
The recent announcement of the partnership
of two former U.S. attorneys opening a private law practice caused
me to reflect on a lesson that I don't seem willing to accept --
lawyers are not fighters for justice they are hired advocates for
whatever side pays them. I just wish it were different.
Before I continue, an acknowledgment
that this is not the case for all lawyers, but is certainly the
case for numerous lawyers. Furthermore, what I am concerned about
is not illegal -- not even questionably so. In fact, the very issue
that troubles me, is seen by many others as good old American ingenuity.
Imagine if a minister who had long
fought local gambling in the community had a change of heart and
now was a hired lobbyist for a huge firm trying to locate a new
multi-million dollar casino in his or her hometown. Imagine if a
long time crusader for the rights of children suddenly took a job
to advocate for the end of all services to youth. Imagine if a heralded
health-oriented chef suddenly formed a partnership with like-minded
culinary masters to open an artery clogging greasy spoon restaurant.
In each cases you'd most likely be
But when two former U.S. attorneys
decided to form a private law partnership, in part to defend the
very people they previously prosecuted, they are admired for their
entrepreneurial spirit and hailed as the best and brightest striking
out on their own. Mind you, these are no ordinary attorneys. Each
U.S. Attorney is in charge of one of ninety-four districts throughout
the United States, they report directly to the U.S. Attorney General
Janet Reno and their appointments are confirmed by the Unites States
Senate. These are said to be among the best prosecutors/litigators
this country has to offer.
Recently a former U.S. attorney, a
republican who served in the Bush Administration, and a democrat
appointed by President Clinton who served in the same position until
his resignation just last week, announced that they would form a
partnership and open a law firm together.
Both had had their share of work overseeing
cases that targeted white collar crime, this included a recent spate
of local state politicians being sentenced to multi-year prison
terms. So who better to defend the white collar criminals of the
future than those who had prosecuted them in the past.
By all accounts both individuals are
dedicated to the law. They are both seen as local community leaders
and one local newspaper reporting on the new partnership referred
to it as "one of the more glamorous parings in (the) .... legal
What they clearly are not are attorneys
who see themselves as dedicated fighters for stopping crime and
protecting the public against criminals. I mean they were, but now
they are dedicated protectors for the rights of (alleged) criminal
who are being attacked and harassed by the current U.S. attorney.
The very post they had both previously held themselves.
And imagine what they can do with
civil litigation. Who better to hire than those who know the limits
of what the U.S. Attorney's Office can offer as a settlement? Who
better to chip away at the armor of the prosecution, to know the
best way to wear the prosecution down than those who were previously
in a position to make staffing and funding decisions that caused
the very vulnerabilities they will attack?
Don't get me wrong, I am in no way
suggesting any decisions were previously made to diminish the capacity
of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Quite the opposite. These two individuals
headed a team of tenacious federal prosecutors. And now they will
be tenacious private defense attorneys. It's just the facts of life.
When I see an American Lung Association
executive director I respect him or her for not only for their ability
to guide a large non-profit organization, but I respect them for
the stance they take against the tobacco industry. When I see a
lawyer practice the law I should judge them by their skills, brilliance,
determination and court room acumen. But I have to remind myself
to think twice before for respecting them for their efforts: to
send a murderer to jail; to strip the license from an insurance
salespersons who sells bogus policies to seniors; or to fight the
claim of the crook who trips on your child's toys while robbing
You never know, with a better offer
or a simple career adjustment those same skills, brilliance, determination
and court room acumen may be used to get the murderer off on a technicality,
to reinstate the fraudulent insurance salesperson's license or to
garner a huge cash settlement for an injured home intruder.
I guess I just need to remember, lawyers
are not fighters for justice they are hired advocates for whatever
side pays them. And, that's not going to change. Lets just make
sure we respect lawyers for what they really do -- practice law,
not practice justice.