Representing the unpopular client is not easy, but a fair system of justice requires lawyers willing to take on difficult and emotionally charged cases.
Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” passionately believed in justice. He didn’t like criminal law, yet he accepted the appointment to represent Tom Robinson, an African-American man charged with raping a young white girl. The story, set in Maycomb County, Alabama, in the early 1930s, portrays a lawyer who felt that the justice system should be colorblind. Had Atticus Finch run for office after the trial, could he have been elected?
A web video from the Republican National Committee darkly portrays Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine as having “protected the worst kinds of people” on death row as a defense attorney. The video features Lem Tuggle, whom Kaine defended on rape and murder charges. Tuggle was eventually executed. The video also focuses on Richard Lee Whitley, who was executed despite what the Richmond Times-Dispatch described as “about 1,000 hours of largely free legal work” on Kaine’s part. We admire Atticus Finch, so why is it that Kaine’s defense of death penalty defendants is treated differently?
A long tradition in U.S. system
Representing unpopular clients has a long tradition in the American legal system. John Adams represented British soldiers accused of murder in the 1770 Boston Massacre. Before agreeing to represent the British soldiers (who were that era’s terrorists), Adams worried about his reputation. Yet, he said of his experience, “The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.” John Adams was elected president of the United States. In an age of 24-hour cable, Willie Horton ads, and internet-driven misinformation, could Adams be elected president today?
For the complete commentary, see MinnPost.