Sunday, 18 October 2009

If you can't say anything nice...If you can't say anything nice...

Just this evening, the topic came up with my family of what, if anything, I would say about a case long after my representation of a client was over. I was asked to declare whether I believed a particular client had been guilty or innocent. With my own family, I was extremely cagey on some questions and flat-out refused to answer others. My obligation to hold my client's confidences goes to the grave. My grave, not his. And my continuing duty of loyalty, as we call it here in Kansas, goes just as far. I don't think I am prohibited from talking about cases in sort of general ways. But even long after a case is over, I am always mindful that I am that client's advocate above all else.

Then I saw this video. (Hat tip to Mark Bennett at Defending People for posting it first.)

This is the lawyer who represented Cameron Todd Willingham at trial and he's getting a little annoyed that we're all still talking about the doubt that has been cast on Willingham's guilt 5 years after he was executed. David Martin thinks it's "absurd" that we're wasting our time on this obviously guilty guy.

Clearly, David Martin does not come from the same school of criminal defense that I do. I don't care how much I disliked my client, how much I firmly believed in his guilt, or how much my representation was being attacked. I would never, NEVER talk about any of my former clients in this fashion. I would never talk about the (ridiculously simplistic) experiments I had conducted that helped convince me my client was guilty. I would never call efforts to exonerate my client after the fact absurd. I would never let anyone know what little respect I had for my client and our relationship. I would also never think that my job as a trial defense attorney was ONLY to challenge the state's evidence through vigorous cross-examination.

I have nothing nice to say about David Martin after watching this appalling performance, so perhaps I should not say anything at all. Except, I have no duty of loyalty to David Martin. But I do feel a duty of loyalty to my profession. I happen to think that defending people is one of the most noble things you can do. I can go on quite a tear about how we defenders of the constitution are the true patriots and the most noble actors of all in the criminal justice system. I take my job seriously. Very seriously. My clients trust me with their lives, just as Todd Willingham had to trust David Martin. As much as I rail against prosecutors and cops who bend the rules or cut corners, no one offends me more than the defense attorney who does not live up to my high ideals for the profession. From what I've seen in this video, David Martin is the kind of defense attorney I don't ever want to be.

Oh, and I don't think he helped persuade me that Willingham got such a fair trial. If that was the attitude of the guy assigned to defend Willingham, I have to wonder whether Willingham really got the sort of trial advocacy he deserved. Maybe a defense attorney who wasn't so sure the guy was guilty might have gone looking to find some experts who would counter the bad arson evidence that was produced by the state.


No comments: