Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Must there always be a book?

This might sound odd coming from a lawyer, but I'm not comfortable with defense attorneys making money off their clients. I am a public defender, after all. I won't even let my clients (or their families) buy me lunch, let alone pay me. I don't see myself ever leaving the world of public defense or legal services or law school clinical work. I just don't want to take money from my clients.

I don't begrudge my colleagues in private practice from earning a living and charging a fair fee for their work. But it makes me angry to see clients forced to sell cars, homes, land, or whatever else they can to pay lawyers who then join country clubs and buy BMWs. Maybe my anger is better directed at the criminal justice system that can ruin a person's life just by being charged with a crime and maybe I'm not being fair but to me, defending people shouldn't be a path to prosperity. (Which is why I always shake my head in anger when I hear people rail against death penalty defense attorneys who are in it for the money.) The real point here is that it's probably a good thing my state has a public defender system and doesn't leave it all to appointed counsel because I would be useless if I did have to run my own firm. One can't survive on appointments alone, but I would never be able to charge my paying clients enough to pay my bills.

That I would represent all my clients for nothing (or next to it) probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. I've gone on tears before about how seriously I take this profession and how seriously I despise its practitioners who don't take it seriously. One of my most-read posts ever was my rant about the does-not-deserve-to-be-called-a-defense-attorney-should-be-disbarred jerkface who represented Cameron Todd Willingham at trial. So we know I would never talk publicly about my clients, even long after their cases were over (with the caveat that I might say things that would be beneficial to them, of course).

Something else I would never be able to do? Write and publish a tell-all book about my high profile client. Yes, I'm looking at you, Jose Baez. His 400some page book about the Casey Anthony case will be released next Tuesday. But my judgment is already out in full force. Don't do that, man! Don't try to profit off your client like that. Don't expose your client like that. You have a continuing duty of loyalty and confidentiality. You can't just say whatever you want to now that the case is over. Even if you have her permission, you probably shouldn't. And, frankly, it's pretty darn unbecoming. Unprofessional. Sleazy. It's guys like you who make the rest of us look bad and I don't appreciate it.

I especially love the idea that he's "taking on" his critics who doubt his lawyering skills but instead think he just took this case for the publicity. Not exactly helping your case there, Jose. Writing a book all about your client's case kinda seems like a "me, me, me" thing to do.

Everything I wrote in that earlier rant about Willingham's lawyer still holds true for me. The client is always and forever my top priority. I'm not in my cases to earn a buck or make a name for myself. I'm in them to stand between my client and the mighty power of the state. Representing someone charged with a crime is a big responsibility. An awesome responsibility. It's a responsibility that should be respected, not exploited. Writing a tell-all book like this is exploitation. It's disgusting.* I hope no one buys it.

*a colleague suggested to me that Jose Baez might have an agreement with Casey to get her some of the proceeds, seeing as how being the most hated person in the country probably makes job interviews awkward. I sincerely hope that's the case, but that still wouldn't make this ok in my book. (Pun fully intended. I apologize.)


BellsforStacy said...

I think the argument your friend made is just oh-kay. Because she can write her own tell-all book. Granted she can only do that once, so maybe this would be like getting two pay days.

She's hated for a reason though. I really think she's a bad person.

S said...

I actually think it's much more that she's got some major screws loose, wires misfiring. I don't see pathological lying as a sign of being a bad person but as a sign of some mental problem.

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