This year’s political season seems to be particularly negative, including people’s perceptions of the presidential race. As the frequency and magnitude of insults between and among candidates escalates, we are often forced to watch every aspect of those fights play out on television and the internet, even though I do my best to avoid it. Admittedly, there are probably plenty of justified complaints concerning almost every candidate.
Nonetheless, there is one criticism that has no room in our political discourse. Regardless of political leaning, the one criticism that is definitely improper is criticism of Hillary Clinton’s 1975 defense of a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. It is indisputable that, even if the accused man was guilty, he deserved a responsible legal defense.
When accused of most crimes in America, people have a Constitutional right to an attorney. And, if someone cannot afford a lawyer, the lawyer is paid for by our government. This bedrock principle is a crucial part of our democracy. Rich or poor, we all have a right to be defended against improper prosecution. When everyone is aggressively defended against every crime alleged against them, we as a society know that we are only punishing people whom we know to be guilty.
Criticizing attorneys for defending people accused of crimes decreases the likelihood that other good lawyers will undertake the same tasks in the future. Any decrease in availability of lawyers to help people who have a Constitutional right to lawyers harms our nation and its rule of law.
It may be acceptable to criticize Clinton for her informal statements about the case after it was concluded. However, it is improper to criticize Clinton for simply representing someone accused of a heinous and sickening crime. Providing legal defense to people accused of crimes, even horrific and unforgivable crimes, helps our society function and achieve justice.
Similarly, it is almost impossible to find attorneys to represent people accused of spying against our own country. Most attorneys find it morally impossible to defend someone through a legal system that the defendant’s alleged actions were designed to damage. As a result, finding attorneys willing to represent alleged spies can sometimes be much more difficult than finding attorneys to represent alleged murderers or rapists.
During my first year of law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., one of my law school’s professors had volunteered to represent a particularly infamous, alleged spy. Federal agents continuously monitored the professor’s office in hopes that the professor would accidentally disclose some nugget of information that would otherwise be subject to attorney-client privilege. Despite the magnitude of the allegations, that alleged spy deserved a vigorous defense. The professor did his ethical duty of helping a likely enemy of our country, because it helped to retain the integrity of our country’s justice system.
Because people accused of crimes deserve legal representation, criticism of any attorney for whom he or she represents is inconsistent with the values necessary to a functioning and free society.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.