As criminal defense attorneys, each day we strive to advocate for and protect the rights of the accused, one citizen at a time. We do not punch a timeclock or have an eight-to-five job, and our work does not slow down or stop, even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. We worry, obsess, and overcompensate while advocating for and defending our clients, often sacrificing time with family, friends, and loved ones. It is our belief and mission that we stand between the government and our clients, defending their liberty and protecting their rights, regardless of the circumstances. We are united in our belief that every defendant has a right to be heard and their constitutional rights protected at any cost. It is this belief system, which is engrained in us as defense lawyers, which has its origin and roots in the actions and deeds of our founding fathers, that we use as our mantra every day to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Between all our members, we obviously have differences in our opinions regarding politics, social and economic policy, and other personally held beliefs and convictions. We all have a right to express those personal opinions and beliefs, but we should be tolerant and mindful of those who disagree with us. It is a healthy debate for our democracy, to agree to disagree on issues of social and cultural policy, politics, or other personal beliefs and convictions, which we hold as individuals in a democratic society. However, from time to time, we should be reminded that, as criminal defense attorneys, there is more that binds us than divides us, as we fight the common enemy to protect and advocate on behalf of the accused.
When we rang in the New Year, welcoming in 2020 on January 1st of this year, I don’t know that any of us would have thought this is where we would find ourselves in September, amid the worst worldwide pandemic since the Spanish Flu. The ability to practice law, specifically criminal defense work, has changed dramatically in the last six months and morphed into something no one could have imagined such a short time ago. It has taken the resiliency of our criminal defense bar statewide to ensure that the rights of the accused have been and continue to be protected as we adjust to this new normal.
Then George Floyd died, and those who are alleged to have been responsible for his death have been charged and arrested. As we had commented on previously, those individuals are entitled to and will have their day in court, as should all who stand accused of criminal conduct, however detestable or abhorrent it may be. Civil unrest grew and festered as it does, but this time the result was an outpouring of protests nationwide calling for police reform and social change, which has been long overdue.
I am sure everyone has a different opinion on how and why these protests occurred, and to what degree they were peaceful or ended up being non-peaceful. However, what has happened as these events have unfolded is the issues have become polarized, both politically and socially, and when we can’t agree, we sometimes label those we disagree with on the very issues and social change we are fighting for. Labels are a dangerous thing and far too easy to throw around, especially in our new digital age where a tweet or a Facebook post can be seen and ultimately heard instantaneously. As criminal defense attorneys, we fight every day in courts throughout the nation and this state, to prevent our clients from being labeled and discarded because of that label. Just because we do not agree with one another about certain issues does not mean we cannot have a civil disagreement regarding those issues, and at no time should our disagreements result in name-calling and labeling of those who oppose our beliefs or viewpoint.
John Lewis, in his last speech to America, stated, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good, necessary trouble.” Ladies and gentlemen, he is speaking to us. As criminal defense attorneys, we are at the forefront of getting into good and necessary trouble and fighting for the rights of the accused, which all too frequently are threatened, often involving components of racial injustice. We are on the same team, and we can agree to disagree, but should always be courteous to our fellow brothers and sisters who are in this fight with us, and always conduct ourselves as professionals.
Given the current state of the practice of law, specifically as it concerns the criminal defense bar, it is now more important than ever that we stay TCDLA Strong, and we fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The pandemic has not yet run its course. Racism, sexism, hatred, and bigotry are unfortunately alive and well. There are constant attacks upon our freedoms and liberty, and continuous attempts to erode the very underpinnings of our constitution and the rule of law. Rest assured there will be other hurdles ahead, but, as the largest and strongest statewide criminal defense organization in the nation, we will and must face these together.
We draw upon and from each other, and it is our collective life experiences, diverse as they are, that enable us to grow and shape our lives and careers. It is this collective experience and diversity that makes us better advocates and stronger as an organization. Let us remember who we are, and what our mission statement is, by conducting ourselves with the dignity deserving of our life’s work while being respectful of each member’s beliefs and their right to hold those beliefs. Be safe, be strong, and always fight the good fight.
This editorial column is dedicated to Sarah Roland, who has given so much time and personal sacrifice in making the Voice the great resource and publication that it is today.