Our voices carry a heavy responsibility, as well as a solemn duty. We are the “VOICE” for the defense. The words we speak have lasting effect—not only on our present clients but also for those who will come after. As wordsmiths, we are successful by the manner in which we use our words.
My bar card was yet warm from the printing press when I was appointed to represent a young man on an MRP. Speaking with him, back in the holdover, I overheard another lawyer speaking with his client. He had a look on his face, one I have often seen him wear to this day, and he said, “Do you think I am going to sell you out like one of those court-appointed lawyers?”
His tone, loud enough for all in the holdover including my client to hear, made me pause. Did the lawyer really mean that only court-appointed lawyers would “sell out” their clients? It has not been my experience that only clients with court-appointed lawyers receive offers they do not like. All of us at one time have had to relay to our clients information they did not want to hear. Were we “selling them out”?
Implying to a client that court-appointed lawyers perform in a subpar manner does all of us an injustice. This is true whether one only represents those appointed by the courts, or whether one has never once accepted an appointment from a judge. A good criminal defense lawyer has no need to demean another lawyer to illustrate a point or gain an advantage.
Also, demeaning a client to a prosecutor by our words—i.e., “My client is a numbskull”; “My client is an idiot”; “Don’t blame me because I represent the idiot”—will not enhance our position in negotiations or in securing other clients. Prosecutors speak to one another and often use the words we speak about our clients to describe us.
I have yet to see in the many cast images of Themis a human bone. She stands with her foot upon a snake that lies upon a book. The snake, by analogy, represents evil and injustice, the book represents the written law of man. She is our proud symbol, not because of who she conquers but what she conquers. Her sword and words bring about the demise of the snake.
By the use of our words, we make our reputations. Whether the words are spoken by a retained lawyer, a public defender, or a court-appointed lawyer makes no difference in the end. We all rejoice with one another over two-word verdicts. When this happens we do not put disclaimers on the lawyer by making snide remarks saying, “That retained lawyer really pulled it off,” or, “That court-appointed lawyer/public defender lucked out.” Why then do we act so differently when a lawyer gets a one-word kick. Comments such as, “Was he court appointed?” or, “What did you expect, he was court appointed,” have a most disparaging ring when every trial lawyer in our Association has received a one-word kick.
We celebrate the case that put TEETH into the Sixth Amendment, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). We understand, appreciate, and applaud the rightness of the decision. We know that it was Abe Fortes who argued the case. Abe Fortes was court appointed. Thus, with this acknowledgment be aware: “It’s a good idea to keep your words soft and sweet because you never know when you’ll have to eat them” (The Half-Wit and Wisdom of Alfred E. Neuman).
Oh, by the way: My client walked out of jail that night, free. The other lawyer’s client did not.
Good verdicts to you all. Your Hat Lady.