Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Rudder of Our Free Expression

Over at the "Criminal Defense" blog, Miami criminal defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum published an intriguing post about his belief the criminal defense bar has been gutted by fear. Although I'm not in total agreement with his premise, I recognized his post was written from the heart and I always appreciate courage in a fellow defense lawyer.

Brian noted he'd authored a piece about a local judicial election where he remarked how the judges running for office suddenly became "nice" during their campaigns. Brian said he began getting calls from judges, upset he would publish his thoughts for the voting public to see. Bottom line? Brian backed down and removed the post, which he deeply regretted.

Brian articulated the difficult relationships that might result because of his honesty. He worried clients would suffer adverse consequences might they come before the judges Brian had ruffled during the campaign:
I regret taking it [the post] down. I actually don't have it anymore. Wish I did, because today, I'd put it right back up. I'm embarrassed I fell to the pressure of a few judges who for some reason didn't like my commentary . . .

Few defense lawyers would dare publicly say that judge so and so did something they thought was wrong, or that a prosecutor is chronically unreasonable, or that one of their own stole a case from them by undercutting their fee just to pay the rent. Sure we have our rules of professional responsibility, but what about our obligation to be advocates and not just businessmen and women.
Recognizing his failure to stand up for what he truly believed, Brian declared:
What happened to us, the criminal defense bar? Is it our job to stand up for justice, or merely to make sure we don't piss anyone off while representing those that the "Law and Order TV Generation" feels don't deserve more than an hour of legal process (including a confession to the prosecutor in his office)? Has it become all about the business of our profession?
Although Brian's experience was largely anecdotal he finally seemed to have discovered the outlet for his individual voice. For those of us who blog and affix our names to our opinions, it can be very edifying to see our writings affecting thought, careers, maybe even elections. The justice Brian seeks requires us to step out on a limb and tell others how we see it, whether we write about prosecutors, judges, or other lawyers. When we share our introspection with dignity, when we tell the truth, and when we leave our hurt feelings, anger, and personal inadequacy on the sideline, we shed light on the inner workings of a system that often needs fixing. What better way to help fix a problem than by exposing it.

So, I applaud Brian for his courage to admit a serious mistake. The mistake of letting fear guide the rudder of his free expression. I look forward to the next election and how he might expose those problems in the system that need to be fixed.

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