A Proud Terrorist Lawyer

Nancy Hollander has an oped in the New York Times: A Terrorist Lawyer, And Proud of It.

I hope you will read the whole thing. Here's a snippet:

Contrary to recent attacks by those who claim to be supporters of American justice, my defense of people accused of serious and sometimes horrific crimes is not an endorsement of those crimes. Rather, it is a testament to the strength of my belief in, and commitment to, the American system of justice.

Why? Because in my defense of every client, I am defending the United States Constitution and the laws and treaties to which it is bound, and I am defending the rule of law. If I am a terrorist lawyer, I also am a rule-of-law lawyer, a constitutional lawyer and a treaty lawyer.

Criminal defense lawyers represent even those considered by society to be the lowest among us. How do we do it? As I used to answer when asked how I could represent Timothy McVeigh, "With pride and dedication." As Nancy says:[More..]

I am proud to have stood by their sides because they were entitled to have at least one person stand firm in their defense and in the defense of the rule of law against a powerful adversary — the awesome power of my own government. That is what the U.S. Constitution requires me to do and what our system of justice needs me to do if it is to maintain its strength for all of us.

On the consequences of using the inadequate military commissions proceedings to try accused terrorists:

Elected officials in the United States continue to plan for trials by military commissions and even talk of permanently detaining some people without ever determining their guilt or innocence. At least for now, this does not apply to U.S. citizens. But that could change. Once we begin compromising our legal principles and values, it is difficult to predict how much further those principles and values will erode.

The critical point is that this is not American justice. The U.S. Constitution provides that all citizens of the United States and all non-citizens who come to our shores, legally or illegally, or who are accused of violating the long arm of our anti-terrorism statutes abroad, will be safe here from arbitrary treatment.

Today it is terrorists. Tomorrow it could be you.

Those who are shouting the loudest today to limit the rights and protections available to my clients include some who may find themselves on the other side of the law in the future.

Whom will they call should the day come when they are charged with crimes as a result of lying to get the United States into war in Iraq, or permitting prisoners to be tortured, or illegally wiretapping our citizenry?

They will call criminal defense lawyers. What a shame for them if we are no longer able to help them, because our justice system has become weakened and eroded due to the politics of fear.

Our criminal justice system is not without flaws, but it is the best one out there. We should embrace it, not abandon it, especially when it comes to the most heinous cases. Only by providing a fair trial, with all the protections allowed for the accused, can we trust in the integrity of the verdict that is handed down.

Major props to Nancy for standing up for the principles to which tens of thousands of criminal defense lawyers have dedicated themselves and their careers.

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    awsum (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Capt Howdy on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 03:00:21 PM EST
    just awsum

    Good for Nancy Hollander (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Zorba on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 03:07:13 PM EST
    Anyone who is frothing at the mouth about lawyers defending "terrorists" has never read the Constitution of the United States of America.  Or has read it and doesn't believe in it.  (Are you listening, Liz Cheney?  Why are you against our Constitution?)

    The reality is (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 03:16:33 PM EST
    Not everyone who is tried is guilty of the crime.  Thank goodness some people (truly committed criminal defense lawyers) understand that.

    Thank you, again. (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Cream City on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 03:34:20 PM EST
    I greatly appreciated the earlier post on her, and Peter G's link to more on her -- and now this.

    The Constitution may survive this era, after all.

    There is probably (none / 0) (#5)
    by JamesTX on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 04:23:39 PM EST
    no philosophy, ideology, attitude or social group which is more antithetical to my ideals, or more reprehensible to my sensibilities and my intuition of justice, than those associated with the image of Timothy McVeigh and his colleagues. There are also few, if any, attorneys which I respect more than Ms. Merritt, specifically because of that unflinching dedication to defense of the person accused and at risk of injustice at the hands of government. To have someone to defend us against the awesome power of the criminal justice system with complete dedication, and without any compromise of loyalty based on personal opinion, is our Constitutional birthright.

    It was during the early years of the Reagan deceit that I first started hearing the cliche moral appeal of conservative loudmouths to criminal defense attorneys...the "how can you live with yourself" line. I expected it and understood it from the uneducated and biased people who lip synced the nastiness that was coming out of the right wing churches and community groups movements during those dark times. Ignorance breeds ignorance, and a movement that is based on sentiments which devalue our sacred Bill of Rights and our traditions of human rights would be expected to produce that kind of rhetoric and unethical reasoning. I wouldn't expect such people to know any better, or to understand what is wrong with their opinion. I would even expect those who simply don't understand the common sense theory behind our justice system to actually see the question as being valid. What surprised me is when the idea started infiltrating the legal profession, suggesting even those who we depend on to understand justice were willing to violate the principles that protect us all. I will never forget when a friend of the family announced that she was becoming an attorney, and then apologetically added, "but not a defendant's attorney", in order to maintain the approval of my conservative in-laws. She did go on to be a DA, but ... I still don't get it. What's the point if the decision is made in advance. Thank you, Jeralyn. It is comforting to know there are still people out there who do not simply disagree, but who understand the fallacy and arrogance of those who would suggest you have done something wrong.

    Before Timothy McVeigh, there was another (none / 0) (#15)
    by Rojas on Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 10:28:40 AM EST
    group of Terrorist Lawyers. Some of the best defense attorneys in the state volunteered to represent 11 survivors of the Branch Davidian sect down in San Antonio against federal conspiracy charges. They brought to the task their professional expertise and they opened their homes to those the Government represented as one of the most vile and dangerous threats imaginable.

    It was damn sure something to be proud of.

    In the end they made a critical mistake. This allowed the Judge, due to a technicality, throw the jury verdict out.

    I'll never forget the courage of a retired Texas school teacher. As foreman of the jury she took the Judge to task for this travesty of justice.

    On a more personal note: I cannot explain the honor and responsibility I felt when I was chosen to serve on this jury. It was the most intense forty-eight days (my thoughts did not take a break on weekends and holidays!) of my life. If justice is served in the end, I and my fellow jurors did our duty. It is now in the Court's hands to assure that our intentions are not belied.

    Sarah Bain is someone to be proud of.

    It is said that the great military leaders are those who remain clear of vision during the chaos and carnage of battle. And by that measure, it is the Defense Attorneys who throughout history have remained dedicated to constitutional principals. There are those within their ranks, always maligned at the time, who who steadfastly represent the best of our ideals despite the fear and ignorance du jour of their countrymen. To those, we owe a great debt.


    A Real Patriot (none / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 04:36:04 PM EST
    Ironic that those who fancy themselves "patriots" think she is some sort of commie.

    Bedwetting is just one of the symptoms brought on by fascist minded fearmongering. Amnesia at best or embracing ignorance at worst, is far more dangerous .

    Lady Justice is blind (none / 0) (#7)
    by BTAL on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 05:42:51 PM EST
    and rightly so.

    "Real" people on the other hand do have eyes.  

    I find it ironic that my Patriot friends on the left  are quick to put their thumb on the scale but complain heartily with their outrage to common sense and realities of defending the country that provides those very freedoms.

    Just shut up about (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by jondee on Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 11:51:03 AM EST
    the country that protects your right to speak to speak your mind.

    Is that what you're saying?


    not so (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 07:17:28 PM EST
    Everyone is entitled to an adequate, replacement-level lawyer in our system.  Often innocent, indigent defendants get newly-minted, average lawyers as public defenders.  Terrorists have a right to the same.  They have no right to Jeralyn or Perry Mason as a lawyer.  
    The country's best defense lawyers should perhaps make some effort to defend those who might actually be innocent and thus promote justice rather than to defend the surely guilty, thus making trials more expensive or creating an OJ-style miscarriage of justice.  

    don't knock public defenders (5.00 / 3) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 07:34:03 PM EST
    There are excellent public defenders. They are overworked and underpaid and may get less glory than those of us in private practice but they are just as qualified, often more so.

    As for the rest of your comment, it doesn't warrant being dignified with a response. Please take your uninformed and misguided thoughts elsewhere.


    If we do not support upholding our laws (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Cream City on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 11:35:14 PM EST
    including that all who come before our courts are innocent until found guilty, then we will be the ones guilty of breaking the law -- and could lose them.  

    This traces back not just to the Constitution but to the Magna Carta, to the bedrock of democracy.


    From an "adequate" public defender (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by kim on Sat Mar 27, 2010 at 11:54:15 AM EST
    This comment assumes that all public defenders are there for the experience and then "escape" to private practice where they get to pick and choose their clients.

    The reality is the majority of defense attorneys cannot pick and choose their clients and, in order to survive, must take all comers who can afford their fees.

    Public defenders take all comers, all innocent when they walk in the door until after guilty finding or plea, whether those people can afford the services or not.  This includes very experienced attorneys who prefer to serve an unpopular and underserved population and who could be making much more money somewhere else.

    It is not up to lawyers to make a determination of their clients' guilt or innocence.  That determination is for the judge or jury.

    Promoting justice does not equal defending only those who are innocent.  The Constitution requires that all subjects are entitled to a defense whether they are accused of murder, rape, or driving without a license.  It makes no distinction between "accused" and "actually innocent."

    Lawyers like Attorney Merritt and those that defend accused foreign terrorists are true heroes: those that will do what is required without expectation of a medal or a parade and with full expectation of ridicule.

    I work constantly to provide my indigent clients with, what I hope, is a defense which is more than adequate and one which is unconstrained by whether or not they will be able to pay my fee.


    So who does have a "right" (none / 0) (#16)
    by jondee on Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 11:43:27 AM EST
     (wrong word) to Perry Mason? Those who can pony up the dough? If that's what you're saying, than you're back to equating rights and the protections afforded by them with economic status -- an ethically bankrupt philosophy which only leads to more of the type of "miscarriages" that you're (ostensibly) concerned about, not less.

    Let me see ... (none / 0) (#12)
    by nyrias on Sat Mar 27, 2010 at 11:57:35 PM EST
    "innocent until found guilty" .. sure a good ideal.

    Now, if you know FOR SURE that your client is guilty of murder, or watever, isn't justic done if he is actually FOUND guilty?

    I have no problem for you to defend as diligently as possible for someone who is innocent. And i have no problem to exercise a bit of giving the benefit of the doubt when there is indeed room for doubt.

    But there are PLENTY of cases where there is NO DOUBT about the physical facts. If someone is seen carrying a gun, walk into a store and killed people, left finger print, being photographed by a camera, or left other form of physical evidence (like DNA), don't you think that justice is where he is found guilty, instead of getting off on some technicality?

    Ideal? (none / 0) (#13)
    by squeaky on Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 12:43:54 AM EST

    Not just some ideal.  Presumption of Innocence is long held fundamental human right.

    Although the Constitution  of the United States [late 18th century] does not cite it explicitly, presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments. See also Coffin v. United States [1895]

    true (none / 0) (#14)
    by roger on Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 08:39:54 AM EST
    Often I have clients who ARE guilty, of less serious crimes than then the ones that they are charges with. Do I have your permission to defend them?

    And who selected you to decide?