Monday, June 22, 2009

I Forgot to Mention Perry Mason Too...

When I think about lawyers, sadly the first thing that comes to my mind is Matlock and John Grisham. Because I? Have really never needed a lawyer for anything monumental. Yes, signing condo papers. Yes, to write a letter for me once. But on the whole? I live relatively lawyer-free.

So this past year when I found that I was on a committee with a lawyer I didn't really think much about it. I don't really have opinions on them either way. Do they actually make all that much money? We don't really have commercials up here promoting the ambulance-chasing lawyer, so I don't really consider them to be particularly slick or annoying either.

Really, all I think is that they're probably pretty smart. Because I do have an inordinately healthy respect for studying and education. The fact that I didn't go any further than an honours degree means that I really admire those who found the energy and perseverance to go further.

This lawyer? Is a criminal defense lawyer. Again, I think popular TV and books. Cause really? Is it interesting fiction to focus on real estate law? Doesn't sound too interesting to me. Anyways, I didn't really think much about what he did other than a vague - "oh, so he works with criminals? OK."

But then I heard about a case that he was working on. It was quite high profile and since I sorta knew him I decided to read up on it.

And was promptly ill.

It involved a child. And he was defending one of the people involved in the abuse of that child.

So then? I started thinking about lawyers. Criminal defense lawyers specifically.

But this man? He's on a plethora of committees and boards. Because he's interested in them - not because he has to. And he's hilarious. And he gives you rides to your car. And he bakes brownies for the meetings. And he notices when you're struggling with your bag and helps you with it. And have I mentioned that the meetings are way more fun and hilarious when he's there?

But I couldn't understand how anyone could work with people who hurt a child. Who possibly raped women. Who possibly murdered who knows how many people.

How could your conscience let you defend a person when you know they've done these things? Why should you work so diligently to make sure they don't get punished? Don't they deserve punishment?

He struggled to explain it to me - and I could tell by the smooth tone of his voice that it wasn't the first time he'd had to do so.

He explained that the responsibility was on the Crown to prove his clients' guilt. He explained the various kinds of cases that he worked on, and that sometimes people end up in situations outside of their control that lead to them needing his defense.

"But what about when you know they're guilty?" He explained about the intellectual challenge, and the fact that everyone has the right to a defense.

I even had another lawyer ask me how I would feel if I was in the situation that required his expertise and it was denied to me because I was allegedly "guilty" ? And that that's not how the Canadian legal system works.

I still couldn't wrap my head around it.

I was at my Dad & Stepmom's for dinner the other night, and brought up this topic. My stepmom stated that he must be immoral. That all criminal defense lawyers must be.

And then I got angry. I don't get it. And there is no way that I could explain it to them in a way that made sense for that reason. But I can't wrap my head around the fact that an entire of population of people who work within the confines of law and the crown and helping people are immoral.

This man who heard that I'm throwing a candle party and said that he would come to be supportive. This man who offers to get me cookies and wine when I'm stressed about making public speeches. This man who insists on walking me to my car when it's dark because it's over a block away.

No. I refuse to believe that he's immoral.

But how many times has he been labelled as such? How many times a day does he have to defend his choice of career to people who have already passed judgement on him?

It's so easy for those of us who aren't in there doing it, to pass judgement. On both him and the people he defends. Is he guilty by association? Of all the crimes that he's defended people for?

Did he abuse that child? Rape that woman? No.

I still don't understand how someone can do what he does. I doubt I ever will. But isn't that the root of prejudice and intolerance? A lack of experience and understanding of what another person does? Fear? Confusion?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this...


Ali said...

He actually sounds like a pretty stellar individual to me. Even dateable ;)

Anonymous said...

not enough time for me to tell my opinion.
I will say though I'm all for bringing back public hangings.

Floating Princess said...

I look at it like this. Until the person is convicted of the crime, they have the same rights you or I do. A defense attorney's job is to make sure those rights are upheld. That's all. I don't think they go Perry Mason as often as tv would like us to think.

Nat said...

I was going to say what Princess said.

Because we accuse someone of a crime doesn't mean they are guilty. Sometimes in our zealnous to punish the guilty, we get the wrong man.

Think Jean Guy Morin ( Think of the cases involving Dr. Charles Smith a so-called expert witness who decided that these people were guilty. Families were split apart.. yet, in many cases these parents did nothing wrong. (

And well, ensuring that people get a fair defense is one way that we try (emphasis on try) to make sure that the right people are put in jails. That's why it's important to make sure people get defense lawyers.

(As an aside cases like the one above are also a good argument against capital punishment. I, for one, do believe that an eye for an eye make every body blind.)

Rachel said...

I use to work for a criminal attorney. And he was defending a woman who killed her baby. We all knew she did it. She would call in from jail and I just couldn't talk to her. I asked him how he could defend her and he said the whole -everyone has a right to a defense, which is true, but I didn't get it.

He also had a case that he was defending a woman who was arrested for something like shop lifting - while in jail she was raped by about 3 officers, and he was helping her in her charges against them

Kim S. Yee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim S. Yee said...

Apparently, I can't type well this late at night. Blog comment - take two!

Well, look at it this way. Regardless of the crime, there is usually (I cannot say always) a reason behind why it is done. Whether it is an excusable reason or not, the fair thing is that the individual has someone to legally represent that reason. Since laws are ridiculously complex, there is rarely a simple case of specific wrong-doing = specific punishment. If it were that easy, there would be no need for legalese...

P.S. I love that your Legal Beagle wants to support your candle party. Kudos and free stuff to him!!

Chief Rock Chef said...

Basically I see his job as one of forcing the Police etc to prove that they have got the right guy. Without that safety net we might as well move to China or North Korea.

It gets nasty when they pull technicalities to get people off. These are the guys that feature in the old joke:

"What do you call 500 dead lawyers?

A good start!"

AmyTree said...

It sounds like a case of being able to hold 2 realities in your head at the same time (cognitive dissonance!) - 1.They might be guilty of something hideous and 2. They have a right to defense. Really, really interesting...

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everyone else. Everyone is entitled to a defense, whether guilty or not.

I once knew a defense attorney who said that the main reason he became one was to help the wrongly accused get justice. Imagine that. We need defense attorneys because sometimes the police get it wrong and innocent people go to jail.

Defending someone is a job, not who a person is. Believe you me, *I* am not MY job. I don't like to schmooze and twist words around in real life and yet as a recruiter, I do that every day.

Just thoughts...

Princess of the Universe said...

Ali- oh yeah, he's adorable alright...

My Dear Anon- You're so liberal :P

Floaty- Excellent Point. Was Perry Mason a lawyer or a judge? I can never remember...

Nat- Well my point is when he knows that the person is guilty- not when they may not be...

Rachel- OK that sounds like a hard job...

Kimmie- Yeah, he said he'd come buy candles- bizarre eh?

Chief- I never get lawyer jokes. Why do people look at them so badly?

AmyT- I know I certainly couldn't handle it!

Hilly- I think that's how we need to look at it - EVERYone is entitled to it. We can't pick and choose...


Chief Rock Chef said...

Good question!

I guess one reason is that they seem to make lots of money out of other people's misfortune. I knew one couple who's divorce lawyers fought such a viscous case that they ended up with most of the money that the couple were fighting over!

Kyla Roma said...

I think that it's important to remember that the role of the defense is to present a defense, that's different than trying to have all charges dropped against all their clients. They're presenting the situation around the crime and can be fighting for things like access to psychiatric treatment while their client is serving a sentence and ensuring that they're prosecuted to the extent of the law instead of to the extent of the grief or anger of their victims.

Maybe I'm a little too zen, but people who are in a positive and balanced state of mind don't do these things. I see crimes as symptoms of problems that people have been struggling with for a long time. They're horrific and sad, but I just have sadness and pity for the people who commit them. It just seems like a terribly sick and lonely place to be in.

Becky said...

As much as I loathe the crimes his clients may commit, I respect the fact that he is willing to give them a defense.

I think he sounds like a wonderful guy. His "good" qualities definitely outshine his job.

I think it would be fascinating to talk to him. Plus....he's willing to go to a candle party :)

Anonymous said...

I dont recall saying I was for capital punishment, just public hangings.
As for being liberal, I feel your liberal till a crime is committed against you.

Sheila (Charm School Reject) said...

I had this huge huge long long comment all typed up and guess what? I forgot to copy it just in case and guess what? Your blog hates me and ate my awesome comment. BOO!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting topic.

What I think it comes down to, is who is it that we want to decide which of the accused get a good defense and which don't? Do we want the defense lawyers to be the arbiters of who is really guilty?

You say that you're only really concerned (bothered, confused, whatever) by the scenario where he knows that the accused is guilty. But how does he really know?

I found this fairly brief treatise on the topic and I think you might find it interesting.

I wonder if this is my first comment on your blog? I can't recall....

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