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Hanna: Character Attacks

04/09/10 5:55PM By Cheryl Hanna
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(HOST) In recent weeks, Commentator and Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna has observed some attacks on lawyers because of whom they represent. It's a practice she says has to stop.

(HANNA) Recently, a conservative advocacy group called Keep America Safe launched a video in which they questioned the patriotism of Justice Department lawyers who had previously represented detained terror suspects while in private practice.  Among those whose loyalty they questioned is Neal Kaytal, the current deputy Solicitor General, who successfully represented Guantanamo Detainees in the Supreme Court in Hamden v. Rumsfeld.

Keep America Safe is run by Liz Cheney. She is the daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney and is herself a lawyer, which is why these attacks are so egregious, which is what makes these attacks so egregious.

Most lawyers, both liberal and conservative, have condemned these personal attacks as lawyers should never attack other lawyers to gain political sway within the electorate.

But this is hardly the first time a lawyer’s character has been questioned because of the clients she represents. I saw a striking example of this in Vermont recently in a complaint in which one attorney was characterized as being a member of the [quote] Drug Bar, referring to the fact that he had represented clients accused of drug offenses while in private criminal practice.

The merits of the case aside, the Drug Bar is a term I have never seen before, and one that I read as attacking the character of any lawyer who represents such clients.

It was an unfortunate reference. Imagine the outcry if the lawyers who represent the Archdiocese in the  priest sex abuse cases were to be labeled members of the Pedophile Bar. These kinds of references are an unethical way to characterize other lawyers and I hope judges in this state will make clear that they will not tolerate such unprofessionalism.

While I can understand why the general public might do so, no lawyer should be engaging in these kinds of cheap ad hominine attacks.

While lawyers may be on opposite sides of cases, or have vastly different opinions about policy matters, we serve the same goal of upholding the rule of law in a functioning democracy. Essential to the rule of law is that every person who comes before a court must have adequate and zealous representation.

Certainly every lawyer must routinely consider whether whether we are practicing law consistent with our values. Some of us couldn’t represent those accused of murder or the tobacco industry, and some of us could never work for the federal government.

These are personal choices, and if we begin to experience that dissonance between what we believe in and what we do, then it's time to switch fields.

But no lawyer should presume that they have moral superiority because they represent clients whom they deem most worthy.

It’s degrading to the profession and undermines the rule of law, and every lawyer ought to know better.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Cheryl Hanna on-line at VPR-dot-net.
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