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There but for the Grace of Nancy

The most despised lawyer in America this week may also be the most beloved. It all depends whom you ask.

That lawyer, of course, is CNN's Nancy Grace. Shortly after Grace interviewed Melinda Duckett about the disappearance of her 2-year-old son -- pounding her desk and demanding to know the mother's whereabouts when the boy disappeared -- Duckett killed herself. Grace told Good Morning America today that she takes no responsibility for the suicide. "If anything, I would suggest that guilt made Melinda Duckett commit suicide," she told reporter Chris Cuomo.

Among many commentators, however, the incident has provoked ire. San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius wrote today that Grace's show "reaches a new depth of sleaze." Lawyer Irwin R. Kramer says that Grace appears to be unaware that her job description has changed since she left the prosecutor's office:

She is no longer a prosecutor. But you wouldn't know it from the self-righteous and nasty demeanor she presents to guests of her talk show, or the quick manner in which she passes judgment on anyone accused or even suspected of committing a crime.

Stephen Bainbridge accuses Grace of ducking responsibility. "I find it telling that the witch queen of personal responsibility declines to take responsibility for the consequences of her own acts," he writes. Norm Pattis describes Grace as "a burnt out lawyer who couldn't cut it in the courtroom anymore" who "bottled up her rage and sold it to network television."

But as Andrew Cohen observes at Bench Conference, if there are those who hate Nancy Grace, there are also plenty who love her. Describing feedback he received from an earlier post about Grace, he said many went even further than he in castigating her, "but there were several others of you who wrote to support Grace and her brand of television-as-therapy shtick." One he quotes, "Debbie," wrote:

"Nancy Grace is the voice for the victim. She does grill people on her show. However, those people agree to go on her show knowing that might take place. In the case of Melinda Duckett she was a mother who refused to take a lie detector test and cooperate with the police. Nancy Grace was doing her job for the victim. She was grilling this uncooperative mother of the victim to get answers to help find this little boy. She did not drive this mother to commit suicide. The guilt is what led the mother to take her own life. I applaud Nancy Grace and I hope she will continue to be that voice for the victim."

Whether Grace is the nation's most hated lawyer or most adored, she may well be its most powerful, says Irwin Kramer:

[H]er words generate more attention than those of a Supreme Court justice.  For Nancy presides over a much more powerful court, passing judgment in the court of public opinion.

There is, however, one check on Grace's power, Kramer suggests -- our TV remote controls.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 15, 2006 at 04:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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