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When Lawyers Run for Office, Is Their Choice of Clients Fair Game?

Massachusetts gubenatorial candidate Deval Patrick, a Democrat, is a laywer with a lengthy resume. Along the road to his candidacy, he picked up a law degree from Harvard, clerked for Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit, worked for the NAACP, served as assistant attorney general for civil rights during the Clinton administration and worked as executive vice president and general counsel for Coca-Cola. But wouldn't you know that Patrick has skeletons in his closet? In one case during his days at the NAACP, he represented one criminal defendant convicted of killing a police officer in a death penalty appeal (resulting in a reduction of the capital sentence to life). And in another, he supported the parole petition of a prisoner convicted for raping his neighbor. Now, as this article, Lawyers Defend Patrick's Legal Work (Boston Globe -- 10/15/06) reports, Patrick's past has come back to haunt him, as his Republican opponent Healey has assailed his choice of clients, with campaign slogans "While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop killers, do we really want one as our governor?"

According to the Boston Globe article, Massachusetts lawyers have come to Patrick's defense -- even Republicans.  From the article:

Springfield lawyer Mark L. Hare , a lifelong Republican and vice president of the court-appointed attorneys association, said the ads convinced him to vote for Patrick.``We are appalled that the Republican candidate for governor would stoop to those kind of ads, when presumably she knows full well the role of the defense," Hare said. ``She portrays herself a criminologist, and to say there is something radically wrong with the defense bar, defending the constitutional rights of anybody, that crosses the line." He said he is not the only one who feels insulted.``It is the topic of conversation with every bar association -- the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Hampden County Bar Association -- everyone is talking about this unwarranted attack against the bar," Hare said.

Andrew Perlman at Legal Ethics Forum also weigh in on the question, addressing the broader issue of whether lawyers are morally accountable for the clients they choose to represent:

Although a few scholars contend that lawyers have some moral responsibility for their client selection decisions, it is hard to leap from that position to the view that the representation of a death row inmate should disqualify someone from serving as governor.  According to Healey's logic, she would have to oppose the candidacy of a lawyer who previously represented tobacco companies.  That lawyer, after all, represented a client whose product was responsible for a lot more deaths than anyone on death row.  How about the lawyers who represented Enron founder Ken Lay?  Imagine this ad: "Although lawyers have a right to defend corporate executives who engage in massive fraud that leads to the loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, do you really want one as our governor?"  Please. If that commercial would be absurd, I don't see how Healey's ad is any more reasonable. 

What do you think -- are a lawyers' clients fair game in an election? And if so, how do lawyers reconcile any political aspirations they may have with our professional obligation to provide those who cannot afford legal services with access to law?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 16, 2006 at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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