OK, I’m donning my flame-retardant gear. Here it goes. Bring it on. 🙂
Whenever I spot someone walking around with that popular, Shakespeare-inspired T-shirt:
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”
King Henry VI, Act IV, Scene II
I stop and try to ask them to explain what it means to them. Inevitably, the response is some kind of complaint about lawyers. Lawyers are such a pain, always creating problems, screwing up everything. Oh that Shakespeare – even he knew what a nuisance lawyers can be!
Well, sort of. I suspect 99% of the people sporting that shirt (who aren’t lawyers) don’t realize the context of the quote or what it meant. Indeed, any aspiring despot, dictator, or tyrant might want to immediately rid the land of lawyers, the folks most likely to stand between them and their goal of unregulated, unchecked power. A tad more context:
Cade: “I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.”
Dick: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
King Henry VI, Act IV, Scene II
When someone is trying to get rid of the lawyers, look out.
Anyway, fast forwarding about 560 years, back in my hometown there’s a high-profile trial currently underway. A monstrous, heinous one. On February 12, 2009, the same day 50 family members and friends were lost in the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan walked into his neighborhood police station and said “I just killed my wife.”
In what appears to be classic case of domestic violence taken to its tragic extreme, Hassan admitted to stabbing – and then decapitating – his wife Aasiya in their television studio with two hunting knives he picked up at a Wal-Mart. Now 2 years later, his trial finally started, and Hassan appears to be doing everything possible to ensure his fate, from firing multiple lawyers, to insulting the Court, to storming out of his own trial.
Yet, despite all this, he gets an orderly trial. And a defense. And a jury. And a Judge. Due Process. And I think that is amazing.
Brad Riter, a local WNY talk show host whose locally-focused show I really enjoy (he’s a sharp, thoughtful guy with “regular Buffalo guy” common sense) came out strongly against this process. He, along with many others I’m sure, decried the entire trial process as a complete waste of time for everyone. Hassan is obviously guilty, a bad guy in the strongest sense, and that’s that. Why bother. I understand the sentiment, but the process is bigger than any single, despicable participant.
Shortcutting a trial and giving “The State” – whoever that may be at any particular time – the power to deprive any person of rights without due process is a crazy scary proposition. (As an aside, some of the key rights that millions of us take for granted, such as our “Miranda Rights” emerged out of cases involving highly unsympathetic individual defendants.) And who stands between an accused and “The State”, ensuring that due process is followed? The defense lawyer. They’re a small % of the legal profession, but such a critically important one. If any of us was accused – wrongly or not – who would we want on our side? A defense lawyer.
As unsympathetic as this Hassan guy is – and his one-way ticket to Attica appears virtually certain – he deserves his due process, and I am thankful there are attorneys willing to ensure he gets it. Yes, I know there is caché and marketing value in representing a defendant in a high-profile case, but for most of these lawyers it goes much, much deeper than that. They care about the process as much as they care about any individual client. In representing their clients, they are ultimately protecting our rights as well. A lot of lawyers can’t do it; I can imagine it takes a ridiculously strong stomach and deep, unwavering commitment to the principles at issue. We sometimes wonder aloud “how can they do it?”, but to be sure, we should all be glad they do.
So, thank a defense lawyer today. Go ahead, give one a hug. Say thanks.
Maybe even go buy one of those Shakespeare T-shirts.