Let's Not Kill the Lawyers
Just Keep Them Off 'Good Morning America'
June 11, 2003
“The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers” —Henry VI, Part 2.To be fair to Shakespeare, he puts these words in the mouth of an outlaw, as part of the comic relief; so there’s some debate over whether the playwright agreed with the line. In any case, the line has given literary support to the lawyer jokes of the past couple of decades. We laugh at lawyers as we laugh at other people we need but resent needing—physicians, politicians, clergy, and teachers all come to mind. Laughter is sometimes our only defense against them. We don’t want to kill them, but we enjoy a belly-laugh at their expense.
When certain boundaries are crossed, however, laughter is no longer a sufficient response. Lawyers cross one when, before trial and light-years away from the restraints and disciplines of a courtroom, they argue their cases on television in a direct appeal for public support. In this obscene exercise they spar with journalists who try to egg them into sensational indiscretions. The lawyers are usually too smart to fall for it, but the journalists keep hoping.
“Obscene” is the right word, by the way, The third definition, “offensive or repulsive to the senses; loathsome” (American Heritage Dictionary) is an exact description of what they are doing. At the least, it is offensive and repulsive to my moral sense.
Argument for freedom of the press and of speech does not apply here. I know those freedoms; I am exercising them right now. Journalists are free. Lawyers aren’t. They are not members of the press, but officers of the court. When retained to represent the prosecution or defense in a case, they do not have ethical permission to say whatever they want wherever they want.
Juries are drawn from the public, not imported from outer space. Their only chance of making an objective judgment depends on disciplined presentations argued in open court under the impartial direction of a judge. The morning shows, where lawyers yap away for months before a prominent trial begins, are neither preparation nor substitute for that.
Lawyers who happen to read this column may dismiss it on technical grounds. But it won’t work. Laws fall to technicalities, but morals don’t.
About the Author:
Some of Barnabas's best friends are lawyers.
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