Why We Dislike Lawyers

by Diane Dimond on July 4, 2011

The Old Joke About Lawyers

Question: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a shark? Answer: Nothing.

Okay, look, right off the bat I want to say: I work with a lot of lawyers and I count many of them as good friends. But we’ve all heard the old jokes and let’s face it; the public’s general perception of lawyer’s honesty and integrity is pretty rotten. The latest Harris poll on the subject puts attorneys way down at the bottom of the list with members of congress, car salesmen – and, yes, journalists.

But since lawyers are the crux of our justice system I think it is important that we take a closer look at the way some of them operate. Why is it so many of us curl our upper lip at the very mention of dealing with a lawyer?

Lawyers/Sharks - What's the Difference?

Maybe it’s the sheer number of them these days. Maybe because we believe they make so much money on other people’s misery. Or maybe it is that so many of us are forced to turn to lawyers these days to handle things that used to be settled with a hand-shake and someone’s good word.

Despite what we see on TV in dramas like Law and Order and The Good Wife, most lawyering goes on in a stealthy way. It is done out of plain sight – in board rooms and depositions, in front of secret grand juries or in the confines of a prosecutor’s office. When engaged in their profession lawyers speak a different language than we do and they follow a set of rules most of us will never understood. It is human nature not to trust what we don’t know or what we can’t see or hold in our hands.

Casey Anthony Murder Defendant

For the last six weeks I’ve been closely covering a capitol murder trial taking place in Orlando, Florida. And it struck me as I watched the defense lay out its presentation in the case of Florida vs. Casey Marie Anthony that there is another more basic reason why we think the way we do about lawyers.

The often destroy innocent people in the name of defending their clients.

To watch defense attorneys Jose Baez and Cheney Mason conduct their case on behalf of Ms. Anthony has been painful. Of course, they have every right (and a duty) to do what they can to insure their client gets a fair trial, especially since she is facing a possible death sentence. But they do not have the right to vilify and destroy bystanders to the murder of 2 year old Caylee Anthony. The scorched earth, take-no prisoners behavior should not be allowed.

Defense Attorney Jose Baez in Action

During the defense’s opening statement Baez promised the jury they would hear evidence that there was no murder and that the little girl had drowned in the family’s back yard pool. He blamed Grandfather George Anthony for discarding her body. There has been no evidence presented to back up that claim.

Baez told the jurors that repeated sexual molestation of his client by both her father, George, and her brother, Lee had turned her into a trained liar who naturally kept secrets. He promised evidence to explain why his client let 31 days go by before finally admitting her daughter was gone. So far, the jurors have heard exactly the opposite – clear denials that any sort of sexual abuse ever took place.

What the jury has actually heard is testimony from more than a dozen of Casey Anthony’s friends and co-workers that showed she was a known liar and thief long before her daughter went missing.

Roy Kronk Found Caylee Anthony's Remains

Baez’s opening statement also smeared the reputation of a man named Roy Kronk, a county meter reader who found Caylee’s skeletonized remains in the woods 6 months after she was last seen. He reported the tiny child’s skull was still wrapped in duct tape which had snarled in her long hair. The defense lawyer called Kronk a “morally corrupt individual” and promised evidence that would show he had stolen Caylee’s remains after she drowned in the Anthony’s backyard pool and waited for the reward money to grow. Kronk has come and gone from the witness box and no such evidence was presented against him.

I’ve highlighted the Casey Anthony case here but it is far from the only trial in which lawyers have made reckless claims on behalf of their clients leaving human despair in their wake. Believe me, it happens all the time in courthouses across the country.

The question for all of us – including honorable lawyers who read this now – is what do we as a society do with attorneys who deliberately demolish the reputation of others in their quest for their client’s acquittal? If they make promises to a jury at the expense of others and don’t follow through shouldn’t there be some sort of penalty? If you or I repeatedly lied about important issues at our job wouldn’t we face consequences?

Most other professions have a code of behavior. I submit that criminal defense attorneys should be held to one as well.

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane July 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Anonymous writes:

“There is a mega-difference between state and federal court, especially her in NM. I work in the federal system and ….For the most part, we have a well-functioning federal system of justice, where most of the lawyers on both sides treat each other, the bench, and even their respective witnesses and support personnel, with an appropriate level of dignity and respect. In fact, a contrary approach is so rare, it gets a lot of attention when it happens.

The state system could not be more different, and in most respects, the state system of “justice” is far more destructive to the advancement of justice than it is helpful to that cause. Lawyers behave in ways that produce the kind of jokes you reference in your editorial, and it is well deserved in the state system. The system at the state level is heavily stacked against the prosecution – intimidation of witnesses, obstruction, manipulation of the truth, and so on are the norm, and thus there are virtually no consequences for such behavior except in extremely rare circumstances.

The result of this ethos is real. Criminal defendants, even ones whose mere existence in the community makes its citizens less safe, are literally catered to in ways that essentially encourages recidivism. People can get arrested 100 times or more before they see a day in jail.

Recently, in fact, one of my colleagues agreed to take a case where the defendant, a local, violent gangster who had been arrested something like 120 times, through some creative lawyering to say the least, just to get him out of the state system that had repeatedly launched this man back into the streets to prey on ABQ citizens again and again.

The system has been turned up-side down. Predators become the “real victims” when they are in court, and the real victims are treated with such indignity that it is a miracle they ever show up at all.
The most significant difference between the two systems (federal vs. state), is a rule of procedure in the state system that allows defendants through their attorneys to “interview” all government witnesses in mandatory “pre-trial witness interviews”, before trial – often long before trial. Sounds innocent on its face, but the system doesn’t work that way. D-Attorneys use this local rule to abuse, harass, intimidate, threaten and manipulate the system and witnesses. For example, the most common use of this rule is for the attorneys to make, cancel, make again, and cancel again, witness interviews with police and civilian witnesses so many times, that they wear out the witnesses so that they just don’t show up after being abused through such a manipulation of the rule. Then, they set an interview on a date so carefully scheduled that the witnesses either can’t or just won’t make it, thus resulting in the dismissal of the case and their client making his way back to the streets on a rule of procedure rather than the merits of the case.

Well, I could write forever. Not sure my thoughts even matter. But I thought I’d chime in.”

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Diane July 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Anonymous,
Yes! Your thoughts matter and lawmakers in New Mexico should sit up and take notice of what you’ve written here – level the playing field the both prosecutors and defense attorneys must play on.
I hope someone in authority reads your words here.
~ DD

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Diane July 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Tootin Cotten writes:

“As a retiree from the Criminal Justice System I can tell you that prosecutors and law enforcement officers engage in misconduct such a perjury, subornation of perjury, prosecutorial misconduct,
destruction of obstruction of exculpatory evidence, manufacture of evidence, etc. I kept copies of
two (2) such cases here in Albuquerque, New Mexico that took place after I retired. All officers of the Court are bound by certain laws, rules and regulations, but here in Albuquerque, described by retired
FBI Field Office Supervisor Thomas C. McClenaghan, January 2009, on KRQE Channel 13 News as
“The Capital of Corruption of the United States”, the enforcement of those laws, rules and regulations is
a joke. Especially when you have someone like Virginia Ferrara going on her 20th year as head
of the body that is supposed to discipline attorneys, on both sides of the fence, for misconduct.
And Albuquerque Police Department?, oh, please. Ample documentation of Officers committing
SERIOUS misconduct and then being promoted exists. Robinson v. Maruffi, Polisar, et al,
US District Court, CIV 84-1216M, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 13 January 1986; Riggs et
al v. City of Albuquerque, et al, US District Court Case, CIV 88-1141SG, are just two of the most egregious ones.”

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Diane July 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Silvio Dell’Angela writes:

“Kudos for fine article today.

While your example was the Casey Marie Anthony trial, you can find good examples of the same lack of ethics and integrity right here with those many City-employed attorneys who are defending the APD killings-parroting what comes from Chief Schultz and Darren White and those other City attorneys who defend the fraud, waste and abuse of our tax dollars by stonewalling citizen NM Inspection of Public Records Act requests-all with the blessing of Mayor Berry who promised us in 2009 “ a new era of transparency and accountability” in City government-something he forgot after being elected.

If you look at the large number of attorneys (unqualified for) filling the key City CAO and department head jobs and dedicated to defending their superior’s wrongdoing, then taxpayers have a right to be concerned. One wonders whether these individuals are competent enough to survive working in private practice. Many hires were former CAO David Campbell’s employees or friends of Darren White and I guess that made them qualified.

Again, keep up the good writing. “

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Diane July 5, 2011 at 8:26 am

DD Web Site Reader Katie writes:

“couldn’t agree with you more…someone should certainly take up the cause..they shouldn’t be allowed to destroy people with no proof of anything. I find this very sad.”

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Nancy Erickson July 5, 2011 at 8:57 am

You are right. Lawyers destroy a lot of people in a defense or otherwise. I think a requirement for anyone to become a lawyer is to be a sociopath to be blunt. The most sucessful lawyers are often sociopaths in my opinion. They do NOT care who they crush and better yet, they sleep at night laughing all the way to the bank. Justice? Only if you have money Diane. Most people understand this to be true. In my years I’ve met so many attorneys and prosecutors and they all have one thing in common…they themselves are liars and cheats. Not all.. but the majority. God forbid you need a public defender..

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Karen Ferguson July 5, 2011 at 9:45 am

Strange, the innocent people whose reputations and futures were gratuitously attacked were, to me, Dr. Richard Eikelenboom and Dr. William Rodriguez. These men have worked diligently, with uncommon talent, to earn their reputations (not win them on being mediagenic). Dr. Eikelenboom has been so successful in finding the faintest traces of DNA, left just by a touch, that the prosecutors in Colorado asked for his help in overturning their own verdict regarding a 20-year-old cold case in which a 15 year old was wrongfully convicted. Dr. Eikelenboom searched clothing soaked in the DNA of the victim’s blood and managed to find DNA of someone else who’d touched the waistband of her underwear two decades ago –not the DNA of the teen who’d been imprisoned. Yet he was disparaged by Ashton as being a “student” in a “barn” working at a “mom and pop” boutique. Ashton even left the impression that Baez had blocked E from testing the duct tape –when on Sept. 28, 2010, it was widely reported that it was Ashton himself who refused to have the tape tested with E’s super-sensitive equipment. Dr. Rodriguez answered a qualified “yes” to a question about founding the famed Body Farm. He attached that yes to a paragraph of qualifiers about being a student of Dr. William Bass, who “had the idea” for the U. of Tenn facility and who had been his “mentor and professor.” He testified that Dr. Bass had “recruited me to help him build” the facility. He testified that he had “helped lay the cement and bring in the first bodies.” And he testified that he had been senior author on early articles coming out of the research. All this is stated almost exactly in Dr. Bass’s own book, and Dr. Bass has three of WR’s articles on his own CV as coauthor. Yet Kathi Bellich at WFTV considered the simple word “yes,” said WR had perjured himself because he’d been a student, and “perjury” spread across the Internet like wildfire. Not to mention what Jeff Ashton did to the highly respected Dr. Spitz. Odd that contempt of court is illegal but contempt of distinguished experts –leading to a certain chilling effect– is applauded and encouraged by the courts.

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KiKi July 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Dr. Spitz may have been ‘highly respected’ at one time, but for quite a few years we trial watchers have known him as ‘a whore of the court’. Dr. Spitz has damaged his own reputation.

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Meghan July 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm

While I would never defend Baez’ conduct, I strongly believe that lawyering like that (which is all too common, imho) may be a symptom of a bigger problem — the pervasiveness of the win-at-all-costs mentality. A win is a win in America today; it’s not at ALL how the game is played. The courtroom is no different from the little league field or the classroom or any place of business in America today. Until “we” stop accepting it and start standing up to it (or standing behind the folks who do), we can expect to see this kind of thing more and more.
Thanks for a thought-provoking column! You rock.

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Diane July 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm

No, YOU rock! Thanks for the comment, counselor! ~ DD

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Linda Moats July 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I commend you for asking the tough questions. Your commentary on this particular case gives me pause. The remarks about attorneys I find to be relevant and at the same time troubling. If we as Americans are not willing to stand up to this type of “injustice,” it will persist. Good job Diane!

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Carol July 5, 2011 at 9:53 pm

It is my understanding that lawyers working in court enjoy immunity for what they say during trials. Perhaps this rule needs to be changed. I can’t see any reason why lawyers should be able to slander with impunity for the sake of an acquittal.

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Judson44 July 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Ms. Dimond’s column explores the role of attorneys in justice gone wrong and why the public is righteously suspicious and annoyed by their machinations. Yet, I am struck by how easy it is to substitute (or add) ‘journalist’ or ‘alleged journalist’ wherever lawyer is referenced in her article.

Our Justice System is only as fair and excellent as its prosecutors and defense attorneys; judges and juries, witnesses and court clerks, investigators and police officers. News Organizations, too, are only as credible as its journalists, editors, researchers, fact checkers, and sources. In both cases – absent respect for self, respect for the profession, and respect for law and the public interest – those claiming to serve justice or journalism are but armies of bounty hunters or rogue cops chasing high-value targets for pay.

The journalist’s role is to report the news – not invent distracting fictions and phantoms to manipulate or inflame public opinion. A journalist recognizes that justice is rendered in the courtroom, not on the Nancy Grace Show, Hard Copy, or other shamelessly biased pundit programs that litter(ed) television and radio stations. We need trustworthy reporters as our eyes and ears around the world providing facts from which we make informed choices.

As it stands now, the mainstream news guardians stumble badly in their duty – seemingly distracted by the hefty profits enjoyed by their tabloid competitors, and scrambling to copy their model. Enter medialoid – mainstream media infected by tabloid journalism – a perfect plague.

For the public: there are no painful symptoms or dripping pustules, only a low-grade, persistent caving for junk food gossip and scandal de jour. Is it true? Is it false? Dunno, but it is sweet, slides down easy, and satisfies.

For the media moguls: addicted viewers and readers aplenty, high ratings, and happy sponsors – all validating news-on-the-cheap.

For the targets, famous or obscure: a rating point is a pound of their flesh, a scar, an invasion, a mock vivisection for the mob. Medialoid sears, burns, breaks, dismembers, dehumanizes, then turns away to the next spectacle.

It is in this half-light that Ms. Dimond was nurtured, validated and boldly practiced the journalism of personal destruction – deftly wielding the tools of bias, insinuation, falsehood, and malevolent sources-for-pay. Her near-manic, decades-long obsession with stalking high-profile celebrities for profit certainly legitimized bounty-hunting as a media sport. Now she emerges with a straight face to consider the lawyers role in justice corrupted. Can we trust this metamorphosis? I would offer Ms. Dimond’s own words in reply, “Be careful who you trust.”

Consumers must recognize and reject manipulative and exploitative tabloidism whatever its disguise. Journalism, like Justice, is only as honest and responsible as we demand it must be. We assume this responsibility along with the privileges of citizenship. Left unchecked, this Journalism of Personal Destruction will surely destroy us all.

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Diane July 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I’m glad to publish well written and contrasting points of view. A few corrections: What you read here was an Op-Ed column. One of many I write every month (and have for years) for Creators Syndicate. It is my opinion and is clearly labeled as such.
Hard Copy, the television program for which I worked as their investigative reporter in the 90’s, ceased to exist years before Nancy Grace or even HLN or cable television took off with its “biased pundit programs.” To lump the two together is absurd as Hard Copy was story driven – not pundit driven.
You may call me an alleged journalist. That is your right. But the fact is I have been making a living as a journalist for about 3 decades. While I did extensive reporting on Michael Jackson my career has never been centered on “celebrity reporting.” There are other mis-informations in your letter but something tells me that no matter what I write here you will not agree. I can live with that.
I certainly did enjoy all the adjectives you sprinkled in your letter.

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Diane July 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm

P.S. – MASONjud@yahoo.com or Judson44 – are you actually using your employers computer to write to me ?? Do you think Con Ed management would be pleased?

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Diane July 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Rockland County Times reader Jeff Lewis writes:

I enjoyed your article in the Rockland County Times, “Why We Dislike Lawyers” and it reminded me of a famous line from the movie “Philadelphia” (directed by Rocklander Jonathan Demme):

Q: What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
A: a good start.

Certainly we all recognize the good services that lawyers provide…especially when they are working on our own behalf…but these high-profile media-turned-circus cases sometimes skew the view a little, understandably so.

It got me to thinking about a client of mine, author and cancer survivor Susan Reif of Tuxedo Park, NY. She’s written a new book that helps people deal (and get over the fear of even uttering the word “cancer”) with those who have cancer. Having cancer is hard enough – she would know. But what about those around the person who tread lightly, don’t know what to do, are afraid to offend or say the wring thing and walk on eggshells? Sometimes they may feel just like a lawyer actually feels: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So she wrote a book to help a cancer patient’s support network do what’s right – for the patient and for themselves.

Her book is called, “For Family & Friends…39 Things to Make a Cancer Patient Smile.” The suggestions were inspired by Susan’s own personal battle with breast cancer – from diagnosis and chemotherapy to surgery and radiation treatment. Her determination and the support of her network helped her pull through and survive. The suggestions run from the simple (“Become the Best Listener Ever”) to the practical (“Offer to Drive”).

Susan was interviewed last month by WCBS’ Pat Farnack. Her reports and her full interview (from June 28, 29, and 30) are posted here: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/audio-on-demand/health-and-well-being/#

And it recently got a 4.5 out of a 5-star rating on About.com:
http://breastcancer.about.com/od/bookreviews/gr/39-Things-Make-Cancer-Patient-Smile-Susan-Reif.htm

Available in paperback, Susan’s book retails for $12.95 and can be purchased at http://www.createspace.com/3604024.

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steve July 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

Hi Diane –
Is it typical for defense attornies to lie, or offer an alternate theory as in the Anthony case, in court and in front of the jury? Should we assume that Casey Anthony told her attornies that her daughter accidentaly drowned, or could it be true that a defense attorney would create that story to get an aquittal?
Thanks
Steve

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Doug Mould, Ph.D. July 23, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I have provided expert witnessing in over a hundred court cases, including one murder. In three trials, my testimony has led to trial judges declaring state statutes unconstitutional. And, I have endured more than harsh–and unfair–cross examination. Just sort of goes with the territory. My forensic work has always been for the defense; why? Was never asked to do work for the prosecution. As a psychologist, my role as an evaluator should never be pro-prosecution or pro-defense. Who is paying the bill should never be a factor in a properly done evaluation. That there are not whores for either side is unfortunately true, but should not be. Comes down to ones personal ethics.

Now, unless one is wealthy, the dice are always loaded on the side of the prosecution. The prosecution has far more resources than the defense.

The exception to that is when the prosecution makes a murder a capital murder. Then, almost unlimited funding is available to the defense. Let me be specific. When I have done psychological evaluations for the defense in Sedgwick County, Kansas, I am paid $300 for what would normally be a cost of $1,500.

When Dennis Rader (aka BTK) was charged, the defense paid an out-of-state psychologist $30,000 for an evaluation.

This was one of several mistakes the prosecution made in the Anthony case. By making it Capital murder, they opened the purse strings for the defense.

Now, Diane, as many of your readers know, my wife was brutally sexually assaulted, strangled, and set on fire. The facts of her murder would have supported a charge of capital murder.

I have been an opponent of the death penalty for many years, and still am. As I told the County Attorney, if executing Mr. Moore would bring Carol back and erase the last four years, than by all means.

Performing her due diligence–and I understand that–the county attorney proceeded to tell me that though her murder met the criteria for capital murder, she thought pursuing that was unwise, based upon two critical elements. First, juries require a higher level of proof in a capital murder case; the law doesn’t but jurors do. This just makes common sense. Second, there was no clear physical evidence, just circumstantial, and his confessions. And, there was the third issue; making it a capital case would have allowed him to access far more legal representation and funding.

So, for all of the reasons, I was in agreement with the County Prosecutor, to proceed without there being a charge of capital murder. And a conviction was obtained.

I think had the prosecutor in the Anthony case proceeded with the wisdom of the County Attorney vis-a-vis Carol’s murder, Ms. Anthony would be serving the next ten or fifteen years of her life in prison. (My personal belief is that she accidentally killed Kaylee and then just did not know what to do.)

For myself, I have been simply amazed at the willingness of the prosecution to twist and misrepresent testimony, and indeed, outright lie about pertinent facts of the matter.

And in that respect, I have also been amazed at the manner law enforcement has the freedom to deceive and lie about facts of the matter in their investigation, but you, as a witness or target lie or misrepresent things, are vulnerable to a charge of obstruction of justice.

So, if you have a lot of money, defense is stacked your way. If not, it is stacked heavily on the side of the prosecution.

For me, everything finally came to fruition, though it took four years. Fact is, law enforcement had an accurate description of her assailant’s pick-up truck the day after her murder. That got dropped through the cracks because the outside consultant, the most experienced homicide investigator in the area, advised that they focus on me. And so they did for more than two months. Absolutely were sure they were going to find a woman I was having an affair with. Woman who identified his truck the day after Carol’s murder, four years later picked his picture out. Only thing she missed four years earlier in her description of his two-toned blue pick’up was the pin stripe.

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Sharon Nash Alexander August 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Not only should criminal defense attorneys should be held to a code but so should DA’s! They too will destroy people even the very victims they susposed to be protected. The goal? To win bottom line

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Diane August 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Sharon –
I totally agree – Note the first line in my column refers simply to “lawyers” … but that I mean ALL of them, defense and prosecution. ~ DD

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