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Lawyering without borders, and as the real McCoy

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When we were selling our house, our very experienced real estate agent emphasized minimizing displays of family pictures, and keeping the appearance and mood neutral, to make it easier for potential buyers to see the house as their potential house. Most hotels I stay at are neutral, even some of the so-called best ones. Neutrality is dull.

Neutral I am not, and my choices in the arts and my lifestyle reflects that. My motivation for doing criminal defense is rooted in my decades-long obsession with protecting civil liberties. I am fortunate that I found a way to earn my living with such work that I love. A prosecutor recently saw me leaving his office’s hallway after I went there to review discovery in a case, and jokingly inquired: "Does this mean you have decided to switch to the side of right?" I passionately replied: "Never! And the right over here is the right wing."

My office design is not neutral. The place is calm and comfortable extension of my own home, more evoking a warm living room that is conducive to a harmonious place to visit and work, than a rarefied law firm with portraits of dead judges and others from bygone officialdom eras.

My personal appearance probably looks conformist, save for the unobtrusive cedar wrist mala beads I wear to keep and return me to powerful center in the heat of battle, and to remind me of the powerful calm and non-dualism that a well-lived and effective life and trial practice are all about. The clothes and hairstyle I wear to court are my battle uniform, which should not interfere with the battle nor on judges and juries focusing on me rather than on my accoutrements. I am a guerrilla clothing shopper; I find what I want, try it on, pay for it, and get the heck out of there.

Among criminal defense lawyers are those who are very skeptical about the criminal justice system and those who embrace it. Plenty of my clients are very conformist, and hire me either because of my views against the criminal justice system or despite them. My staff is free to hold any views they want, as long as they are committed to our clients. I would hesitate, though, before hiring a former police officer, probation officer or prosecutor, until assuring myself that their work in those professions does not reflect an ongoing mindset nor brainwashing that is antithetical to the work I do for my clients.

I do not judge my clients’ political nor world views, nor their alleged crimes and actual actions. Judging has no place in life, anyway, except when serving as a courthouse judge. I am here to serve all my clients, regardless of their political, employment, or socio-economic stripes, and have defended a broad spectrum of clients, from so-called progressives and radicals to reactionaries to everyone in between; and from the most anti-military to those squarely part of the military-government-industrial complex and national security state. The best tradition of the American Civil Liberties Union — on whose local national capital area board I served in the early 1990’s — is to fight as hard for all their clients in defense of their civil liberties, whether fellow civil libertarians, communists, far right wingers, or even members of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi party. I am the same real person with all my clients, of course never hesitating to call out the less than occasional client who says something racist to me, at minimum by telling them that the only thing good I can tell them about what they just said is that the First Amendment protects their right to say it.

Plenty of criminal defendants have a preconceived notion of what they want their lawyer to look and be like. Some think they want a former prosecutor, or lawyer who otherwise seems to be squarely part of the legal establishment; I am not that. Some are skeptical of former prosecutors as not being ready to stomach fighting hard enough for them, although at least some former prosecutors got sick to their stomachs at some point about aspects of their prosecutorial work, whether before or after leaving the prosecution role. One of my clients improvidently and only partly jokingly told me awhile after hiring me that he likes his bartenders to be named Murphy and his lawyers to be named Katz. When I warned a potential client who called to make an appointment that I would not represent him if he continued saying he wanted a Jewish lawyer, I made good on my word, and did not meet with him.

Here is my list of recommended criteria to consider in choosing a criminal defense lawyer, and none of them have anything to do with the items addressed in the last paragraph. The paramount quality to look for in a lawyer is who will do the best job for the client and for that particular case, which is also how people should choose a surgeon. Choosing a criminal defense lawyer and surgeon are often of similar levels of importance, because the goal is for the lawyer and surgeon to stop the bleeding and make the situation as better as it can be made, of course in teamwork with the client.

With me, what you see is what you get. I am outspoken on my blog, therefore getting those views off my chest while focusing on the best possible preparation for and results in court. The power of being persuasively real and of being committed and passionate to my clients and work cannot be exceeded by anything else.