Lawyer-Bashing and the Governor’s Race

The Massachusetts race for governor has turned very ugly. Even setting my personal partisanship (and professional bias) aside, I’m certain that the blame is not equally shared on both sides. Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly says it better than I could, and I reproduce the entire editorial here:

Deval Patrick for governor

During the 34-year history of Lawyers Weekly, the paper has never endorsed a candidate for elected office. This practice was borne out of the notion that the political, or societal, issues that dominate races typically outweigh issues that are of distinct interest to lawyers.

But the race for governor in Massachusetts in 2006 is suddenly very much about what it means to be a lawyer.

On the one hand, we have Democratic nominee Deval Patrick, whose stated policies on judicial independence and appointment of judges (among other issues) reflect a genuine understanding of the legal system.

Conversely, Republican nominee Kerry Healey has launched a chilling assault on the practice of law.

Healey is running a television ad that takes Patrick to task for his 1985 representation of a defendant accused of murdering a police officer — an ad that borders on the bizarre in its reasoning.

“While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop killers, do we really want one as our governor?” the ad asks.

Last week Healey added an ad that references Patrick’s one-time support of convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer.

“What kind of person defends a brutal rapist?” the ad asks.

With those misguided questions, Healey has insulted an entire profession. Here’s hoping she does not get away with it.

What is Healey’s message? That criminal-defense attorneys somehow should be associated with, or blamed for, the actions of their clients? That protecting important constitutional rights is somehow a seedy business?

Healey has resorted to the worst form of pandering, openly inviting voters to think of Patrick as someone who associates with criminals. Her finger-pointing has a flavor of McCarthyism, suggesting that anyone who has spent time in the criminal-defense arena should be identified, called out and avoided.

The lieutenant governor proclaims herself a criminal-justice candidate who is tough on crime. Yet nearly everyone associated with the criminal-justice system, be they defense attorneys, prosecutors, police officers or otherwise, understand that the Constitution guarantees the right-to-counsel, and the right to a zealous advocate. Healey no doubt understands this as well, but conveniently ignores it as she paints Patrick a villain.

Gov. Mitt Romney knows that diminishing the work of attorneys often makes for good politics. He rarely hesitates to criticize lawyers — or judges — if it suits his agenda. But even Romney has never sunk this low, to this crass sort of demagoguery. Healey has become the bully in the schoolyard, poking fun at the overweight children. Look, he’s a lawyer. He must be a second-class citizen.

Deval Patrick, meanwhile, has quietly made it known that he appreciates the key components of the legal system.

He favors giving judicial administrators more control over their budgets and pay increases for lawyers who do work for the state, including prosecutors.

Patrick says he would devote much attention to selecting judges, returning power to the Judicial Nominating Commission. And the former civil-rights attorney has suggested that he will be careful before criticizing a judge’s decision.

“Judges don’t go looking for hard decisions,” he has said.

As to the LaGuer matter, Patrick missed an opportunity with a clumsy, disjointed explanation of the matter.

Patrick could have simply stated that any efforts he made in helping LaGuer obtain a DNA test were in the pursuit of truth. As former Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph Martin so eloquently put it in an Oct. 8 Boston Globe op-ed article, “I never thought that serving the ideals of the Constitution made you soft or tough on crime. … Respecting the Constitution doesn’t make you soft or tough — it only makes you just and fair.”

One need not be defined by one’s profession, of course, and lawyers will have other important matters (i.e., education, taxes) on their minds when they go to the polls on Nov. 7.

But attorneys can rest assured that a vote for Deval Patrick guarantees an appreciation for many of the ideals that lawyers deem important — while a vote against Kerry Healey sends a message that lawyers won’t tolerate her unforgivable cheap shots.

Do we really want someone who defends accused criminals as our governor? President John Adams, author of the Constitution that Healey swore to uphold as lieutenant governor, defended the accused killers in the Boston Massacre trial. Do you think Adams would have been qualified to be our governor?


  1. Steve Laniel Jan 28

    “I never thought that serving the ideals of the Constitution made you soft or tough on crime. … Respecting the Constitution doesn’t make you soft or tough — it only makes you just and fair.”

    I don’t know about the level of state politics, but this is surely ignorant of national politics. Being pro-Constitution has lost Democrats elections since at least the Communist-witchhunt era, and is losing us elections now in the War On Terror. Which isn’t to say, of course, that we should become anti-Constitution like the Republicans, or play on people’s anti-lawyer stereotypes, but rather that we need to find some better way of packaging our support for constitutional democracy. Whatever packaging we’ve been using since the ’50’s isn’t working for us. Balkinization put it best:

    First, (and this is a minor point) Democrats need to stop parsing the Act as if they were lawyers. Many Democrats in the Senate, of course, are lawyers, but this does not help make a case against the Act. Rather, it results in framing the issue is primarily a legal one and thus for the courts. This legal approach immediately disables Democrats from scoring broader and more effective political points. Stop thinking legally.

  2. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    While I agree with your point generally, it may be inapplicable here. The Republicans are attacking Patrick and his running mate because they happened to advocate for individual defendants at some points in their careers. To accuse defense attorneys who run for office of caring more about rapists and murderers than their victims is egregious almost to the point of McCarthyism. The hypertechnical “lawyering” approach that Balkin criticizes the Democrats for invoking is, I think, a separate issue.

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