Sunday, November 02, 2014
My Sunday Feeling
Just when I think (and boy I know I have written these words before) election rhetoric can not possibly descend any further to any lower depths, another two years comes along and proves me wrong. While there is much to complain about from here in the electorate's Stygian darkness, where many "mute" buttons are fused to the "on" position, there is a recurrent leitmotif being bandied about (mostly on the "R" side of the equation as far as I can tell) that if a candidate has ever represented a Defendant in a criminal case, then ipso facto (as we say) said candidate is suspected of being "soft on crime."
The more prominent example of this argument (if indeed it rises to the level of same) involves a local attorney running for City Board. Seems the one criminal case he has handled in his career was as a favor to somebody. The Defendant pleaded out to some nickleshit shoplifting offense or something. His lawyer went on to representing banks and other security threats.
For this one act, he has been labeled as "soft on crime." This charge has been leveled at other lawyers in other various races who have represented Defendants in criminal cases.
Let's get the Civics lesson over first. Under the 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, which we all profess to revere, a criminal defendant is not required to testify if his testimony would tend to incriminate him. This right against self-incrimination ("taking the 5th") was expanded by the United States Supreme Court to include the right to have an attorney present during questioning by the authorities as well as the right to an attorney appointed by the government if he cannot afford one.
So, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, you and I have a constitutional right to be represented by counsel whenever we are taken into custody by the authorities. This applies to juvenile court cases as well in which a juvenile is accused of having committed a delinquent act
Further, when us local lawyers took the Oath to be admitted to the Bar we promised to "support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Arkansas." Further, we swore not to "reject, from any consideration personal to (ourselves) the cause of the impoverished, the defenseless, or the oppressed." Most lawyer's oaths everywhere have similar language.
So, everybody has a right to a lawyer in a criminal case. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to represent the poor and oppressed.
And then there's Brandon Barber whose mugshot graces the top of this page. Barber, a former mover and shaker in Northwest Arkansas real estate caught around 65 months in Federal prison after pleading out to charges of bank fraud and money laundering to the tune of around 32 million bucks. Interestingly enough, this is the amount both sides agreed to, although Barber may be ordered to repay a different amount after his restitution hearing.
Property offenses are a big problem in my neighborhood. Violent crime is worrisome and is often committed by really scary people. Who ought to be locked up.
But I have always believed that white collar criminals are a bigger systemic menace to society than property offenders. Property offenses are serious and they are a pain in the ass. White collar guys take down several people at once. Charles Keating took down the Savings and Loan industry. Bernie Maddoff bilked hundreds of investors. How the guys that rigged the mortgage industry in the last decade haven't gotten indicted is rightly considered a scandal by some. And as for Barber, he didn't steal $32,000,000 without skinning numerous individuals and institutions.
And who represented Brandon Barber? The Asa Hutchinson Law Group. For those who don't know, Asa is the most likely going to be the next Republican Governor of Arkansas. Indeed, his law firm's website states that 45% of his practice is devoted to white collar criminal defense. This is how he made much of his living. He and his son are listed on the docket as counsels of record in the Barber case.
So will you hear me accuse Asa Hutchinson of being "soft on crime?" Not a chance. I'm a lawyer. Brandon Barber may be a snake in the grass but he has a right to counsel. And Asa is a damn good one.
But if the current Republican meme is that representing a low level dumbass means you are "soft on crime" than what does representing white collar punks that cause immeasurably more harm to society than a shoplifter mean?
It's a fair question. And one that won't get raised.
Meanwhile, I will continue to watch sports in blessed silence until Tuesday when the polls mercifully close.