Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Tolling of The Bell

Of the tens of millions of words that have been written and spoken in the decade and a half since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, none have ever seemed to be more prescient to me than those uttered by Chris Rock.

In a special he filmed for HBO not too very long after the trial's conclusion, Rock opined that while the Simpson case was about "color" it was neither a "black" thing nor a "white" thing. Rather it was a "green" thing. He quipped - correctly in my opinion that regardless of race if O.J. Simpson had been "Orenthal James" Simpson, a custodian at the local elementary school or a customer service representative at the local telecommunications company he would have likely been convicted. Why? Because in this world, nobody rides for free - most especially a defendant in a criminal proceeding.

The color of one's skin means less than the color of the currency in one's wallet when it comes to hiring top-notch legal representation. Not just anyone can afford a "Dream Team", which included not just attorneys but forensic experts such as Dr. Henry Lee, to defend him when on trial for his life. Those who can afford it would be fools not to avail themselves of it. Those of us who cannot? We take our chances by alternate means.

I often have a great deal of fun at my own expense regarding how I earn my living. The last time I checked, which was admittedly quite a while ago, New Jersey was home to more than 80,000 lawyers. I know not how all of us earn our living. Hell, the Firm is big enough and diverse enough in what we do that I do not know how all of my colleagues who share my mailing address earn their livings, which might have as much to do with my dearth of intellectual curiosity as it does the breadth of our practice. I earn my living defending civil litigation, whether brought by individuals or entities against individuals or entities. Principally I defend cases in which one alleges personal injury due to the actions (negligent and otherwise) of another. I am good at what I do and while what I do is important to me and it is important to those who I defend, I long ago closed my account at the Delusions of Grandeur kiosk. The Republic will not only continue to survive - it shall flourish - regardless of whether I am here.

Thus I am very impressed by the excellent works of an old high school classmate of mine and her students at the University of Michigan Law School. Under the tutelage of Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs Bridget McCormack (even her job title sounds cool; right?) and Co-Director David Moran, U-M students who are part of the Innocence Clinic are doing excellent, important work. The Clinic apparently is a new addition to the U-M clinical roster, beginning in the Winter of 2009. Its stated mission is to, "represent inmates that they believe to have been wrongfully convicted in cases where biological evidence like DNA does not exist. Other innocence clinics throughout the country specialize in DNA exonerations."

Where your opinions lie on the law and order continuum is your business. Believe me when I say to you that I care not. I have my own as well and will confess to having staked out a position maybe a bit to the right of yours for reasons far more personal than political. Regardless of whether you want your justice tempered with a mere taste of mercy or a dollop or two more is irrelevant for the purposes of what the M n' M Gang are doing out in Ann Arbor. The criminal justice system in the United States is imperfect. Imperfection is inevitable since it is manned at every level by human beings. The appellate process exists in significant part as a recognition of the fact that to err is human and when that error results in you receiving $19.00 change instead of the $1.90 to which you are entitled, the ripple effect of the error may not be too dramatic but when it results in someone being incarcerated for a crime he or she did not commit, the stakes are considerably higher. And they are not higher simply for him - the incorrectly convicted - but for all of us. Consider this for a moment: if the wrong person is behind bars, where do you think the "right" person is?

No doubt the Republic would continue to flourish in my absence. Would it continue to do so in the absence of those who do what these folks do? Perhaps. But it would not do so at a level and at a height that would be deemed satisfactory to most of us. This month we celebrate the accomplishments of two men whose legacies last centuries after their lives ended because they lived their lives driven by the desire to do what each felt was important, regardless of whether it was popular. It is always nice to see that charge being taken up anew by those who have followed in their considerable footsteps. And it does my little gnarled heart good to see that one who is doing so much is one who I knew when we were kids. The fact that her sister's current TV gig is close to my heart is merely a delightful coincidence.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

-AK

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