Tony Serra comes closest to hero-status for me, but I take him at his word when he says that he is a deeply flawed human being and that his primary motivation as a criminal defense attorney is the gratification of his own ego.
I’ve been accused of being a Bugliosi groupie. I challenge anyone to actually read And the Sea Will Tell and then tell me that Vincent Bugliosi was not a badass criminal defense attorney. This doesn’t mean he’s a hero of mine that I aspire to emulate. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a former prosecutor to enter the kingdom of heaven, at least until after he’s smoked a turd in Purgatory for every hour of unjust incarceration for which he is responsible. (Both Serra and Gerry Spence are also former prosecutors, by the way.) But I’ve got to respect a guy, perhaps especially a guy primarily famous for being a prosecutor, who has written things like this, this and this. Read those links, and then tell me whose “side” Bugliosi is on.
What really pissed “everyone” off, though, is that I cited as interesting, in the course of advancing in the face of impassioned and disdainful resistance the uncontroversial proposition that the role of the criminal defense attorney is to do justice, Bugliosi’s policy as a criminal defense attorney of only representing people he was persuaded were actually innocent. (But see here.) Compare Serra, as quoted in Lust for Justice: “What I’m mostly noted for is taking the impossible cases. Every case I do nowadays is impossible. I win sometimes, I hang more times, but I lose most of the time.”
Between Bugliosi’s and Serra’s criminal defense practices, guess whose I’d think would be more terrifying.
I remain deeply perplexed by the saga of Strike Lawyer / Atticus / John R. / John Regan. When the “Lawyers on Strike” blog appeared, I was as skeptical as anyone towards its stated idea “to function as a clearing house of the most egregious and harmful judicial abuses and select specific instances, and judges, for a targeted boycott – a strike – by attorneys,” and was surprised when level heads like Jeff Gamso’s actually appeared to take it seriously, although I later noted that if you actually Google “Lawyers on Strike” you’ll see that the concept itself is hardly unheard of. Frankly, I wondered whether the author of the blog, who went by Atticus then, was himself really serious, or whether the concept of his blog was some kind of clever stunt. I wondered this especially because Atticus seemed quite lucid and rational, and not at all nuts. (He was, for example, apparently the only blawger in the whole so-called practical blawgosphere besides myself who understood that the role of the criminal defense attorney is to do justice.) On the other hand, as he himself very recently observed: “the problem with a madman is not that he is illogical; it’s that he is only logical. It’s logical to frantically brush off the giant spider; the problem is there is no giant spider.”
At least a couple bloggers apparently have an irrationally low opinion of “John R.,” Atticus’ past incarnation as a commenter on Scott Greenfield’s blog. I couldn’t disagree more. That of course doesn’t mean I think he was always right. In one exchange he appeared to defend “rat-lawyers” (which is admittedly hardly an unorthodox position), and this comment he left as Atticus on my blog in retrospect seems consistent with that. On the other hand, there was this exchange between John R. and Greenfield, which in my opinion John R. clearly “won” (without even trying) and which concluded with Greenfield writing: “The fact is that my quibble with you is around the edges, not the core. Your problem is that you care, and life is never easy for anyone who cares.”
I strongly suspected Atticus was John R. long before Atticus revealed himself as John M. Regan Jr. (JMRJ). My reaction to this revelation and to JMRJ’s story was similar to my initial reaction to the appearance of the “Lawyers on Strike” blog itself: I thought, this is nuts, but the guy telling this story is lucid as hell. The broad outline of the story didn’t make much sense, and I said as much in a comment on his blog, but JMRJ promised to explain everything, and began to fulfill that promise in a series of very interesting and cogent posts. Now it appears that “some attorneys” whose opinions JMRJ respects have raised some concerns about him telling the story, and he has halted further posts pending resolution of their concerns. This is exceedingly strange, since JMRJ, who apparently represented the client at the center of this story until at least 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of habeas corpus he filed on her behalf, wrote an article about the case back in 2007 that names names and is available online, and since if you Google the client’s name the very first item that comes up are the comments on a 2006 local news story, which includes comments like this.
I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that JMRJ is, like Tony Serra, like all of us, a “deeply flawed” human being. I wouldn’t even be terribly shocked to learn that something in his mind has snapped, and that he is frantically brushing off a giant spider when there is no giant spider. (For that matter, I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if I lost my mind.) I’m of course giving him every benefit of the doubt on that score, at least until he’s had the opportunity to finish his story, although at this point I don’t know whether he’ll ever have that opportunity. As Mike at Crime & Federalism wrote: “Strike Lawyer is a credible, thoughtful guy. I’m inclined to presumptively take him at his word.” Regardless, I will consider JMRJ a friend and a kindred soul. I have no heroes.