Some lawyers provide free counsel to our troops. Others represent the terror detainees. Each performs a service worthy of our gratitude.
My post Wednesday chronicling the sound and fury of 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs included several risible quotes from the angry jurist about his perceptions of the disconnect between the military and legal establishment. Most of the quotes were taken from the transcript of a 2009 speech the judge gave at Cornell Law School, an extraordinary lecture in which he posited, Glenn Beck-like, that the entire legal profession is prejudiced against the military. One of the quotes was this:
Many inmates at the facility at Guantanamo Bay find themselves well-lawyered. Yet, in some family courts, parents are found to be unfit because they are soldiers being deployed abroad; they can look in vain for such high-powered legal assistance.
The clear implication of the remark is that the dedicated men and women working pro bono on behalf of the imprisoned detainees are choosing, in a particularly unpatriotic fashion, to defend suspected terrorists rather than defend America's service personnel and their families. (Pro bono, from the Latin, loosely means public service performed by professionals). This choice, Chief Judge Jacobs explained, is further proof of a vast ongoing conspiracy in the legal profession to disregard and defy the military.
To a commentator identified as "John Templeton," the quote quickly created a challenge he asked me to meet. Here is "Templeton"'s post:
Why not answer his question, Andrew: "Many inmates at the facility at Guantanamo Bay find themselves well-lawyered. Yet, in some family courts, parents are found to be unfit because they are soldiers and sailors being deployed; they can look in vain for high-powered legal assistance." Why is that? Maybe because protecting and defending pro bono those in the military don't get you the right "cred" when it comes time to hobnob or try to make partner at your firm.
It's a great question -- because it illustrates the depths to which many Americans fail to understand the concept of pro bono work as it applies to the legal profession. Like Chief Judge Jacobs (who ought to know better), Templeton evidently believes that lawyers and paralegals are choosing to help the terror detainees, rather than our military families, out of careerist motives or because of some elite indifference to the problems of our military class. The implication is an ugly one, touching upon the some of the worst caricatures many Americans have about lawyers, and it warrants a response.
MORE ON JUDGES AND OUR MILITARY
It warrants a response also because Templeton (and Chief Judge Jacobs) are not alone in their confusion. In 2010, Liz Cheney gratuitously attacked the principles of Obama-era Justice Department lawyers who had, during the Bush administration, represented Gitmo detainees. And in 2007, Charles "Cully" Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, attacked the virtues of the law firms whose attorneys were providing pro bono representation for some of the detainees. Stimson lost his government job because of those remarks -- and he should have. Here's why.