Friday, January 12, 2007

newsflash: lawyers represent unpopular clients

In the NY Times tonight: (link generator doesn’t seem to be working again)

The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

. . .

In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

Karen J. Mathis, a Denver lawyer who is president of the American Bar Association, said: “Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law. To impugn those who are doing this critical work — and doing it on a volunteer basis — is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans.”

Memo to Stimson: it’s not 2003 anymore. It’s not in the political interests of the administration to shed any more light on what is happening in Guantanamo, as the government continues to hold hundreds of people without charges and continues to release detainees with no charges filed. This new publicity may rile up the GOP base, but it will alienate others—including lawyers in the DOJ and the military who will be carrying forward these prosecutions after Bush leaves office. In addition, attacking the bar in this way will not endear the executive branch to the judges who will be ruling on the constitutionality of the trials of detainees moving forward.

In fact, it sounds like Stimson was acting alone on this:

In an interview on Friday, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said he had no problem with the current system of representation. “Good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases,” he said.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon had any official comment, but officials sought to distance themselves from Mr. Stimson’s view. His comments “do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership,” a senior Pentagon official said.

. . .

The role of major law firms agreeing to take on the cases of Guantánamo prisoners challenging their detentions in federal courts has hardly been a secret and has been the subject of many news articles that have generally cast their efforts in a favorable light.

The idea that these law firms are somehow being “exposed” through this FOIA request is ludicrous. Pro bono efforts undertaken by law firms are primarily calculated to do two things: keep overworked associates happy and get good p.r. for the firm. Corporate law firms are extremely lucrative businesses, and nothing is done without an eye on the bottom line. Every hour a mid-level associate spends on something other than a paying client, the firm loses hundreds of dollars. If firms did not think pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees would be good for them, they would not do it.

When asked in the radio interview who was paying for the legal representation, Mr. Stimson replied: “It’s not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving moneys from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”

That is simply one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard and doesn’t even merit a response.

This game that administration officials like to play, hand in glove with the conservative noise machine, is getting very tired. I am looking forward to the day in January 2009 when executive agencies can get back to the business of governing instead of playing political games that cheapen the government they represent.

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