Friday, January 20, 2012

How Far Should a Lawyer Go?

Should a lawyer's integrity determine his legal representation of criminals? To some this might be a black and white question. To others it's grey. Let's first define integrity:
in·teg·ri·ty  (n-tgr-t) is defined as Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code

By definition, a lawyer with integrity would only select those cases which meet his strict moral or ethical code. A basic human right is that an accused has the right to an attorney and a public hearing, to defend himself against criminal charges. A murderer on death row has the same right of legal representation as a shoplifter or a drunken driver. And
 if the accused can't afford an attorney the state should provide him with a legal counsel and cover expenses. If the accused is rich and powerful then he has the luxury of affording the best and most expensive legal representation; sadly justice favors the rich. Take the notorious case of O.J. Simpson. Despite mounting evidence against him, Simpson clenched an acquittal from the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. How did that happen? Simpson hired the best and most expensive lawyers, what was referred to as the "Dream Team". They craftily chose the jury and included 9 African Americans, and proceeded to undermine the prosecutor's case by discrediting the witnesses and throwing a racial slur on the case. One of the lawyers incredulously compared the prosecution to Hitler's persecution of the Jews! The famous glove episode and the defense's line "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit" was yet another feathers in its hat. Simpson was acquitted in October 1995. However the families of the victims slammed him with a civil trial and this time he was found guilty of causing the wrongful death (i.e. murdering) of his ex-wife and her friend and ordered to pay a compensation of $ 8.5 million and $ 25 million punitive damages. Bottom line: Simpson was guilty but his smart, expensive lawyers got he off the first time round, so is this ethical? Yes it is, if they believed he wasn't guilty and went about proving it based on the defendant is innocent till proven guilty rule.

Which takes us to the Mubarak trial. As President of Egypt, Mubarak should be held responsible for use of excessive police brutality that left between 800-1000 dead and thousands injured and maimed. But not everyone believes Mubarak is guilty as evidences by his staunch supporters, albeit for different reasons. The first defense excuse is that he has never given direct orders to kill protesters, as he didn't know the full extent of the surging anger on the streets, or how his Interior Ministry was trying to succumb it. Then there's the ludicrous excuse that he's an old man, he's my father and yours and you just don't treat your father or insult him like that. It's just not done in this part of the world which reveres parents and has no tolerance for offspring ingratitude. Why can't we be like the French? They didn't extend trial immunity courtesy to 78- year old Chirac and tried him on embezzlement charges. Another defense tactic is the 6 October card; Mubarak was commander in chief of the air forces that dealt the surprise strike to Israel which gave Egypt the initial advantage in 1973. A war hero doesn't deserve this, they argue, shouldn't his distinguished career grant him preferential treatment? Well, although Saddam Hussein was no war hero, his military background didn't prevent the Iraqis from executing him in 2006, nor did it stop Romanians from killing Ceausescu and his wife in 1989.

After Mubarak was forced to relinquish his office the people's jubilation was overwhelming, and his supporters were subdued and barely managed an apologetic whisper on facebook of "We're Sorry President - إحنا آسفين يا ريس". However the movement gained momentum as the Revolution's euphoria wore off and these apologists blossomed into an unabashed group of sympathizers who religiously rally outside the courthouse in defiance to the families of the martyrs. But they sometimes border on the ridiculous when they're joined by dubious characters like Sheikha Magda who continuously hallucinates about her visions and dreams of a saintly Mubarak. Both supporters and detractors confront each other with their own set of banners, although the supporters strangely sported Saudi flags the other day! The ensuing war of words and brawls have become a routine occurrence that has of late culminated in skirmishes. Advocates of Mubarak's innocence may be given the benefit of the doubt given the state media brainwashing tactics, but can the same apply to Mubarak's brilliant lawyer, Farid El Deeb? El Deeb is an exorbitant lawyer, who ironically defended Ayman Nour against Mubarak and his regime in 2005, and 3 years ago rose to the defense of Hisham Talaat Mustafa in the Susan Tamim murder case. Does El Deeb believe in his client's innocence or more in his genius defense endowments if he's guilty? This raises the question: how far should a lawyer go?

A lawyer should go as far as his conscience takes him. The underlying assumption is that he has crisp integrity and would never accept a case if he was certain that the defendant was guilty. Obviously the likes of Al Capone's lawyer are not in this league. One can therefore assume that since a lawyer's choice of cases depends entirely on his moral code of ethics then he is above reproach. When a lawyer is convinced in his heart that his client is innocent, he strives to defend him by refuting any incriminating evidence and exonerates him. Having said that, should we criticize El Deeb for defending Mubarak? Not if we're altruistic and give him the benefit of the doubt.. in overdoses.

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