Attorney Courage Sometimes Comes with a Cost

From the first day of law school, lawyers are trained to handle the unexpected and to persist in the face of adversity.  That’s a good thing, too, because everything an attorney does on behalf of a client is uniquely important and significant to that client.  As a speaker at the Center’s James A. Baker Guide to the Basics of Law Practice course once said, we can’t have a “namby-pambys” running around practicing law.   

And sometimes the price of doing the right thing is unexpectedly high, as attorney Scott Millard learned during a recent arraignment hearing in a Michigan courtroom.  Millard advised his client not to answer the judge’s question about the last time the client had used drugs to avoid incriminating himself. What followed was a lengthy and increasingly heated exchange — at least on the part of Judge Kenneth Post — as Millard stood his ground in the face of severe consequences. 

Here are some excerpts:

JUDGE: “I’m not interested in what you think [about the defendant’s right to invoke the Fifth Amendment]. Haven't you gotten that yet?”

MILLARD: “I have gotten that, and I...understand that, and your honor, the court fully, certainly has the right to not care what I say. How—“

JUDGE: "Thank you. Then be quiet."

Then, speaking directly to Millard's client…

JUDGE: “When was the last time that you, the date that you last used controlled substances, sir?”

Millard then interrupts to prevent his client from answering…

JUDGE: “One more word, and I'm going to hold you in contempt.”

Then the judge did just that and sent Millard to jail, where the 29-year-old lawyer would have remained over the weekend if another judge had not ordered his release.

For those who have never practiced law or stood before the bar in a courtroom, it is difficult to convey how much courage it takes to stand up to a judge in the unusual circumstance where the court is being completely unreasonable — particularly when the easiest and least consequential option is to do what the judge says.  But Millard knew his ethical obligations.  And if you are ever a criminal defendant facing a hostile judge, that’s exactly the kind of attorney you want. 

Posted: 1/9/2012 1:00:13 PM by Editor | with 1 comments

David Wm. Green
Ethics? Since when did that ever stand in the way of a defense attorney?
5/4/2012 6:17:53 AM

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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