Attorney Courage Sometimes Comes with a Cost
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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
On the Merits Editor | with 1 comments