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When Good Lawyers Defend Bad Men

| August 5, 2012

Clarence Darrow defended his share of nasty, brutish and shameless murderers. But he didn't run for Flagler County judge.

Clarence Darrow defended his share of nasty, brutish and shameless murderers. But he didn’t run for county judge.

It is one of the many forgotten, ugly examples of the Bush administration’s attraction to the rogue and the lawless. In early 2007, Charles Stimson, an attorney who was then the Pentagon official in charge of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, called for a boycott of every attorney’s firm representing prisoners there. He even read a list of law firms to target on the radio. It wasn’t enough that the prisoners were already in a legal black hole where they could barely see an attorney, and to this day can’t know their accuser or the evidence against them. Stimson wanted them to lose their most fundamental right. He should have been fired on the spot. Bush, saying nothing, lowered the bar of the permissible in American justice, as he did ceaselessly did for eight years.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive The American Bar Association condemned Stimson’s remarks, as did deans from 130 law schools. Stimson offered a weak apology. A month later he resigned, eventually joining reactionaries’ favorite conjugal collusion: Fox News and the Heritage Foundation.

The story is suddenly relevant locally because of discussion surrounding the local county judge race. Seven candidates are in the running, including Melissa Moore Stens. I don’t want what I’m about to say to be interpreted in any way like advocacy for her. The candidates in this race are making it difficult to pick one because they are, on the whole, very good candidates, with relatively little risk that we’ll end up with a clunker on the bench. But something must be said, without reserve, about Moore-Stens’ right to defend whom she chooses. It’s not about a political race. It’s about our values.

She’s part of the Daytona firm of Williams and Moore, which agreed to defend Paul Miller. Miller is the 65-year-old Flagler Beach man accused of shooting his neighbor Dana Mulhall last March in a ridiculous confrontation over barking dogs. Four of the five bullets were fired into Mulhall’s back as he was crawling away. Miller is facing a second degree murder charge. In my book Miller is a perfect example of gun-wielding perversion in the equally perverted name of self-defense. And another man is dead for it. But I’m not on the jury, and it doesn’t make Miller less deserving of the best defense he can find.

Instead, there’s been attempts to link Moore-Stens’s defense of Miller and her character, especially because of her suggestion that she might use a Stand Your Ground defense at trial. The attempts forced her husband to defend her publicly.

Any linkage between a lawyer’s character and a lawyer’s client is absurd. It’s an offense against the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to a fair trial. That Moore-Stens and her partner are defending Paul Miller is no different than, say, William Kunstler choosing to defend the Chicago Seven, or even to defend Omar Abdel-Rahman (convicted of orchestrating the first World Trade Center bombing): Kunstler was no less of an admirable lawyer for choosing such clients.

Stephen Jones is no less of an admirable attorney for having defended Timothy McVeigh (whose execution was itself a federally sponsored murder, let’s not forget, as state-sponsored capital punishment always is), or Bobby Wayne Collins before that. (Collins was Oklahoma’s previous title holder for mass murder before McVeigh). The men Kunstler and Jones defended, like the many murderers Clarence Darrow defended, were heinous, despicable and the rest of it. Kunstler, Jones and Darrow were not: they are rightly regarded as part of the nobility of their profession, which must at times muck itself up with the worst of humanity because nobody else would do it.

Lawyers—like politicians, like journalists, like insurance salesmen—have their issues. But the day we start judging lawyers by their clients will be the day when the law may as well be enslaved to the mob, or its more polite version known as public opinion. It’s the day when the law will mean nothing. Public opinion has its place. Even the mob does (where would Rupert Murdoch’s fortune be without it?). But not in a courtroom, and not when it comes to the defense of an individual, no matter what the charges may be.

We’re not much of a nation politically these days, and Paul Miller reminds us of the gun-toting barbarism in our midst. No argument there. But the Second Amendment is being abused enough. Let’s not start abusing the Sixth.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.

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16 Responses for “When Good Lawyers Defend Bad Men”

  1. Eileen G. Miller says:

    I don’t think killers should get lawyers to defend them…!!!

  2. Peggy Ellis says:

    Ms. Miller, we still have a Constitution. What you are saying is unconsitutional. Is that what you want?

  3. pamala zill says:

    Pierre. You do make a valid point..actually points… is the murder sane. Demented.. ?? Melissa will figure it out….so that it does not EVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

  4. notasenior says:

    The Constitution makes no distinction between good or bad people, when it comes to the 6th amendment. It’s ironic, and sad, that those who wave the flag the most, and cry about the need to preserve what the founding fathers intended, are the same people who try and deny other citizens the most basic of Constitutional freedoms and guarantees. Just because an attorney represents a person doesn’t mean they agree with what they may have done or believe in. And considering what Florida pays public defenders, it is certainly not about the money. It is about standing up for what has made this country strong for over 200 years – a Constitution for all!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree Pierre. Just today another mass shooting and 7 people dead. Is there something in the water or the air. Everyday now it’s another shooting in the tri-county area. How many daily in our nation. This country is obsessed with guns. Three hundred million guns is a lot to defend?

  6. Eileen G. Miller says:

    Some killers get off like Casey Anthony…!!!!!

  7. Carjo says:

    Thank you Pierre for a well thought out and articulated article! Every person in this country has a 6th amendment right to effective counsel and a fair trial regardless of the charges against them. Without attorneys who put themselves “on the line” in the public eye to ensure that defendants get a fair trial then our system of justice would collapse. Kudos to you sir for taking the time to point that out to your readers! And, kudos to you for linking that most basic argument to the “beating” Ms. Moore-Stens has taken over this case.

  8. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Overall this is a good piece with a relevant message, that even bad guys deserve Attorneys, because at the end of the day when a defense Attorney makes the state prove its case against even the most obviously guilty man, everyone’s constitutional rights are defended. The fourth amendment would mean nothing to the law abiding citizenry, if guilty men didn’t occasionally walk free because of an overzealous law enforcement officer searching or seizing without a warrant.

    But as usual, the author cannot help but throw an ideological dig that adds zero value to the article, “Bush, saying nothing, lowered the bar of the permissible in American justice, as he did ceaselessly did for eight years.” One might ask, where are all the articles outlining the current administration’s “lowering the bar of the permissible in American Justice”? After all, let’s not forget the current President, Vice President, Sec of Def, and Sec of State are all Attorneys, with Obama himself claiming to be a constitutional scholar. Yet 4 years in we have little to no change in policy on how combatants face justice, and are now at the point where the Constitutional Scholar / President has determined on his own that he can execute American citizens with drones essentially whenever he feels like it, without even a hint of due process. (contrary to his opinion, the President’s decision to execute, would not meet the due process definition in even the most kangaroo court.) This was a bridge too far even for the previous administration, but goes virtually unreported in the current administration by the so-called journalists, current author included.

  9. Deep South says:

    I think that their are many of us who do not understand what is the true meaning of our United States Constitution. Every citizen whether they are good or bad is protected under the constitution, the most powerful document written by our fore fathers. I have found that those that bash an attorney like Ms. Moore-Stens for representing this individual are really those who lack knowledge of our Constitution, and speak out of hypocrisy.

  10. Palmcoast1l says:

    I agree that everyone is entitled to the best defense possible or more accurately that their money can buy. However, my issue is not with her choice of client. It is that she would so early on in the investigation, suggest that she may use the “Stand your Ground” as a defense for her client who shot an unarmed man 5 times…4 of them in the back. In my opinion, Ms. Moore-Stens made these statements to push the issue front and center in the media and to possibly gain a political edge. I cannot put my trust in a candidate with so little personal integrity.

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      So everyone accused of a crime should be entitled to an Attorney, but, that Attorney should not do everything they can to provide the best possible defense?

    • Melissa Castaneda says:

      I know Melissa Moore Stens and she has great personal integrity. She is an amazing person and will make a great judge.

  11. Tang says:

    Once again Pierre, a great piece of work! FlaglerLive in general, and your work in particular, make this neck of the woods bearable. Kudos to you.

  12. Sosad says:

    Paul Miller deserves this, deserves that….blah blah blah. What rights did he give Dana? Which rights does Dana have now? The laws are for protecting the criminals. Making sure THEY are treated ‘fairly.’ BS. Nothing about this case from the time that man stepped out on his porch with that gun in his hand has been fair! He took away the rights of so many people with his ADMITTED action. I get sick every time I think of this case. FOUR times in the back as he is crawling away. The rights of Dana and his family, (including me) and his friends were snuffed away in that instant. I am tired of hearing about Paul Millers ‘rights.’

    • Cindy Welborn says:

      I agree Sosad….. Today is the day of Paul Miller’s pre- trial… Maybe we can get so justice next month.,…/./ I’m ready to move on with my life and all this needs to END…… Dana will always be in my heart and this dragging on kills myself and Dana’s family…. R>I>P. “Bootiehead”

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