I got briefly embroiled in an internet discussion yesterday about the attorney who is representing Jared Lee Loughner (we know he’s really bad because they use all three names). On a discussion board, someone mentioned that Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke, had previously represented the Unabomber and Susan Smith

Someone else responded with “THIS BITCH.” Happily, even though this is the internet, most people responded with “….” And the commenter backpedaled a little (not a lot) and was like “Well, I understand that everyone gets an attorney, but I wonder what kind of person would WANT to defend those horrible people.”

I said,

Speaking as someone in law school looking to do precisely that….

First, everyone gets an attorney. And high profile cases deserve good attorneys to make sure everything is followed to the letter to avoid the knee jerk “hang ‘em.” (How on EARTH they’d pick an impartial jury…. holy shit that’s just not happening.) By protecting the rights of the most reviled, that means that everyone else’s rights are safer.

Second, high profile defense attorneys get the high profile cases- I would not want to saddle some kid fresh out of law school with this case- it’d be a nightmare for everyone involved, especially the shiny new attorney.

Third, and less altruistically, high profile cases like this tend to have private attorneys working pro bono- it’s GREAT exposure, and clients with money will be happy to fork out huge amounts of money for the privilege of being defended by the Unabomber Attorney.

Now, surprisingly enough for The Internet, the original commenter had honestly not thought it through. And admitted those were all things they’d never thought of, and thanked me for responding.

In my Criminal Advocacy class yesterday, we were practicing opening statements (first class, hit the ground running flat out. Life after law school is going to be SO BORING). And most people introduced themselves and their client (or the State of Nita) right off.

The professor, who is AWESOME (and told me to be very very careful when deploying the Sarcastic Eyebrow), said that you do need to do that, but you don’t have to do it straight off. And sometimes, because not all criminal defendants are good clients, and the jury can TELL, associating yourself with a really bad defendant can be hard or even not great strategy. So instead, you say that you’re there to represent The Constitution.

That’s what it is, and what got me into law school in the first place was working for the unit in Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services that defended people who were being classified by the Sex Offender Registry and being committed as Sexually Dangerous Persons. It’s easy to write off sex offenders. God knows most people do.

But, beyond the studies of what may help prevent recidivism, and what actually makes people safer from sex offenders, there’s the idea that you have to make SORB prove itself. In 2006, there was someone running for… Middlesex County Sheriff, I think, who was saying that he wanted to expand the Sex Offender Registry to include everyone convicted of a drug offense.

Do you see where that starts getting even scarier? It’s a horrible idea. (He lost, btw). By making SORB at least pretend to go through the motions (and sometimes it really is like pretending) (sorry), they can’t just go trampling on the rights of everyone else. If sex offenders still have rights, if Jared Lee Loughner still has rights, that means you do, too.