30 December 2005

Desparate, pathetic, and disgusting - DI's West on Judge Jones

John West of the Discovery Institute has been critiquing Judge Jones' decision in the Dover ID lawsuit over at the DI Media Complaints Division blog. I haven't, for the most part, addressed these posts, since other Pandas' Thumb regulars have more relevant expertise and have been doing a better job at it than I could. His latest post, however, is so far from the bounds of decency and civility that I can't leave it be. One part in particular, mentioned in passing by PvM in another PT post, hits a new low. In a relatively short passage, West manages to combine a gratuitous personal attack with a view of both what it should mean to be a conservative and on what a lawyer should be proud of that is twisted beyond all recognition.

Here's the passage:
In addition, Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment. During his confirmation hearings, he spoke with pride about defending a murderer of a twelve-year old boy and how he was able to get the murderer spared from the death penalty:
I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy. It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case... I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.

In a sick and twisted sort of way, I almost admire West. He must have put a hell of a lot of time into learning how to be a slippery, lying, son-of-a--. Unless the man was born without a shred of human decency, he would have had to learn how to override those instincts, and that's (fortunately) not something that just anyone is capable of.

For those who haven't figured out exactly where the lie is in that excerpt, I'll highlight it in boldface and mark it with ** at the start and end of the suspect area:
He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case**...** I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.
What a surprise, the lie is in the ellipsis.

What West did was to selectively omit material, resulting in a passage that looks like it means something a bit different from what the author actually said. Remember, West's take on the quote is that it demonstrates that, "Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment." The quote is placed in support of that statement, and is clearly intended to imply that Jones was proud of what he did because of his views on crime and punishment. If the quote is examined in context, however, it paints a slightly different question. Let's start by looking at the question that Jones was answering:
Senator Cantwell. Without objection.
I have one last question for actually all of you, a panel question. Some of our most beloved judges in history have been judges who made decisions that were against popular sentiment, or stood up to protect the rights of minorities or people's whose views made them outcasts.

Can you tell me of an instance in your career where you have stood up, took an unpopular stand, or fought for something, maybe a client, and how you stood up to those pressures?
If nothing else, this indicates that Jones was not responding to a question about his views on punishment in general or on the death penalty in particular. Now, let's look at his whole response, not just the part that paints the picture that West wants people to see. I'll use boldface to indicate the material quoted by West, and I will use italics to indicate the material that is contained within West's ellipsis.
I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy.

It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case.


But I learned perhaps more than anything else that I ever did as an attorney about the obligation that we have as attorneys to take on occasionally unpopular cases, and that at that time was the most unpopular case that I could possibly have chosen to have undertaken. And so that stands out amongst all the cases that I ever handled, or matters that I have handled as the most unpopular, but I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.
Wow. Is it just me, or does the material that West cut from the passage change the meaning just a mite? Jones' isn't saying that he's proud that he kept the guy off of death row, he's saying that he was proud to take on an unpopular case because that was his duty as a public defender.

And it was his duty, and he should be proud of that. This country was not founded with the sort of "fry 'em all and let God sort it out mentality" that seems to be promoted by some these days. The founders of this country deliberately decided to use a justice system based on an assumption of innocence, and to make sure that anyone accused of a crime was entitled to a proper defense. Supporting that powerful principle should not be a mark of "liberalism," or indicate that someone doesn't have the "right" view of crime and punishment. Supporting the right of anyone accused of a crime to an adequate defense should be - is - an American Value.

A lawyer who is providing the defense for an accused criminal has the same obligation to the client whether he or she was hired by the accused or assigned the case as a public defender. That obligation is simple and clear: the lawyer must defend the client to the best of their abilities. Nothing less should be acceptable.

John West has become so desparate for ammunition to use to attack the decision and the judge that he is apparently willing to resort to dishonesty and false witness. In this case, he has overstepped the bounds of human decency. He has tried to take a lawyer's account of doing the right thing for a client - a lawyer demonstrating the ideals of the American justice system - and twist it into a "soft on crime" attack.

If West has any remaining hint of human decency, he will apologize and retract that portion of his attack. If he has something that serves as an occasional substitute for human decency, he will at least clarify his post to show why Jones was proud of what he did. I'm not holding my breath waiting for either.
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