I watched a fellow defense attorney vilified in public this week. Most of the rancor was centered in social media, but much of it came in comments in the local press, as well. He was called vicious names. There was a cry for his disbarment. His public image was tarnished as bogus Internet reviews were published to criticize him and damage his reputation. Amazingly, though, this criticism did not occur because he had expressed an unpopular opinion. Nor had he engaged in illegal or immoral behavior. By way of contrast, his vilification occurred for one simple reason . . . my colleague had taken a stand in support of his former client. The client had experienced criticism in the press and in social media. His lawyer’s act was simply to publicize facts. Facts conveniently omitted by the client’s opponents, but important for a full understanding of the story and for proper context.
All criminal defense attorneys are called upon to support their clients. This support grows forth from their duty of loyalty to the client. But surprisingly few attorneys are called upon to endure public criticism and humiliation from an uniformed and angry audience. It took courage for this lawyer to step-out for his client. He didn’t have to interject himself into the fray. The representation had terminated long ago. He could have acquiesced to his client’s media storm without risking damage to himself. Rather, he did what he thought was right to assure his client was treated fairly. He stepped-out because he felt compelled the full story should be revealed.
Was I duty-bound to support a fellow attorney in a situation like this? Absolutely not. But as I followed his story and consumed the social media criticism, my attention was drawn to how profoundly undeserved the hostility was . . unfair treatment from a naive public. But what could I do . . . what should I do? Dare I risk public vilification myself?
Frankly, loyalty means something to me. I guess I’m old-fashioned. Whether to a person, a group, or a cause, loyalty should never become a lost virtue. I know why my colleague stepped into the fray and I hope I’d have done the same, regardless of the risk. Being that, I could see the guy needed a boost. Hell, I would have needed inspiration, too. So I gave him some. In public and in private, my intent was the same. Support a kindred spirit who stuck his neck out and made a stand. I know he’d have done the same for me.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.