Thursday, December 20, 2007

LA Area DA seeks to elevate DAs, denigrate defense lawyers - by initiative

This is via the Los Angeles Metropolitan News (a legal newspaper), the head of the LA District Attorney's Association, Steve Ipsen, has proposed one of the most pernicious, insidious and unconstitutional state initiatives that I can ever remember seeing. Evidently, Ipsen wants to prohibit a whole class of people from donating money to the campaigns of elected district and city attorneys. Think about that, a whole class of elected official cannot raise money from a whole class of individuals: lawyers who have even one criminal case in that jurisdiction.

You want to talk about an unconstitutional, and truly disgusting idea, this is it. The theory Ipsen would say is that defense lawyers will donate money to the candidate who would advance their agenda the most, to the detriment of the rest of society.

Well, let's think of this. This would assume that the only intention and desire that criminal defense lawyers have is the unprincipled desire to get less time for their clients as a class of people. In other words, that we are in favor of crime and criminals, rather than a just adjudication of the laws on the books, or a recalibrating of the laws in a manner that is more fair to all types of people. How about this - perhaps many people who go into defense work do so because they want to ensure that all accused get a fair shot, that they are not taken advantage of by the system. They want to make sure that all people get a fair shot, so as to ensure that innocent people do not regularly get victimized by the system. You see, what Ipsen really wants is to limit money coming from political positions that he personally disagrees with. He has faith in a police state that gives all power to police and prosecutors without any check on their authority.

Sure, he will couch his position in the idea that this only applies to defense lawyers who have the potential of actual bias - cases in this actual jurisdiction. But think about it - those are the people most interested in and knowledgeable that race. Why would a defense lawyer in Sonoma County care about the race for DA in Los Angeles, or vice versa? If a lawyer in Los Angeles believes strongly enough that the administration of justice in his county is proceeding in an unfair manner, he will donate money accordingly. And this is what you would expect from locals who regularly practice in that area. It's no surprise that every year around election time my friends and family ask me who they should support for Judicial elections -I work in the field, I am far more knowledgeable than they are, so they want to know my views. Ipsen wants to effectively silence that voice so that only his voice, or those aligned with him, can be heard. To call these views anti-democratic understates how extreme he is.

Ipsen appears to recognize the rank idiocy of his position, because he puts a fall-back position in his initiative - that if the prohibition is found unconstitutional (duh!), then any candidate that accepts money from defense lawyers must make a statement stating so in all public advertising by noting the candidate is “supported and funded by criminal defense attorneys and/or criminal defendants.” Those are the words from the actual initiative! As if there is no difference between criminal defense lawyers and criminal defendants (as there is no distinction in the wording). This lays bare Ipsen's view of the role of a defense lawyer in society - a criminal.

And what does that really mean? It is quite clear what it means. To Ipsen, someone who represents a defendant is morally and legally equivalent to the person he represents. Hundreds of years of legal tradition in western civilization, the basis of all of our laws and system of justice - down the drain according to Ipsen. If you represent someone accused of a crime (rightly or wrongly, it would seem), then you are as despicable as - not the person - but the act they are accused of committing. After all, there is no distinction between the person and the crime they are charged with, because to assert they did not do it, or that they aren't guilty of the actual charges is a meaningless and fruitless activity which equates you morally with the perpetrator, who, incidentally, must be guilty.

Here's a question Ipsen. If the fair administration of justice is so important here, how about preventing ANYONE from giving money to a race in which they have an interest. This, of course, would mean that prison guards, police, sheriffs, DAs, any anti-crime group, any victim's rights group, etc, couldn't give to any race involving not just a prosecutor, but governor as well, as they have just as much influence in the system of justice in which these parties are so intricately involved. Now we're talking. Don't go waiting too long for an answer to this. Unprincipled people like Ipsen will never countenance arguments that they are inconsistent in their views.

Of course, if you read more deeply, you see even more gems here. Of course, Ipsen has to name this initiative after some victim, because without that, it may actually be discussed on it's merits rather than on the emotional plane of "what, you want to re victimize this family, you evil twit?" And why, in this otherwise totalitarian anti-democratic power grab does Ipsen throw in this little tidbit - DAs must get more money and benefits. He wants to ensure that DAs get the same pay, benefits and retirement equivalent to that of law enforcement officers - which is extremely generous. He also seeks to separate the pay and benefits of DAs from Public Defenders, and ensure that only DAs get these new, generous benefits. I've blogged about this before, but I'll say it again: You want to see who faces danger in their work, don't look at DAs, look at PDs. We are the ones who face the daily slings and arrows of our client's lashing out at the system - we are the bearers of bad tidings, we have to sit next to them as their frustration boils over, and we are the ones they eventually hit, slash, or otherwise attack.

So, when you see this further "tough on crime" initiative hit the ballots (if it ever does hit it), remember what an evil anti-democratic force is behind it, and act accordingly. The only thing we can be thankful for is that Ipsen has decided not to run for DA in Los Angeles, because a person with his views running that place would be disastrous for 10 million people unfortunate enough to live in LA County and bearing the results of him going from crazed outsider throwing grenades at the system to actually running the place, and that would be really scary.

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