It is always a dangerous precedent when defense lawyers become the target of prosecutorial scrutiny for actions taken in the defense of those charged by those same prosecutors. In order for our criminal justice system to be properly balanced to preserve the rights of individuals against the state, prosecutors must know that they will be held accountable for charging decisions that can otherwise destroy the lives of citizens falsely accused of committing a crime.
For this reason it is a rare occurrence for a defense lawyer to personally face criminal charges for actions taken in the defense of clients who have entrusted them with the most zealous defense possible. Only after otherwise law abiding citizens have been arrested can one truly know the value of living in a country where their legal advocate is truly empowered to challenge the power of a state prosecutor.
Should precedent exist to support the practice of state prosecutors filing criminal charges mounted against effective defense attorneys, a chilling effect would inevitably thwart meaningful representation among defense lawyers nationwide whose effectiveness in fighting state prosecutors could result in their own demise.
In other words, if a local defense attorney garnered a reputation for winning cases brought by a prosecutor on a consistent basis, could it prove to be in the best interests of a county prosecutor to rid him or herself of such an opponent by seeking ways with which to charge such an outstanding lawyer with a crime?
Sound like a bad movie? Not necessarily. Although such cases have thankfully been rare, effective lawyers have regrettably faced a history of being charged with criminal misconduct under the theory that their legal actions in defense of a client crossed the line from zealous representation into the lawyer’s own personal criminal conduct.
In fact the notion of what is considered “zealous” representation of a client has been so debated that Indiana has recently amended its rules of professional conduct for lawyers that has stricken this term from its endorsed standard of conduct.
However, just where the line ends between an attorneys efforts to protect a client from legal harm and their own act of personal misconduct that represents a criminal fraud within a pending criminal prosecution is an issue that is not always able to be clearly defined. Unfortunately for far to many capable defense lawyers, their own personal battles waged against prosecutors to preserve their own liberty has served to define such boundaries.
Over the course of this past year, one such legal proceeding against a criminal defense attorney has taken place within the city of Chicago that carried the potential of undermining the integrity of the criminal justice system both there and throughout our country.
The most recent attorney contending with his own personal battle against the criminal justice system, Beau Brindley, is a legal advocate who has represented those accused of crimes for a number of years, most notably within the city of Chicago.
Apparently, state prosecutors were able to initiate a dialogue with former clients of this lawyer; clients who had the motivation to cooperate with local prosecutors to reduce criminal sentences or to block potential criminal charges available to be filed against them.
It was asserted by Chicago prosecutors that Brindley would “coach up” criminal defendants with what to say and how to say it within testimony offered within criminal court proceedings. However, prosecutors went further by suggesting that Brindley would knowingly offer perjured testimony through such client testimony as a means by which to further his own professional standing and career.
In support of such criminal allegations, prosecutors introduced into evidence Brindley’s written work product of notes in the defense of criminal clients that they claimed proved that his mindset was to have witnesses lie to support defense contentions as a means to defeat state prosecutions.
The disclosure of an attorney’s “work product” is an extremely dangerous precedent and recognized as such throughout the country. An attorney must feel confident that written or documented notes to him or herself in the preparation of a legal case will not be subject to later public disclosure. For this reason alone, criminal charges against Brindley in and of themselves as a means by which to compel public production of such attorney work product is a destructive enough precedent in and of itself apart from the more regrettable prospect of a criminal conviction.
Brindley chose to forego his right to trial by jury and made the tactical decision to entrust his legal fate to that of an experienced local judge who thankfully had former experience as defense counsel. Such a jurist, unlike far too many prosecutors and elected judges each year could draw upon this valuable experience firsthand in assessing the proper role of defense counsel in defending citizens from legal prosecution.
Such a trier of fact could most ably determine whether the effectiveness of a defense lawyer could be cavalierly attributed to sponsoring perjured testimony, or whether in point of fact, such legal effectiveness could more properly be attributed to poor charging decisions of a local prosecutor and/or less capable presentation of criminal cases such prosecutors had chosen to file.
The decision to allow such a judge to decide his case proved to be a wonderful public service provided by Brindley. In so doing, it allowed for this esteemed jurist to personally reject the prosecutor’s actions against local defense counsel and sent a properly delivered message that criminal actions taken against lawyers with a track record of defeating prosecutions will not be taken lightly.
In the end, Brindley was found not guilty of sponsoring perjured testimony toward the defense of his criminal clients.
Although such an outcome no doubt proved to be a gratifying one for Brindley and other lawyers who have formerly faced such charges, the public humiliation and questioning of one’s character that such criminal charges represent are often too debilitating for a competent lawyer to recover from.
Let us all hope that Brindley is able to resume his role as a capable legal advocate within the Chicago area in the years to come.