I know I said a while back I wouldn’t comment on the Traci Park/Erin Darling race. But once again, we’ve hit a new low, and residents of CD11 deserve to be informed. Some who know better are trying to pull the wool over our eyes. It’s impossible to not say anything.
I’m not a lawyer – thank goodness – but I happen to know lots of lawyers. I have come to learn, there are many aspects of lawyering many don’t understand. Though I’ve learned a lot from my lawyer friends, there are still many things about the legal profession I don’t understand.
One of these sometimes-misunderstood items is a person’s right to a defense.
If someone is completely despicable – Charlie Manson comes to mind – why should we waste time and money finding the guy a lawyer, paid for by the taxpayers?
Why not just fry the guy or lock him up forever, avoiding the predictable and expensive circus?
Our system – embodied by our Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution – doesn’t work that way, that’s why.
The right to an attorney is considered one of our most sacred rights. It’s right there in the Bill of Rights, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.
We hear it all the time on television: When the cops arrest someone, one of the first things they say to the person being arrested is that he or she has the right to an attorney.
In a court proceeding, plaintiffs and prosecutors make their charges or file their complaints. Defendants get to defend themselves. Judges try and keep it all fair. Impartial juries (in a jury trial) decide.
If only the prosecutors and plaintiffs had representation, and the defendant did not, the prosecutors and plaintiffs would win nearly every case. Our system is complex; if you are on the receiving end of a criminal charge or civil complaint, you’d be wise to hire an attorney – or take the one the court is willing to assign to you, for free.
One of the reasons this right is so sacred is that poor people – often people of color – can’t afford an attorney. Many think our judicial system is prejudiced against the poor and people of color, so if these individuals couldn’t get a free attorney, they’d really be in trouble.
Our legal system is messy, time-consuming and expensive. Surely there are ways to streamline all this. But the way the system works, everyone is entitled to a lawyer. Nobody in the legal system questions this. It’s built into their code of ethics. Lawyers take the cases that are assigned to them – whether by the courts, the D.A., the public defender’s office or by the private law firm they work for. You don’t always get to represent the good guys; you take the good with the bad.
Ask any lawyer, and almost every one of them will tell you they had to represent an unsavory character now and then. Some – especially public defenders — do it all the time. But the right to an attorney is as sacred to our system as freedom of speech – or the right to vote.
Some would like to overturn all these rights, to be sure – but then we’d be living in a dictatorship, not a democracy. Too often, prosecutors and plaintiffs file bad cases. Or the defendants are proven innocent – sometimes after years unjustly spent in jail. The “right to an attorney” has been a life-saver – literally – for many falsely charged.
So I found it very disturbing when I got a mailer at home from the Erin Darling people implying Traci Park is a racist because her law firm’s client, the City of Anaheim, represented one particular employee. This employee, white, was accused of using the N-word in front of a Black employee. The Black employee, not surprisingly, filed a complaint.
As awful as that sounds, isn’t the white guy entitled to a defense? Maybe he had a different view of events. Maybe the City of Anaheim wanted to come up with a settlement all could live with. Or maybe the guy was guilty as hell. But he still deserved a defense, right? That’s how our system works.
Traci Park was assigned, by her law firm (which specializes in municipal law), to represent the City of Anaheim in this matter. She did what attorneys in law firms are expected to do: She took the case. The City of Anaheim was her client, so of course she took the case.
Does it make her a racist because she defended someone who used the N-word?
Of course not. She was doing her job, following standard protocol.
Being branded as a racist in today’s touchy climate is about the worst thing that can happen to someone – especially someone running for office – and especially if the charge is completely false.
What is the proof behind this incendiary charge Erin Darling has made? That Traci Park defended her client?
That this “racist” complaint came from Erin Darling – also an attorney, a public defender – was particularly odd.
Didn’t he anticipate Traci Park would immediately counter by pointing out Erin Darling had represented rapists, drug-dealers, human traffickers, pedophiles and violent gang members?
If he represents such clients, does that mean he is sympathetic to these people – or that he thinks they are all innocent? No, that doesn’t necessarily follow. He was just doing his job. His clients – like Traci Park’s – are also entitled to a defense.
Just about every job has its nasty side. Doctors sew up the bleeding patient, even if that person is a criminal. Those who work in retail stores or restaurants have to endure the occasionally rude customer; the janitor who takes out the garbage has to deal with nastier-than-usual messes once in a while. Every so often, newspaper reporters have to listen to people they know aren’t telling the full truth, hoping they can spin a particular situation to their advantage.
We don’t always like our jobs. But we still do our jobs. That’s our responsibility. That’s why we call it work.
Here’s where my lawyer friends jump in, livid.
Erin Darling is an attorney – a public defender. So, according to my attorney friends, he knows – better than most – that people are entitled to a defense.
So does Mike Bonin, who is also promoting this “Traci Park is a racist” smear tactic.
If Erin Darling is saying the guy who used the N-word isn’t entitled to a defense — and that lawyers should not represent people with whom they disagree – then what about all his clients? Does anyone else smell a boatload of hypocrisy here?
I think it’s fair to assess how a candidate will govern, once elected, by his or her behavior while on the campaign trail. This campaign isn’t over. I hope, in the remaining days of this campaign, Erin Darling and Mike Bonin will stop all this “Traci Park is a racist” nonsense and find it within themselves to apologize to Traci Park and the rest of CD11.