We talk to a lot of lawyers in the course of our work for the Commission on Professionalism, and we are frequently asked for the definitions of the concepts we seek to promote: professionalism, civility, integrity. Precise definitions are elusive without context. One such graphic context was featured on the front page of the Chicago Tribune last Sunday.
Public Defender MiAngel Cody was appointed to represent a man accused of setting fire to a house. He did so because he didn’t like the family who lived there. That sounds like an average day for a public defender. But here are the rest of the facts. Ms. Cody is black. Her client is white. The family who lived in the house is black. The reason he burned down their house is because they are black. Ms. Cody’s client is a self-avowed white supremacist. And, not for nothing, there were eight children in the house at the time (everyone survived).
I don’t know Ms. Cody. I have no idea how she feels about her client or her appointment. However, I do know that her representation exhibits the core values of our profession. It exemplifies the fact that our system of justice exists for all, and is not dependent on personality or beliefs. In fact, we have a Rule of Professional Conduct that states that a lawyer’s representation of a client does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities. (RPC 1.2(b)). As lawyers, we are called to uphold the legal process and the justice system. That process and that system are based on the rule of law. They are not based on individuals.
I know the rules, I espouse the concepts. Even so, I can’t imagine the difficulty in living them out as Ms. Cody and countless other lawyers regularly do. Hats off to them.