Why I don’t do sexual offense defense work
There has been a recent interchange online between several defense attorneys of my limited “cyber-acquaintance” regarding sexual “offenses,” defined very broadly to include criminal charges, administrative policies by universities public and private and the broader topic of “rape culture.” Some of the discussion has focused excessively on personal differences and private details between the disputants, rather than on the issues, so I won’t be linking to any of them. You can find recent posts on these topics with “the Google” if you so choose and you believe you need to do so. I won’t regurgitate what others have written, either, in part out of respect to their intellectual property (to which I am not linking. Go find it if you think you must.)
Sometimes an attorney is simply the wrong gal or guy to do a job. I work adjacent to two divorce attorneys; they are not part of my practice, but they are my landlords and also my friends. They do work for which a box of tissues sits in the middle of the conference table and, I believe, on their desks. They are better suited by temperament (and also skill set) to handle divorce work and related issues of custody, visitation and support than I am. I don’t do divorce work, don’t aspire to do so and haven’t been near a divorce case since 9/11, save one appearance covering a pro forma procedural appearance for an attorney friend who had an ailing relative perhaps 10 time zones away. I am the wrong licensee for the job of divorce work, roughly equally by skill set and by temperament. For somewhat different reasons, I am the wrong lawyer for sex offense accusation defense work, and I don’t do it.
People accused of sex offenses face the power of the state to crush them. The professional duty of the attorney is to defend the client within the bounds of the law competently and diligently. Competence and diligence are codified in the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct but they predate codification or even the practice of law: do your job right and do it thoroughly. An attorney who doubts seriously that he or she is the right lawyer for any job, including sex offense accusation defense work, should either not take the case, refer it out if it’s already in the office for whatever reason or get co-counsel as needed to assure that competence and diligence get delivered.
“Rape culture” is real and observable, from the sex trade of women to at least some (arguably all, though I’d say some) aspects of the pornography trade to the predatory and inhumane tone of so much of the discussion and experience of sexuality in this culture. Here’s a recent specimen of this cultural species. If you are hired to do legal work, you owe your professional duty to the client and not to the admirable aspiration of improving a culture. If you want to fight rape culture, good; there’s work to do and almost none of it involves the practice of law or requires a law license. I’d suggest looking at Baltimore’s Araminta Freedom Initiative as a start, if this matters to you as it does to me.
I don’t support most of what I have seen regarding novel (not to say “radical”) speech laws against online harassment; criticizing government policing of extremely offensive speech doesn’t make one a misogynist or an apologist for rape culture. A decent human being, however, will recognize that what many women who are active with an online presence as women endure is a moral outrage. The response to a moral outrage need not be “let’s write another criminal law” and often should not be one. Other means of fighting this more outrage, such as more free speech, more free press and free assembly, are better in my view. We need more efforts to make the entire culture safer and to get harassers and predators isolated as the sociopaths they are – without altering the balance of autonomy and freedom between citizen and state. There may be some possible laws that respect both human freedom as understood constitutionally and the rights of the targets of online predation; I remain skeptical that a statute book and a prosecutor’s pen could, or should, be a solution.
People who face state violence – which is what incarceration is – for sex offense charges should have competent, diligent and effective legal counsel. If you are facing such charges in Maryland and you call my office, I will help you get to an attorney to help you. I am not that attorney, will not charge you money and will not “work share/fee share” with any such attorney. I do not want to earn a dime from this work. I do not want you to do call my office with a sex offense charge; please don’t. But if you do call my office, I will (without peppy enthusiasm, but diligently) help you get to the right lawyer, which I am not and will never be for that work. Lawyers who do this work professionally, competently and diligently – as defense counsel or as prosecutors – deserve special respect, as not everyone is suited for the work by temperament.