Legal Advice

In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, the Bible of sports fans across the country, an attorney by the name of Michael McCann wrote that Jameis Winston should quit Florida State and wait for the NFL draft where he will assuredly be a high pick and will then become another spoiled millionaire football player (I added the last caustic comment). You remember Winston, surely? He was investigated for raping a fellow student a year or so back and in the brief police cover up investigation it was determined that there was no case against the young man. He later stole some crab legs from a grocery store, claiming he “forgot” to pay and was summarily released. He then stood on a table in the cafeteria and shouted obscenities at the top of his voice — for which offense he was suspended one game by the football coach. He is a real jewel. Each time he screws up he faces the camera with an earnest expression on his face and swears it won’t happen again.

In any event, McCann’s professional advice is for the young man to quit school because the university has decided to investigate the alleged rape on its own and could bring charges against Winston, and possibly suspend him, on the grounds that he violated the rights of one of his fellow students. Indeed. McCann’s idea is that if Winston leaves the university, the investigation will never surface. If he remains enrolled evidence might come to light that would not only lead to his suspension from the university but also provide grounds for a possible civil case later on. As McCann puts it, it’s a question of what is in Winston’s “best interest.”

And there’s the rub: it’s what is in the young man’s “best interest” in the eyes of this lawyer. The young man should quit and not face the possible consequences of his actions. He should quit school and lie low, making sure he commits no further atrocities, until the NFL comes calling and he can sign on for the big bucks that surely await him. Given his past behavior this is more easily said than done, of course: he seems to lack self-control. But McCann doesn’t mention that. Be that as it may, the issue of what is morally correct is not considered by Mr. McCann, who chooses to focus attention on legal and practical matters. The fact that the young man would be ducking his responsibilities as a citizen and member of the university community is apparently irrelevant according to Mr. McCann. What is important here as this lawyer sees it is the issue of saving face and making big money later on.

In a follow-up issue of Sports Illustrated one reader wrote, with tongue in cheek, that McCann is right and that Winston should quit and go back to third grade where he would learn “that stealing is wrong, swearing is not acceptable, and that women should be treated with respect.” Another reader put is more seriously: “I was disappointed with McCann’s article. He basically wrote a blueprint for how Winston could avoid disciplinary action for his alleged heinous acts against a female student.” Spot on! What was it Shakespeare said? We should kill all the lawyers. He knew a thing or two, even if McCann doesn’t.

In any event, the entire episode underscores once again the rotten state of things at the heart of big-time college football and basketball. As I wrote years ago, the athletes should be regarded as semi-professionals and paid a decent salary to play — even allowing them to form unions to make sure they get a fair share of the millions of dollars at stake in college sports these days. Then, those who actually want an education can enroll in classes and pay like all the other students, thereby learning what those students are learning every day —  that after graduation it will be hard to find a job and there will be huge debts to be paid to the colleges and universities when they finally do find one. The things in this life that are most worth having are not those things that are simply handed to you: they are the things you work hard to earn.

Offensive Defense

Can you believe it? The story begins, SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The civilian attorney representing the U.S. soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan villagers wants to replace the military lawyer assigned to the case after disagreements over how to handle his defense.

“You are fired, sorry, but we have much more experience than you,” Seattle-based John Henry Browne, the outspoken lawyer who has been the public face of the defense of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, said in an email to military lawyer Major Thomas Hurley.

One recalls Shakespeare’s pithy comment in Henry VI, Part II where Dick says “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” That seems about right. The man accused of killing 17 Afghan citizens in a blind fury and who might well have been suffering from brain damage and battle fatigue after seven tours of duty in two different war zones is now depending on warring lawyers to save his own life. How ironic. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. One of the lawyers was appointed by the military, the other selected by Bales himself; each has his own ideas about how to conduct the defense.

You have to love the way the firing of Major Hurley (which must be approved by Bales and the military before it becomes a reality) is accomplished by a terse, grammatically incorrect, self-promoting email message. And while the lawyers fight among themselves about the best way to save this man’s life, the accused is about to undergo a psychological examination to determine whether or not he knew what he was doing when he went out, twice, and allegedly shot seventeen civilians. The one bright spot in all this is that our system of law (despite the wranglings of the lawyers) still maintains a person’s innocence until proven guilty. Let’s hope the system prevails in spite of the lawyers. As Kant noted long ago: without courts of law we are barely above the level of the brutes.

Be that as it may, the story goes on, There was also disagreement over the decision to put Bales’ wife on the Today show, where she said her husband showed no signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, potentially damaging Bales’ most likely defense. What’s going on here? The defendant’s wife is dragged on a talk-show and attests that her husband seemed perfectly normal, though in an interview with ABC earlier she said he didn’t seem to know where he was or why. In any event, it is easy to understand why this must frustrate a lawyer who knows full well that Bales’ wife is not a trained psychologist and also sees that the best way to save his client’s life is to claim temporary insanity. But that’s the way we do things these days: we try the defendant in public while the public is still interested — interest does indeed wane rather quickly, as we know — and then we take the defendant to court.

So we have the man’s wife going on talk shows offering her unprofessional opinion about her husband’s mental condition. Meanwhile, wrangling lawyers argue publicly over the way to try their client who waits to see if he is found guilty, first in the public eye, then in the eye of 12 good men and women who are supposed to be impartial and presumably have not already judged the man before the trial begins. Again, if it weren’t so serious it would be funny — and if the families of the murdered victims back in Afghanistan weren’t waiting to see that justice is done.