Posted by Ron Coleman on October 2, 2008
Today I went “downtown” for the first time — representing the victim of a crime, I accompanied him to a visit to a special prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney, where we discussed coordinating our criminal and civil legal strategies.
So what was it like?
It was actually kind of cool. I have a friend who decided to go to law school about 15 years after I did, and he went to work there, but I had never visited him “inside.” So as someone who grew up entirely in business law, but also a litigator and trial attorney, I have always been fascinated by the prosecutor’s job.
I think I really would have liked it, except for a couple of things. I would have liked the “public service” piece. Eventually I concluded, in my business law career, that I was pretty much going to have be on the side of the angels in any given legal cause in order to be motivated. Now most business disputes don’t really have a good guy or a bad guy, but amazingly in all my cases I represent the good guy!
I would have liked being the G-man, the government’s enforcer, to some extent, too. I am no libertarian, but even libertarians agree with the concept of law enforcement.
No, my objection to be a prosecutor would not have come with respect to the issue of prosecuting people for crimes I would personally find objectionable. I believe in representative democracy, by and large, and if chewing gum on Wednesday or smoking spliff in an elevator is against the law, so be it. Call your congressman.
There are two things I wouldn’t like, though, from what I’ve seen.
One is that, well, it’s not so simple. There’s no question there are prosecutors who are assigned with the task, or who undertake it themselves, of prosecuting people for crimes they probably didn’t commit. I don’t think I could stand even being around that.
The other one is an image I will never get past, and would it implies. It was during my first trial, in fact. We were in federal court in New Jersey, and the judge asked us to recess so he could handle a criminal arraignment.
The jumpsuit-clad defendant, a stocky black man, was brought in a special doorway in the side of the courtroom, out of which had two burly United States Marshals had preceded him. Two more brought him, bringing him into the room by virtue of two hands each gripped on an arm. He was cuffed.
And he was manacled.
He looked pretty fierce. And he looked pretty broken, at the same time.
Maybe this man was guilty of what he was charged with. Maybe he was guilty of a lot more. Maybe I am really glad he was put away.
But at the moment I knew I could not be one of those charged with doing it.
A man may turn himself into an animal, or treat others bestially. Such a person forfeits the right to free and unfettered association with those who retain their humanity, or who are entitled merely not to be his prospective victims. Someone has to tame that man, and divest him of the privileges of human society and, if need be, to shackle him at the wrists and ankles, to make him resemble the captured beast he has become.
I am not the one to do it, however. And as extreme as that vision was, as unusual, and as many prosecutors actually have very little to do with violent crime, that image, that personification of the role of the prosecuted never left me, and I knew that as long as there was someone else who could, and would, do the job, it was never going to be a job for me.