Article portrayed both defendant and lawyer in unfairly negative light

To the Editor:

The article in your paper on Friday (“Law professor defends mobster,” 10/14) is filled with inaccuracies but I write only to correct a few of them and to protest the bias that it reflects.

First, the headline of the article, “Law Professor Defends Mobster.” How does your reporter know that my client is a “mobster,” much less the “notorious mobster” that he is called in the body of the piece? My client has been in prison for 12 years. Whatever he may have been in the past — as to which there is no reliable evidence that I am aware of — surely 12 years in prison is enough to at least raise a question about what he is now. Why not a headline, “Law Professor Defends the Constitution”? Or “Law Professor Defends Innocent Man”? After all, the article reflects an apparent awareness that I filed half a dozen affidavits (and 16 FBI reports) attesting to my client’s innocence of the crimes he was convicted of. It is also a matter of public record that my client was previously tried for a murder that the FBI knew he had not committed. Thus, not once but twice was an innocent man put to trial by authorities who knew he was not guilty. There is an implicit message in the article and its headline that it is improper or sleazy to defend someone who is reputedly a “mobster,” no matter how innocent he may be, no matter how corrupt the system that put him in prison for life. The surgeon that tried to repair my client’s face that was broken in prison is, thankfully, not painted with the same fetid brush that is applied to his lawyer.

The article also says that I “made a career out of counseling prison inmates.” I have no idea where that information came from. I have made a career out of teaching law students and writing about legal issues, in dozens of publications; in briefing and arguing issues of constitutional law in the Supreme Court and lower courts across the land and, yes, occasionally representing people in prison or threatened with prison. I have not often counseled prison inmates but I much admire those who do. The criminal justice system in the United States is gravely sick and puts thousands of innocent people in prison every year. Once a person is convicted of a crime and loses his appeal (which, despite common assumptions to the contrary, almost always happens), he rarely has any lawyer to come to his aid. He has no money and the system rarely will hire a lawyer for him. He typically relies on other inmates who picked up a bit of legal jargon in the course of their incarceration. They usually write his briefs for him, which are often incomprehensible. In addition to denying the prisoner a competent lawyer, the system has erected many other barriers to prevent the prisoner from getting a review of his conviction in court or getting access to exculpatory evidence that was withheld from him during his trial. If my representation of Martin Taccetta can contribute to awareness of the disease that afflicts the system, I am grateful for that opportunity. Being labeled a “mob lawyer” is a small price to pay for defending the Constitution.

Steven Duke

Oct. 14, 2005

The writer is a professor at Yale Law School.

Comments