The legal profession's Final Solution
"THE FIRST THING WE DO, let's kill all the lawyers." Suggested as a cure for government corruption during the reign of Henry VI in Shakespeare's play about the hapless 15th century English king, it's a sentiment that will find sympathizers even today. In the unfolding scandal that grips the White House, it's now the lawyers who have taken center stage in the president's personal drama. David Kendall, the president's longtime private defense lawyer, hoping to deflect attention from the serious charges facing his client, has recently taken to making charges of his own against -- who else? -- Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating his client.
Kendall has now joined the ranks of other notorious attorneys who think the best defense is a good offense by pointing accusatory fingers at the prosecution. It worked for Johnnie Cochran. His client, O.J. Simpson, managed to beat a murder rap despite DNA evidence showing Simpson's blood at the crime scene and the victims' blood on Simpson's clothing. Once Johnnie Cochran was finished with them, jurors were more focused on imagined police conspiracies than on punishing cold-blooded murder. Who knows? Kendall's gambit may work, too. Certainly, the White House has done everything it can over the last two and a half weeks to make Starr the issue in the court of public opinion.
And Kendall isn't alone in this sorry tale of lawyers behaving badly. Where Kendall may stop at nothing to defend Bill Clinton, William Ginsburg, the peripatetic Los Angeles lawyer representing Monica Lewinsky, seems happy to let his client twist in the wind. Ginsburg calls himself "the most famous man in the world," and for good reason. He seems to have spent as much time on "Larry King Live," "Meet the Press" and every other talk show in town as he has preparing to defend Monica's interests. Which may account for why he seems to know so little about what really took place between his client and the president.
Lately, Ginsburg talks as if he's signed on to the president's defense committee. He recently trashed his client's veracity in several interviews when asked whether Monica had accurately described the nature of her relationship with the president in taped conversations. "Seriously, all 24-year-olds... tend to embellish," he said, an odd comment for an attorney whose client faces possible perjury charges. Then, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, Ginsburg suggested he would not want to do anything that might topple a pro-Israel American president: "I don't want the president to resign. Who knows who will come after Clinton and what his attitude to Israel will be?"
But what about Starr and the 18 lawyers on his staff? Are they as guilty of unethical conduct as all the other legal beagles in this affair? Kendall has accused Starr's team of illegally leaking grand jury testimony harmful to the president. And Ginsburg even suggested Starr's investigators have physically intimidated Lewinsky's family: He conjured up an image of gun-toting G-men strong-arming his client's brother in an interview with The Washington Post: "That's 27 bullets you have if you've got three (investigators), in case a witness gets out of hand."
But despite the Sturm und Drang of wild accusations against Starr, no one has yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by the independent counsel or his staff. In fact, Starr is the one person who has consistently demonstrated professional demeanor and prudent silence in the face of the media circus of the last few weeks. Despite attacks on his professional ethics and personal integrity, Starr has kept his focus on his job rather than clearing his own name. The irony is, Starr can't defend himself against attacks by going on the talk-show circuit like all the president's men. He is forbidden from talking about the case -- unlike the president, who could tell the world exactly what went on when Monica Lewinsky visited him in the White House if he chose to.
Perhaps Starr can take comfort in Plato's description of the trials of the just man: "Let
him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to
the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its
consequences." Before the curtain falls on this sad episode, Kenneth Starr may yet
redeem the reputation of his
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