By Mark David Blum, Esq.
As the end result of another of my presentations to an area audience, I received by email a litany of questions that time did not permit answering. Also, with time to digest the discussion, some audience members still had issues about which they wanted to debate. Thirty three questions came in. Upon review, they can easily be categorized as follows: First, how can you do what you do? Second, do I agree or disagree with certain laws like drinking age or voting age? Finally, am I a winner or a loser?
One of the most frequent questions asked of me as a defense attorney is how can I defend someone I know is guilty. Assuming I have heard a confession and know my client is indeed guilty, I can say without hesitation that defending the guilty is about the easiest part of my job. There is no losing; but a lot to gain … from minimizing a sentence to an undeserved acquittal.
What I enjoy responding to is how the hardest thing a defense attorney can do is represent a truly innocent person. Whereas with the guilty, justice usually prevails if even for the wrong reason. But when the client is innocent, there is no mitigation, there is no losing, and you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Facing down the prosecutor and the judge and the jury; all of whom in the back of their mind probably start with believing in the defendant’s guilt and then changing their minds and showing them the truth is the hardest challenge to ever face a defense attorney.
On the civil side, the hardest cases involve divorce and custody/visitation. Sometimes there just is not enough hot water in my shower to wash off the filth of the day. Watching parents batter and abuse each other and their children using the legal system as a weapon turns my stomach. I still wonder how you have a child with someone and because your relationship goes sour, somehow they turned into a fiend toward the children. Family Court judges eat this stuff up. Convincing a judge that a man can be a victim of battered spouse syndrome or is being branded with every textbook stereotype is nearly impossible. The hardest argument I have ever had to make still concerns facing a judge I know and respect and reading into the record a 45 min statement as to why I wanted that judge to recuse himself in the middle of a case.
In law, there is no such thing as “winning” or “losing” as they lack definition. For example, I recently lost a jury verdict in federal court. It was the quickest verdict I have ever experienced. But even though the case was lost in court, a message was sent and the defendants know how close they came to losing. Technically, the case was lost. In the larger scheme of things, we won. There was institutional change as a result. My only regret is not getting paid for the job. Remember, there are two court systems: there are Courts of Law and there is the Court of Public Opinion. Knowing how to work each court system is key because a loss in one can be a win in the other and visa versa. Remember the McDonalds coffee lady?
In response to specific legal and political issues raised, first let me list them out: What is my political belief, how do I feel about voting ages, and what do I think about drinking ages. Lemme say this about that. I am a libertarian with a small letter “L”. You will find my politics enmeshed with those of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. My view of this nation remains stuck with Her intended purpose. Namely, this nation’s birthright was that every citizen should be free of any government interference to live their life in any manner they see fit provided they cause no harm to anyone. Government as an entity was a recognized social evil that was necessary to avoid war and other civil strife. After all, we can settle our disputes with high powered lawyers in court rooms or with high powered weapons on street corners. Choose.
I discussed voting because I feel strongly that without the right to vote, every other right is without meaning. The only right enjoyed by an American citizen and a citizen of one of the United States is the right to vote. Our Constitution represents and protects everybody. Yet only an American citizen may vote. For that reason I believe that there should be no minimum voting age, no maximum voting age, and no test for competence. Some folks are going to pull a lever for a candidate this November based on their genitals, based on their skin color, based on their age, or based on some religious issue. None of that is relevant to being president. But right now the law allows the old feebleminded ignorant Alzheimer’s patient the right to go vote. By what right do we deprive our youth of the same civil right?
Everybody over age 45 who reads this will understand when I say that “I already have mine. Nothing any voter or legislator can do can deprive me of what I earned or radically change the world in which I live.” The group who should be most interested in the outcome of elections is the teenager and young adult. Decisions being made in Washington and in State Capitols impacts them far more than they do me. Since the under 18 year olds cannot vote, they can at least do their utmost to assure that those who can vote, do. In Australia everybody is required to vote and pays a $69AUS fine for failing to do so. We should consider that rule here since we all suffer the outcome.
I did want to answer a specific question about lighters. The question was if I can have a lighter in a school, then why cant the student have one. There are two explanations, three actually. The easiest is that nobody said I couldn’t have a lighter on campus. Second, the lighter was not used to light a cigarette but rather as demonstrative evidence of a point I was making. Finally, I am an adult and anybody who thinks they can tell me I cannot have a lighter will see how I vote with my feet. The rules say “no lighters” for students. Obviously the goal is stop drug and tobacco use. But I doubt any student would suffer repercussions for bringing a lighter for a purpose other than for drug use. Remember too that your school may have a zero tolerance policy so even if brought for speech or educational purposes, the lighter may still be illegal. Burning flags in classrooms is a great way to get folks' attention. My bic was flicked before it was too late.
As for me personally and going to law school and what to study, here is the advice I give everybody. “Law” is a means toward an end. It is the best education you can get and if you want to understand the world around you, studying law will explain much of the chaos.” It is up to each individual to decide how they want to use their legal training. Whether in music, maritime, or municipal defense, the law gives the necessary skill set to work in any field of your choice. I personally do not play well with others and so the law was my means by which I could open and run my own business.
If your goal is to be “rich”, then forget about practicing law. Nobody gets rich as a lawyer. You can make a good living but real assets come from a vested interest in the work of others. It is one thing to earn my hourly rate. It is a whole nuther thing to earn a percentage of someone else’s work without having to invest any time of my own. That is how law firms make their profits. They build a slave labor force of young lawyers. The best advice I can give for getting into Law School and what to do after is simple: Do what you love and find a way to make money at it. There is no magic forumla as law school is an endurance test, not an intelligence test. I describe the labor of school as akin to staring unblinkly at the head of a pin for 14 hours a day. But learn what you love. Work in the fields you love. Explore.
Besides, what is “rich”? You cannot eat money. Cash makes for a terrible construction material. It does not warm you at night or complete your soul. Money only gives you choices. More important than achieving wealth is to set a lifestyle standard that comforts you and then live in it. Bundles of Benjamins make for a hard pillow at night. In the sixteen years I have been practicing law, I have grossed a lot of money, had a lot of employees, and did very well. For the past five years, my goals shifted to making my business work around my social life. “Happiness” and “peace” can mean more than any check. It is sometimes fun to say “no” to a cash cow simply because the time and labor required is not something I am willing to invest.
At the same time, I remain one of the very few lawyers in the region who will handle a civil rights or constitutional case. I have tried cases from the First Amendment to the last and consider myself one of the self selected few who have to stand up for the worst among us. Remember, when we give away the rights of criminals, we are giving away our own as well. For this reason alone, I do not support a State sanctioned death penalty.
All in all, is it every American’s birthright and birth duty to stand watch and guard against encroachments to their rights and freedoms. Whatever you do, wherever you go, however you organize your life, remember this one lesson.
When they come for you, will there be anybody around to listen?
Vote, or die. Don’t forget to flick your bic.