Of Berries, Durians, and Jean Valjean


While both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer will bend over backwards to help their friends, the fundamental character difference between a prosecutor and a defense lawyer is that the defense lawyer will bend over backwards to help yours.

This morning a prosecutor admitted reading my blog (welcome!) and protested that I generalize too much about prosecutors, and that not all of them are judgmental right-wing death-penalty-loving fans of government. Some of them, she said, are touchy-feely left-wing tree-hugging fans of government. Fair enough.

I generalize. All animals generalize. If a species had to taste a berry from every holly bush in order to form the general rule that holly berries are poisonous, it wouldn’t survive long. Humans are at the top of the food chain in part because we’re better at generalizing, and more conscious of our generalizations, than the rest of the animals. Without well-developed generalization skills we probably wouldn’t have made it through the ice age, much less to the moon.

When a prosecutor does his job, he’s trying to put someone else’s
friends in jail. When a defense lawyer does hers, she’s trying to keep
someone else’s friends out of jail. When I’m deciding who to ask to help out one of my friends, I don’t want to call people who might have to go against their natural inclinations to oblige. (On one such occasion, I called criminal-defense lawyer Kevin Fine; Kevin drove into deep East Texas with me to help one of my friends out of a major jam. I believe that Kevin saved my friend’s life that day. Now Kevin is running for judge of the 177th District Court. That’s the kind of character I think we need more of on the bench.)

That we generalize doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize exceptions. For example, we might form a general rule that foods that smell of “pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock” are not fit for human consumption, but then note an exception for the durian, which has been so described but is reportedly very tasty — and is known in Southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”.

While the job of lawyer for the crown is a natural haven for a certain unpleasant type of fear-driven person with white-collar aspirations, it also attracts folks with no particular philosophical axe to grind — for example, those who were told that starting as a prosecutor was a good way to become a criminal-defense lawyer (debatable), those who wanted a steady paycheck and benefits (Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his family) but were averse to the soul-crushing work of a junior associate in a civil firm, and those who couldn’t think of anything better to do with their law degrees.

There are durians among prosecutors. I know of some of them. It’s possible likely that there are more than I know of. I’m probably missing out. But we animals generalize, and if I had to describe every exception to every generalization, I’d never get anything written.

So here’s the deal: we’ll take it as a given that if you’re a prosecutor, and you’re reading this, the generalizations don’t apply to you. Those that infuriate you most, however, are probably closest to the truth.

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0 responses to “Of Berries, Durians, and Jean Valjean”

  1. Oops…never mind. It was Robert Guest that wrote about the bacon and not you. Maybe you people from Texas just all sound the same to me?

  2. I haven’t seen so many backhanded “compliments” since the last time you half heartedly acknowledged that some prosecutors might indeed be human.

  3. There is hope, Mark, for your unpleasant, fear-driven prosecutors. Even Javert, in the end, recognized that doing his duty for the crown would be immoral.

  4. I appreciate the shout out, Mark – and understand the economy – and expediency – of generalizations. I don’t think I’m capable of being infuriated by the written word, but will continue reading to find out.

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