He called for lawyers to take concerted action, going on strike against bad judges, while he remained anonymous because "I see no reason to take even small risks with the interests of others when the potential for accomplishing anything good is as speculative as this is right now."
So we, criminal-defense lawyers of the world, were expected to risk the interests of our own clients while he hid in the shadows somewhere in Canada. In other words, Atticus seemed a coward.
Today we know who Atticus Ignavus really is: New York lawyer John M. Regan, Jr., driven to (try to) resign as a lawyer in New York and seek refuge in Canada. Driven by what? By the system's abuse of his client:
On the surface, the hearing in Toronto on September 29th is about whether I will be able to remain in Canada as a refugee. But it is also the trial of the judges and other officials involved in the…matter, at which they will have the opportunity to appear and defend themselves if they so choose. Not that they will have any success if they do: their guilt is a matter of official record and documentary proof. If the facts matter, the hearing can have only one outcome.
Regan, representing the woman on criminal charges, believed that she had been raped at knifepoint and framed:
You see, [her] rapist was an agent of the state – a police informant who, along with his police officer sponsor, falsely implicated her in his own crime – an armed robbery he and two accomplices committed shortly after the rape. By that time [she] had been drugged and was passed out in the car. That has also never been disputed and is also a matter of public record.
If the Appellate Division can be believed, Regan withdrew from the case and she, while represented by another lawyer, entered an Alford plea to robbery and kidnapping. Regan then raged against the machine, pursuing relief for his client even to the United States Supreme Court, and losing. Three months after the U.S. Supreme Court denied rehearing on habeas, Regan started blogging as Atticus.
There is no mention of a civil suit. Regan's concern was not with money justice, but with freedom for a woman who had been raped twice—once by an individual, and once by the system.
This was not Regan's first exposure to injustice:
The motion also says that a lawyer who once represented key state witness Gregory Coleman told a state prosecutor in 1998 that Coleman was an "incorrigible drug addict who would routinely lie in order to get money for drugs."
The prosecutor in that case used Coleman as a witness, and convicted Michael Skakel. (Regan hadn't heard this good-citizenship tip.)
I admire people with the courage of they convictions. And I agree with Regan that America's justice system is broken. Still, I have a few questions for him:
- How will it help your client if you get refuge in Canada?
- How will it help anyone if you get refuge in Canada?
- How will it improve America's broken justice system if you get refuge in Canada?
- Is this a symbolic protest?
- Are things that much better in Canada's justice system than in New York's?
- Would your client have received a fair shake if she had been raped by a police informant in Ontario instead of New York?
- Does Canada have the best justice system in the world?
- If Canada does not have the best justice system in the world, why don't you seek refuge in the nation that does?
No matter how much we start out believing in the system (Regan, it appears, is the son of a lawyer), at some point we realize that the system is broken; one case is the last straw. The best criminal-defense lawyers take their losses to heart. A bad loss can be enough to make one chuck it away, or sometimes even to drive one mad.
When faced with that loss, we can always make a grand gesture or toil a little longer in hopes that we can make things better. Neither choice is superior; both are equally in the best tradition of the criminal-defense bar. If we toil a little longer, we can always go the grand-gesture route later. (Some day I may make the grand gesture myself.) And if the grand gesture isn't too grand (self-immolation on the steps of the courthouse, successful resignation from the bar) and doesn't succeed, we may be able to come back and return to our toils, chucking our starfish parabolically into the surf.
No, John, I don't think you're a coward. Cowards don't make grand gestures; cowards slink away and hide. Confronted with blatant and heartbreaking injustice, you made the grand gesture. You tried to resign from the bar and, finding that ineffective, you sought refuge abroad where you hoped to be able to tell your story in court.
If Canada grants you refuge, then I don't know if it will have improved things for anyone, but wow, what a story.
If Canada rejects your petition, though, don't slink away and hide. Come back to the fight.
You can't fix the system, but you can make a difference to the next human being who needs your help, and by doing so stop the tyranny—for at least a little while—from getting that much worse.