No Hero

Longtime commenter Thomas Griffiths writes, in response to my efforts to represent, pro bono, the British guy charged with aiding his wife’s suicide:

Honestly, I’m friggin baffled by one of my public heroes’ actions. My right brain, says it’s the right thing to do when a Real CDL learns of incompetence, while the left side says WTF? In the end my gut says, there are plenty other folks you and / or dream teams can visit with and offer assistance in their release and or post conviction issues. 

I get this. There are many people sitting in jail represented by lousy lawyers such as Dionne Press. I’m reminded of the scene from an early season of Boston Legal in which Eugene, walking down a jail corridor, asks, “how many of you are innocent,” raising whoops and cheers from all the cells. Some of them surely are. Many are not. Does it matter? And how is a lawyer to choose?

Before I take on a case for free there has to be something special about it.

Many of those who would like my help, I probably couldn’t help much. I like to contribute my time where I can make a real difference or where the subject matter is interesting to me. 

I volunteered to help a guy with an Arabic name charged with carrying a gun in the airport.

I volunteered to help an Occupy Houston protester.

I volunteered to help a guy who had been harmed by a DEA operation gone horrifically wrong.

I volunteered to help a woman being represented by Andy Nolen.

Many times I’ve volunteered to help young black men facing a crucial choice point: plead guilty and be branded a criminal by every cop who runs your ID from now on, or fight.

When I take a pro bono case, it’s not because the client wants me but because I see a likely payoff in it for me—never money nor publicity, but a good story or entertainment or education or just the satisfaction of demonstrating that not all lawyers suck and making a difference that nobody else would make in a human being’s life.

No, I’m no hero. I’m just like any other junkie, except that my drug often makes other people’s lives better.

4 responses to “No Hero”

  1. Mark- You do more pro bono work then most. You forgot to mention all the defense lawyers you have defended in your years as head of HCCLA Strike Force.

    I am always amused by the big civil firms giving Themselves a nice pat on the back for their pro bono work. They have a plaque up in each court house here congratulating themselves. Maybe the average diligent civil lawyer does 100 hours a year of pro bono work. The Bar thinks we should keep records of our pro bono time. The civil can keep track because it’s a relatively small amount of time.

    The average diligent Criminal defense lawyer easily does 250 hours of pro bono work a year. We do need to keep track or give ourselves bowling trophies.

    You do pro bono work for all the reasons you said. But you also do it because it’s the right thing to do.

    • My boss asked me the other day, “half of the work you’re doing is for free, isn’t it?”

      Um, er, yes?

      Aside from the strike force work, there’s the pursuit of truth through public-information requests. Like you say, 250 hours a year easy.

  2. What I meant To say was we do Not need to keep track of our pro bono hours or give ourselves bowling trophies.

    Watching “Body Heat” and I was distracted by a young Kathleen Turner. If she does not distract you in that film….


  3. Mr. B., I’d venture to say that the boss-lady would agree with the sentiment and quite possibly has witnessed you saving a life or two or three…

    Sometimes, we the people are too darn busy to take time to express our gratitude towards those that are truly worthy of genuine praise for good works performed on behalf of others, I’m happy to have had the opportunity. You sir, (and of course Mr. Greenfield) are definitely public & professional heroes deserving of a well earned tile via
    untold personal & financial sacrifices. Thanks a million.

    *hopefully, others will strive to Be Like Bennett and take time to check the system for incompetence & offer assistance when it’s needed (even if it’s not appriciated and or rejected) resulting in revitalizing an entire profession.

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