Monday, June 11, 2012

It’s business, not personal

Could actor Tom Hanks’ “Joe Fox” character in “You’ve Got Mail” have actually been on to something when he typed an Instant Message about the film, “The Godfather” that it, “is the I-Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”

For it was “The Godfather” that gave us the line, “This is business, not personal.”

AND THAT SEEMS to be the philosophy at work these days at the federal courthouse where a man facing arson and civil rights violation charges and is an admitted white supremacist has a black woman representing him as his attorney.

Although when Brian Moudry made his initial court appearance last week, what caught most peoples’ attention was the fact that he has the words “Blue-eyed Devil” tattooed onto the top of his shaven head.

But the Chicago Tribune gave us a detailed story about the dynamic involved in this particular bit of legal representation. It is an interesting piece of reporting and writing that everybody should read.

And I’m not just saying that because the particular reporter who wrote the story is a former work colleague of mine whom I’ve always had the utmost professional respect for.

SO HOW DOES it work that a white supremacist gets a young black woman attorney who likely represents everything he detests about our society today, and which he probably thinks he’s fighting against?

The key to that description of the attorney is “young.” She’s a public defender. She handles the criminal cases of indigent defendants who can’t afford to get themselves an attorney of their choice.

This was purely a luck of the draw. She didn’t pick him any more than he picked her, although the Tribune reported that upon their first meeting just prior to the court appearance, Moudry said he had no objection to her.

Which could be a matter of practicality on his part. It may also turn out that he will get his own attorney at some point in the future.

BUT I’M NOT sure I consider this to be the biggest stretch I have ever seen in a courtroom.

For I have encountered cases in the past where attorneys who happen to be Jewish wind up representing white supremacists – usually justifying taking the cases on the grounds that they’re sticking up for some higher principle in life and our society.

Get them to talk privately, and the defendants will usually rationalize the pairing by making a wisecrack about “Jew snakes” working on their behalf for a change.

But it is the reality that the law applies equally to all, and that competent, qualified and skilled attorneys should be capable of handling just about any case within their specialty.

OTHERWISE, WE PROBABLY would have to have a separate legal division of counselors who happen to share the white supremacist take of their clients.

Not that I don’t doubt that some attorneys do have their hang-ups about people who happen to not be of Anglo-Saxon origins. But it would be too much.

Let’s not forget Matt Hale, the man who is now serving a nearly four-decade prison sentence for what prosecutors said were his attempts to have a federal judge killed because he didn’t like her ruling in a legal trademark case involving his self-created white supremacist religion.

Hale originally came to prominence in the mid-1990s when he was a Southern Illinois University law school student who couldn’t get licensed to practice law even though he passed the bar exam because it was felt his racist views of the world were incompatible (he lacked “moral character and fitness”) with the profession.

HALE NEVER MADE any attempt to hide his views. He used to openly say that he thought the white supremacists of the world needed to have legal counsel who would aggressively defend their views – rather than just try to rationalize their defense on the grounds of some “free speech” principle (and the legal fees being paid).

Nobody bought that argument back then, which is why we really shouldn’t be shocked to see what happened this past week. If they had, perhaps we’d be seeing Hale’s legal skills at work in this particular case.

Instead, we’re not, as Hale is languishing in prison (another 25 years to go before he could be eligible for early release) out in Colorado. Perhaps that means all is well with our society, as it now stands. 

All because somebody’s willing to follow the principle from “The Godfather” about “business” versus “personal.” Now if we could only find a practical way to use the advice about, "Leave the gun, take the canoli."


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