Lawyers: “RFK was a crummy lawyer”

Grabbed this from the October 2015 Atlantic (and yes, I am way behind in my serious mag reading):

Very Short Book Excerpt

RFK Was a Crummy Lawyer

Edward Bennett Williams, the most famous defense lawyer in the nation by the late 1950s, complained privately that Bobby Kennedy was not only an inept investigator but also a lousy lawyer. Kennedy’s flaw, Williams said, was that he turned each case into a personal cause. “He divided everyone up,” Williams said. “There were the white hats and the black hats. If you weren’t for him, then you were against him. There was no middle ground.” Kennedy, Williams said, failed to understand that every man deserved a defense if the system was to work, and indeed, the Sixth Amendment guaranteed this right. Lawyers who battled each other by day in court should be able to enjoy each other’s company at night over beers in a bar.

–Adapted from Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa, by James Neff (published in July by Little, Brown.)

My observation, after years of working for (defense) lawyers, is that Williams’ analysis of Kennedy applies more–and I’m tempted to say exclusively–to prosecutors than to defense lawyers.

It is defense lawyers who wear the white hats. To have a defense soul is to comprehend the Constitution on a profound level. The lawyer is not simply defending his client. He is defending the Constitution. It is only a rigorous defense, often in the face of public contempt and even threats–as I well know, having worked for two guys who defended O.J. Simpson–that builds muscle into the Constitution.

Without adequate defense lawyers we would be living in a autocratic state.

A lawyer I knew well told me that a friend of his, also a defense lawyer, compared defense law to playing basketball on the other team’s court. That is, defense lawyers never have home court advantage.

I’d add to Williams’ comment: the loathing Kennedy and other prosecutors have for defense lawyers arises, in part, from their feelings of comparative inadequacy. And–again my perception–they’re right: defense lawyers are usually smarter and harder working than prosecutors. Prosecutors have the entire state legal panoply and ample funds backing them up. Defense lawyers have only their brains and each other.

P.S. From the reviews I’ve read, “Bridge of Spies” concerns the warped public perception of defense lawyers, and how morally dedicated such a lawyer must be to represent fully someone generally loathed and condemned. I’ve been meaning to see the film and now, since there’s no football tomorrow, I’ll be doing so.

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