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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

John Kerry: Lapsed lawyer of little legal luster

I began doing the research for this post on the assumption that John Kerry and I have something in common — that we are both experienced trial lawyers. 

I ended that research having concluded that John Kerry's claims to be an accomplished trial lawyer and top prosecutor are almost certainly more overstated than his claims to have been a great war hero — and that for at least the past eight years and probably longer, he'd have been committing a crime himself if he'd actually tried to represent any client in any court.

I. Kerry's campaign rhetoric:  "Top prosecutor"
will be tough on crime, but fight for rights

A Google search on John Kerry's campaign website for the word "prosecutor" returns sixty-three hits.  For example, from his official biography page:

Later, John Kerry accepted another tour of duty — to serve in America's communities. After graduating from Boston College Law School in 1976, John Kerry went to work as a top prosecutor in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. He took on organized crime and put behind bars "one of the state's most notorious gangsters, the number two organized crime figure in New England." He fought for victims' rights and created programs for rape counseling.

From his webpage on civil rights:

As a former prosecutor, John Kerry also knows the importance of strong law enforcement and a judicial system that upholds the hard-won rights of all Americans....

As a former prosecutor, John Kerry knows that racial profiling is nothing more than ineffective law enforcement and must be prohibited.

On his metropolitan agenda webpage:

As a former prosecutor, John Kerry is committed to vigorous prosecution and punishment of violent criminals.

From his "Women for Kerry-Edwards" webpage:

As a prosecutor, his first conviction of a felon put a rapist behind bars ....

On his "Lawyers for Kerry-Edwards" page:

John Kerry has always been tough on crime. As a prosecutor for one of America's largest counties, he prosecuted a murderer, a rapist and a mob boss. As an assistant District Attorney, he transformed one of the largest and most active District Attorney's offices in the nation into an efficient crime-fighting organization. He started a white-collar crime unit, a program for fast-tracking violent crimes to trial, and a victim's rights unit that was the first of its kind in Massachusetts and one of the first in the nation.

And from a speech on September 9, 2004, to the National Baptist Convention, as reprinted on his website:

You know, I used to be a prosecutor.  I sent criminals to jail for murder and rape for the rest of their lives.

No wonder the Dems thought Kerry would innoculate their party from any "soft on crime/mollycoddling liberals" charges, eh?  I'm somewhat surprised that Sen. Kerry hasn't volunteered to personally prosecute Osama bin Laden, when and if he's caught, to bring these credentials into use on foreign policy issues as well. 

II.  Kerry's law school record, 1973-1976

Noticeably missing from Sen. Kerry's campaign website, however — and indeed, from his entry in the West Legal Directory and the public domain generally — are any details about his law school record, other than that he graduated with the standard law degree, a J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence — despite its title, not an advanced law degree) in 1976.  As I've written before, I don't fault Kerry for having attended Boston College, which is a fine law school, albeit one that lacks the national prominence of its local rival Harvard or Kerry's undergraduate institution, Yale.  Wisconsin Law Professor and blogger Ann Althouse has speculated that, given that he was "a law school applicant with extraordinary plus factors, the money to go to any school he wanted, and a history of choosing elite, prestige institutions," Kerry's attendance at Boston College Law School

raises the inference — for reasons detailed in my earlier posts — that his undergraduate record and his LSAT weren't very good, which is evidence that he isn't as smart as he's been made out to be.

I've not been able to find any references to Kerry's test scores or grades, either as an undergraduate or as a law student, but we can reasonably infer from the absence of any "cum laude"-type designations or other listings of academic honors that whatever his class rank was, he wasn't at or very near the top at either Yale College or Boston College Law School.  Boston College law student John Kerry sits among BC Law graduates in 1976.Michael Kranish et al.'s John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography By The Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best reports (at page 166) that in his third year of law school, Kerry did serve as an "outstanding member" on his school's national moot court team.  Certainly participation in moot court competition (like Kerry's participation in Yale's debate team) can be valuable and practical training for a lawyer-to-be; while a legitimate résumé credential, however, it is not an academic honor, as would have been selection to the Order of the Coif (a ceremonial organization) or the Boston College Law Review (or perhaps one of the other student-run scholarly journals at that school).

From the date of Sen. Kerry's admission to the Massachusetts bar — December 29, 1976 — we can infer that he probably took the summer bar exam after his graduation and passed it on his first attempt.  (The current overall pass rate for that exam is 72 percent; although I can't find data for 1976, if it's like most states' bar exams, the pass rate then was probably higher.)

On the whole, however, Sen. Kerry's undergraduate and law school academic record cannot help but remind me of the old joke from a slightly different context:  Q: D'ya know what they call the guy who finishes last in his class at medical school?  A: "Doctor!"  (The legal equivalent of the joke has the answer as "Your Honor!")

III. Kerry's track record as a prosecutor, 1977-1979

Certainly Sen. Kerry's website gives the impression that he spent years and years of fighting for victims' rights and locking away the badguys.  That's true — if by "years and years" you mean some number less than three.  Kerry was a licensed practitioner and prosecutor from December 29, 1976, through sometime in the early spring of 1979.

I suppose you could count the months Kerry spent while working in the prosecutor's office after graduation and before his bar results came in.  You might even count the months he as a "student prosecutor" while still a third-year law student at Boston College Law School.  According to the Kranish biography (at page 167), while still in school, Kerry

handled minor cases before juries of six, winning all of the twenty-five to thirty cases he prosecuted....  "I'm glad to say I never lost a case in Middlesex [County]," Kerry said.

Wow, that's an impressive conviction rate, isn't it?  Certainly it is!  At least until you consider that they were, by definition, minor misdemeanors — probably traffic tickets, maybe littering — in which the defendants most likely didn't have lawyers.

Well, so he at least must have wracked up the trials once he got his license and became a "real" prosecutor, didn't he?  Says the Boston Globe:

After joining the staff of aging District Attorney John J. Droney, Kerry moved with Julia to Newton, nearer the East Cambridge office. On New Year's Eve 1976, the couple's second daughter, Vanessa, was born. Less than a month later, Droney promoted Kerry to the position of first assistant, giving him free rein to overhaul the office.

Droney veterans were stunned. Many of his assistants were resentful.

Having been promoted to an administrative position within a month of receiving his license, it seems clear that Kerry wasn't ever a front-line in-the-trenches prosecutor.  Older than average among the other rookies just out of law school, he did already have demonstrated skills before the TV camera — so much so, reports Jeffrey Toobin, Middlesex County 1st Assistant DA John Kerry explains to the press on June 16, 1978, that an investigation into possible criminal charges stemming from US Senator Edward Brooke's admitted 'misstatements' in his first divorce trial was ordered that day by Middlesex DA John Droney, right. Middlesex Assistant DA Richard Kelly looks on. writing in a May 2004 article in the New Yorker, that the new prosecutor was quickly dubbed "Live-Shot Kerry."  Kerry became the right-hand man for Droney, an ailing district attorney whom Kerry longed to succeed in office, but who essentially booted Kerry soon after winning re-election in November 1978. 

So how many felony cases did Kerry actually try to a jury?  Kerry's website claims that he "he prosecuted a murderer, a rapist and a mob boss," but I've only been able to confirm the first two.   

Toobin describes Kerry winning a rape conviction against one George Edgerly, who was also convicted of murder and fraud by other prosecutors in different trials.  And WaPo's Dale Russakoff reported in a January 25, 2004, article that Kerry won a murder conviction against "one Dana Monsen, who had stabbed a man to death for impregnating a friend's wife."  Russakoff reports that Mr. Monsen is still in prison, and Toobin reports that Mr. Edgerly is as well, so Sen. Kerry's current claim that as a prosecutor, he "sent criminals to jail for murder and rape for the rest of their lives" may be technically accurate — two being, after all, a plural number of criminals — depending perhaps on how long these two men survive.  (Mr. Edgerly, however, was actually sentenced not to life imprisonment, but to "eighteen to thirty years" for the rape, according to Toobin.)

But as for the current claim that Sen. Kerry "took on organized crime and put behind bars 'one of the state's most notorious gangsters, the number two organized crime figure in New England,'" the Kranish biography tells us (at pp. 174-75):

Another exaggerated claim involved the notorious Somerville pinball extortion case.  A 1982 campaign announcement claimed Kerry prosecuted the case.  Although Kerry did directly oversee the investigation, coaxed reluctant witnesses to testify, and introduced evidence to the grand jury, it was [J. William] Codinha, an assistant DA — not Kerry — who tried the case.  (The same announcement also described Winter as "the number two organized crime boss in New England," though [defendant Howie] Winter[, whom the Kranish book (at page 169) says was "convicted in a scheme to force local businesses to install in their clubs pinball machines owned by a gang associate,"] "was not even 'Number Two' in Greater Boston, much less in New England," the Boston Globe reported.)

Boy, I'll bet that severe crimp in their pinball machine racket brought organized crime in Boston and Greater New England to its knees! 

So what did Kerry do during his stint as a prosecutor?  Per Toobin:

Kerry reached all the way to Washington in order to overhaul the office and, most dramatically, its budget. Under President Carter, the Justice Department was making grants to local prosecutors, and Kerry proved adept at tapping into those funds. "We hired a full-time grant writer, and I got more federal money than any other office in the country," Kerry told me. With the money — a reported $3.8 million — he initiated a raft of new programs: a priority prosecution program that sought to bring violent offenders to trial in less than ninety days; an organized-crime task force; an arson task force.

And according to WaPo's Russakoff:

In two years, the office grew from 27 part-time to 90 full-time prosecutors. More than half of Kerry's new hires were women, and many were young idealists who turned to law as a force for changing government after Watergate.

Of course, one can spin this as needed progress, or one can spin this as bureaucratic bloat; and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  How much of what Kerry's said about his effectiveness and efficiency is spin?  The Boston Globe reports:

Kerry's selective account of his achievements in the East Cambridge courthouse, however, exaggerates some accomplishments and omits the excesses of what became a polarized office under his leadership.

"The office was divided," said George E. Murphy, who served as an assistant DA in Middlesex for 20 years and now has his own practice. "There were Kerry people, and there were Droney people."

In listing his accomplishments, Kerry greatly inflates the reduction in the backlog of cases on his watch, an achievement that he has described in more grandiose terms over time.

These days, he often says he wiped out an inventory of 12,000 criminal cases. That's up from a claim in a 1984 Kerry campaign biography of a cut to 228 from 11,000 in 18 months. But in a May 1979 interview with The Sun, Kerry said he engineered a drop to 228 from 3,000 before the backup climbed to about 500. A 1978 Droney reelection advertisement, which Kerry helped write, said the dropoff was from 4,523 cases to 716.

State records for the period show a sharp dropoff in the criminal caseload of every county of the state, led by Middlesex, which was helped by a $250,000 federal grant. The precise figure could not be determined from official reports, however. But they show the entire superior court caseload, including backlog, never exceeded 7,265 during Kerry's tenure.

Kerry said he isn't sure where his figures came from but recalled a concerted effort to clean up a mess. "We adjudicated a number of them, we had to dismiss a whole bunch for lack of evidence, lack of witnesses, people had moved or didn't want to testify," he said. "We went through every case."

Gotta love that royal "we," doncha?  "We" mowed through the cases just like "we" mowed down the VC in Vietnam, I guess.

IV. Kerry's private practice, 1979-1982

Of Kerry's brief tenure in private practice from early 1979, after he left Droney's office, until his election as Michael Dukakis' lieutenant governor in November 1982, Russakoff of WaPo writes:

Kerry & Sragow, the partnership he established with one of his star prosecutors, Roanne Sragow, later a girlfriend, was an instant success, drawing malpractice, personal injury and wrongful death clients to a tony State Street office. A decade had passed since the antiwar veteran had riveted the nation with his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The questions Kerry grappled with as a lawyer hardly seemed as grand. In one of its more lucrative periods, Kerry & Sragow was representing bald men who had suffered grotesquely unsuccessful hair implants. Lead plaintiff Charles DiPerri, then maitre d' at the exclusive Brookline Country Club, still remembers Kerry holding up color photographs of an oozing sore in DiPerri's scalp and demanding of the jury — in an oddly familiar cadence — "How do you ask a man to work with the public with his scalp in this horrendous condition?" DiPerri was awarded $90,000 in damages.

This does at least explain the Kerry-Edwards ticket's insistence that it has the "best hair," I suppose.

Although he describes at length one high-profile criminal case that Kerry and Sragow undertook to exonerate a man wrongly convicted of murder, Toobin — and Kerry — make clear that she carried the bulk of that work: 

“Roanne was the court-appointed attorney, and I was the helper,” Kerry said. “She did the lion’s share of the work, but that case taught me a lot.”

And Toobin dispels any notion that while in private practice, Kerry was able to use his famous ability to see "nuance" and "principle" to fight for the rights of those on the sharp end of the criminal justice system's stick:

Kerry’s background as a prosecutor made criminal work unappealing to him. "I took a court appointment once in a criminal case, and I realized I just didn’t want the guy out on the street," Kerry told me. "I knew he was guilty. It takes a certain kind of makeup as a lawyer to dedicate yourself to having someone like that out on the street. I know our system says someone has to represent everyone, but I just couldn’t do it. I went to the court and asked them to take me off the case."

To some conservatives, that may seem like a bully good position to take.  To most liberals, and to anyone who believes in the basic premises of the adversary system — and I'd include myself in that second category, having represented, on a pro bono basis, a capital murder defendant through two Fifth Circuit appeals and an intervening habeas trial in federal district court, and having overseen for several years a large Houston law firm's pro bono criminal appellate appointments program — it's hardly a noble position.   Even the one criminal matter on which he assisted Sragow had a selfish political motivation for lawyer Kerry:

The timing of the Reissfelder case was propitious for Kerry. By the summer of 1982, he was running in a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and his efforts on behalf of the wronged inmate were drawing attention in the local press.

I've found no reference to lawyer Kerry ever performing any pro bono work — an ethical obligation of every lawyer, at least in theory.  Perhaps he did so, quietly.  Or perhaps he viewed such work in much the same way that he's later viewed out-of-pocket charitable contributions:

In 1995, Kerry reportedly had a taxable income of $126,179, and made charitable contributions of $0. In 1994, he gave $2,039 to charity. In 1993, the figure was $175. In 1992, it was $820, and in 1991, it was $0.

Nor was there a shortage of high-profile pro bono work for Boston lawyers in 1979-1982.  Kerry could have volunteered for all sorts of civil rights litigation, for instance.  But rather than take on a politically risky cause like school busing and desegregation (a topic that Kerry's ex-brother-in-law and lifelong friend David Thorne recalls Kerry informally debating with Dubya back at Yale, according to page 40 of the Kranish book, and that continued to simmer for many years after its famous 1974 crisis in Boston), it appears that Kerry  was satisfied with his existing civil rights credentials (which, as best I can tell from the Kranish book, at pp. 27-28, consisted of having been friends with the only black teacher, and delivering a since-lost speech entitled "The Plight of the Negro," at St. Paul's prep school, pre-Yale).

Finally, what enduring precedential contributions did John Kerry leave in the law of Massachusetts from his practice there from 1977 to 1982, either as a prosecutor or a lawyer in private practice?  A Lexis-Nexis search of all reported Massachusetts civil and criminal appeals (in a database going back at least through 1972, well before his bar admission) does not find his name among counsel of record on even a single appellate decision. 

V. Kerry from 1983 forward

It's now clear enough to me that unlike his running mate, John Kerry has never been much of a trial lawyer; rather, he's always been a prominent member of the subspecies Lawyerus Politico.  That's well and good, I suppose — except for the fact that he's trying to use his awfully thin credentials as a prosecutor as a basis for his Presidential campaign. 

The natural reaction that Sen. Kerry's supporters will likely have to this post will be to argue George W. Bush's pre-political credentials.  I've written before, at my usual tedious length, about why I'm personally glad that Dubya didn't get into Texas Law School and went instead for a Harvard MBA after finishing up his TANG service.  Governor-elect Michael Dukakis and Lieutenant Governor John Kerry celebrate their 1982 election victory.If you're less impressed than I am with how that MBA and his business experience helped prepare him for his current job, you're welcome to that opinion, of course; Bush should be, and is, running for re-election largely on the basis of how he's done as President, not what he did in 1968-1971 or 1976-1979.

Fairly viewed, of course, John Kerry isn't a career lawyer, but a career politician.  And he's running for the top position in the nation's Executive Branch, not for a seat in its Judicial Branch.  Even though in his career in the U.S. Senate he's been noted more for quasi-prosecutorial investigations than nuts-and-bolts lawmaking, he hasn't, strictly speaking, been engaged in the active practice of law since 1983.  That no doubt explains why Sen. Kerry's membership in the bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently on "inactive status."  When I phoned the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers today, I was advised that Sen. Kerry's inactive status goes back at least as far as 1996; how much earlier than that, their computerized records would not readily reveal.

So strictly speaking, John Kerry is today a law school graduate, but not a lawyer with an active license to practice in Massachusetts or any other state.  While he could presumably return to active status by filing the appropriate paperwork and paying required fees, nevertheless, as of today, John Kerry would be committing a crime under Massachusetts law were he attempt to appear in court there on behalf of a client.

Of course, the senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy, is also a career politician and has been a nonpracticing lawyer for many years (having been admitted to the Massachusetts bar in December 1959 and serving only a short time as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County in 1961 before going into the Senate in 1962).  And yet, Sen. Kennedy has seen fit not only to maintain the active status of his license to practice law in his native state, but has qualified for, and maintained his membership in, the District of Columbia bar

I do not suggest that Sen. Kerry has engaged, or is engaging, in the illegal unauthorized practice of law.  But my readers can decide for themselves whether, as a matter of political ethics, it would be appropriate for Sen. Kerry to perhaps footnote all those "prosecutor" references on his website to mention, and likewise reveal in all his speeches, that his law license is and has long been "inactive."

And likewise, I leave it to my readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether Sen. Kerry has a sound basis for claiming that his past law practice as a prosecutor and a private lawyer has fitted him to be President. 

But just speaking as one crusty old trial lawyer — I'm decidedly unimpressed.  I'd pay a small ransom — heck, I'd pay his back bar dues! — for the chance to square off against lawyer Kerry on either side of any case in any courtroom, any time and anywhere.

---------------------

A footnote:  Pondering Sen. Kerry's inactive law license, I can't help but think of Thomas M. Griffith — the current general counsel of Brigham Young University and one of President Bush's stalled nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Mr. Griffith's appointment faces strong Democratic opposition in part because he failed to catch a dues-paying oversight by his staff that resulted in a temporary lapse in his license to practice law in the District of Columbia — a lapse that apparently has been remedied retroactively as far as the District is concerned, but that has blocked his reciprocal admission to the bar in Utah and may have doomed his chances for confirmation.  I'm unacquainted with Mr. Griffith and his qualifications for the bench in general, but I must admit that I was surprised and deeply troubled by this report.  I know that my blog's readership includes some former, inactive, and/or nonpracticing lawyers, but I suspect they'd agree with me, and most lawyers of any stripe, that one's bar status is not to be taken lightly. 

Posted by Beldar at 01:19 AM in Law (2006 & earlier), Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

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» John Kerry: Law and Order it ain't... from Alternate Voice

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 6:15:39 AM

» Doing the Heavy Lifting from Carnivorous Conservative

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 10:24:26 AM

» Kerry the Lawyer from lead and gold

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 11:09:42 AM

» Kerry in the courtroom from The H-Bomb

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» John Kerry: Law and Order it ain't... from Alternate Voice

Tracked on Nov 12, 2004 3:00:38 PM

Comments

(1) Xrlq made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 2:11:00 AM | Permalink

I do agree that one's bar status is not to be taken lightly. However, as an in-house counsel, I have to agree a little less forcefully in Griffith's case than most litigators would. Many states, including both yours and mine, allow out of state attorneys to serve in that capacity; Texas even counts it as "lawful practice of law" upon which an admission without exam can be based. And in states that do not have an in-house exception, sloppy compliance is quite common.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 2:27:47 AM | Permalink

Xrlq, that's a good point, and I didn't mean to imply that I've made a thorough examination of Mr. Griffith's situation, much less a condemnation of him. I haven't heard his side of the situation except through the mainstream media sources like WaPo, and there may be important facts they've garbled or omitted. Particularly if he was not appearing in court or giving advice on matters of Utah state law, his service as in-house general counsel at BYU without being admitted in Utah may not have been, or be, a problem. A lengthy gap without having a license in good standing anywhere, however — even if deemed cured retroactively — is unfortunate and troublesome. It's not a situation any practicing lawyer — much less one facing a hostile Senate confirmation battle that probably turns on his ideology and the President who appointed him — wants to be in.

(3) Birkel made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 2:57:45 AM | Permalink

Beldar wrote:
Gotta love that royal "we," doncha? "We" mowed through the cases just like "we" mowed down the VC in Vietnam, I guess.

"We" doesn't always mean "we," remember? Sometimes it means everyone else except me, like in the December 11, 1968 journal entry that said "we" hadn't taken fire. Maybe that's what the "we" means here.

(4) leaddog2 made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 6:28:33 AM | Permalink

Bill,

I agree with you, but currently active bar status is technically important ONLY if you might want to practice law again. You are actually suggesting Kerry is unethical. While that is correct, there is NO known area of ethical conduct shown in any military action or after Vietnam action in John Kerry's history, so in a way, this is just icing on the cake.

In John Kerry's case, (and I have checked only the generally known items) I strongly suspect his law license became inactive when he married the money-pot, Teresa. I DO NOT have the exact dates. (Frankly, I do not care when he married her except that I read it was BEFORE his license became inactive in 1996).

That marriage was a trial lawyer bonanza on it's own scale.

(5) Zachriel made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 6:46:26 AM | Permalink

Sounds like Kerry did quite a bit in the short time he spent as a lawyer. Thanks for the rundown.


(6) Sue Bob made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 8:04:44 AM | Permalink

It looks like he continued his habit of appropriating other people's exploits as his own when he claimed to been the one who put the "Pin-Ball Godfather" behind bars.

Remember that he had earlier appropriated Ted Peck's January 29, 1969 firefight on the swiftboat.

John Kerry channels Walter Mitty every time he talks about his past.

And, personally, I don't think much of the subspecies: "Lawyerus Politico."

(7) Dimsdale made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 9:29:35 AM | Permalink

Beldar quoted Russakoff of WaPo:

"The questions Kerry grappled with as a lawyer hardly seemed as grand. In one of its more lucrative periods, Kerry & Sragow was representing bald men who had suffered grotesquely unsuccessful hair implants. Lead plaintiff Charles DiPerri, then maitre d' at the exclusive Brookline Country Club, still remembers Kerry holding up color photographs of an oozing sore in DiPerri's scalp and demanding of the jury — in an oddly familiar cadence — "How do you ask a man to work with the public with his scalp in this horrendous condition?" DiPerri was awarded $90,000 in damages."

One has to ask of he represented Joe Biden for the same crime! LOL! Add that to the "channeling" Edwards did with dead babies, and you have quite a tag team of deceit.

Seriously though, it seems as though Kerry's career seems to be one more of embellishment of small accomplishment, often that of others, rather than real "meat and potatoes" accomplishment.

I think the "do you know who I am?" and "I was in Vietnam, blah, blah, blah..." excuses (not to mention fortuitous marriages) did more to carry him through life than any degree or substantial accomplishments.

I never thought I would say this, but he makes Bill Clinton look relatively good! (please be mindful of the word "relatively")

(8) Rounguy made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 10:37:34 AM | Permalink

Bill,

You stated, "Kerry became the right-hand man for Droney, an ailing district attorney whom Kerry longed to succeed in office, but who essentially booted Kerry soon after winning re-election in November 1978." Do you know why he was "booted" or is the inference of being a divider and not a uniter the underlying reason? BTW your interquote punditry is priceless.

In reading an Ann Coulter article re: John Edwards, I think John Edwards is a better candidate for schmuck lawyer of the year. Well worth the read.

(9) jack white made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 10:44:07 AM | Permalink

Actually, Beldar, what you have described is a typical biography of many attorneys: a good but not top tier law school, a first job in government (ADA), and finally work in a small practice. This is honorable, and quite common.

However, your point is well taken that the overblown biography is a common theme for Kerry. While he took a normal course for an attorney, he painted it as an extraordinary and distinguished career. The primary difference between lawyers and military officers is that most attorneys have a paper trail that do not enable exaggerated claims of greatness. As an ADA and small firm lawyer, Kerry couldn't alter the results of his actions as he did in the military, because they were recorded for the world to see.

However, I would bet if you dig deeper you would find vanity citations from various organizations and groups that laud Kerry's legal work. I imagine these are displayed prominently in his office and home. These vanity "citations" would be the rough equivalent of medals and honors awarded for military actions of mediocre importance.

The man is a fraud. His life is a fraud. His campaign is a fraud. How in the hell he ever got a major party's nomination is beyond the ken of most of us.

(10) dennisw made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 11:22:59 AM | Permalink

He is a creature of government who feels government provides the best solutions.

John Kerry was failure working in the private sector. His private law practice is a brief interlude in his long resume of feeding at the public trough. He jumped at abandoning it to become Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts.

(11) Joshua Chamberlain made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 2:35:29 PM | Permalink

"To some conservatives, that may seem like a bully good position to take."

I'm one of them. This is one of the few things Kerry has every said that makes him look like a normal person.

Beldar, it's not an adversary system, its an advocacy system. Nobody has any obligation as an attorney to defend people who are guilty. There is nothing honorable or helpful to society or anyone in it peddling a bunch of nonsense because the defendant wants to get off. Criminal defense attorneys can break their arms patting themselves on the back about how they're making the system work, but nothing causes as much cynicism among ordinary people about the criminal justice system as the sight of a Johnny Cochrane or Mark Geragos acting as the mouthpiece for an obviously guilty person.

(12) CERDIP made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 2:54:13 PM | Permalink

Oh, JFK has a lustre for sure - but it ain't a legal one.

(13) craig henry made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 3:56:17 PM | Permalink

Obviously guilty? Like Sam Shepherd? Like the Richard Ricci or Richard Jewell?

I'm more conservative than 99% of the blogosphere, but i'm one who thinks every defendant deserves a vigorous defense. Even the ones who are "obviously guilty". That's the only way to ensure that the inobviously innocent stand a chance.

(14) Sydney T made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 6:44:07 PM | Permalink

I went to BC Law school, class of '87 so I found your piece interesting.

There are some fairly compelling reasons to choose BC Law, but I suspect Kerry would not have considered them if Harvard was in the cards.

As for Kerry's history of 25-30 jury trials in lawschool - that's a joke. I don't recall any student ever having a jury trial in law school and I'm not even sure it was permitted. A bench trial was a rare treat indeed. Furthermore There are not 25 weeks in a semester and a law student does not prepare for a jury trial over night.

Besides, pro bono defendants don't empanel 6 person juries - and we had a de novo system then that allowed a defendant a bench trial before they got to the jury, making jury trials few and far between. There is something fishy there.

Finally I've been doing business at Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge for 17 years and I've never heard it referred to as "East Cambridge". That makes me think the reference was to Cambridge District Court not Middlesex Superior as it is commonly known.

(15) bill made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 10:34:54 PM | Permalink

I am a metallurgist, not a lawyer, but must compliment you on a superb piece of work. Once I had started, I could not stop reading until it was over. It is fascinating how one can claim a "reputation" as a "prosecuter" with the implication that one has protected us all (particularly the children, of course) because one spent a brief spell as an administrator in a prosecutor's office. When GB flew jets for the national guard, they, at least, actually took flight.

(16) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 10:56:56 AM | Permalink

Zachriel, during the time he was a lawyer, Kerry may have "done a lot," but it was as a bureaucrat, not as a prosecutor trying cases, and then as a private lawyer of no lasting distinction. I'm not saying he was a failure or incompetent; I'm pointing up the difference between his campaign rhetoric and his actual record. The Boston Globe article quotes Kerry as explaining his reason for becoming a prosecutor thusly:

"My dad had been a prosecutor and told me it was a great way to learn how to do cases and try cases," he said. "It was fabulous. I wanted to be a trial lawyer. It was the best place in the world to get trial practice."

That's absolutely true; but that's absolutely not what he did. Most prosecutors "keep score" in numbers of convictions and pleas they wrack up. Kerry's career can instead be measured in numbers of federal grants, news conferences, and new personnel, which might (or might not) have been useful, but certainly isn't what he's trying to lead voters to believe he did when he talks about having personally put criminals behind bars.

Mr. White, I agree with you that attending a "good but not top tier law school, a first job in government (ADA), and finally work in a small practice" would be "honorable, and quite common." Jumping to the second slot in the DA's office within a month of being licensed, however, is not common, and obviously could not have been based on Kerry's demonstrated courtroom skills as a prosecutor.

Sydney T, I wish Kranish et al. had checked with you to better vet Kerry's claims about his work as a "student prosecutor," and thank you for your informative comments here.

Finally, Mr. Chamberlain, I understand where you're coming from. One part of the criminal justice system that's poorly understood by the public is the criminal defense lawyer's role as private counselor to his client — that is, helping an accused defendant understand the nature and strength of the charges against him and the risks he'd be undertaking were he to be tried and convicted after a full-blown jury trial. If there were not effective and capable lawyers performing that role — and thereby facilitating the negotiated guilty pleas that result therefrom — the result wouldn't be more badguys in jail, it would be every badguy insisting on a full trial that would bring the overall criminal justice system to a grinding halt. In both criminal and civil law, some large percentage of the cases that go to trial — rather than being resolved by an agreed plea or settlement — do so because the client is getting bad advice on risks/benefits, or refusing to believe good advice, or because some external factor (e.g., a Johnny Cochran's desire to grandstand for publicity) is warping the process. I know it's hard to accept, but in the big picture, the criminal justice system works better — achieves more justice, which includes putting more badguys in prison faster and economically — when the defendants are competently represented.

(17) Some Guy made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 1:14:14 PM | Permalink

Who says pro bono is my duty? You? The ABA? Some groovy 1970's-educated ethics committee promulgating a non-binding rule?

Where are all of you every month when I hand over a massive chunk of my meager salary to pay the student loan bill?

(18) Tim Cross made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 1:28:10 PM | Permalink

Great info. Too bad you didn't have time to review Joe Biden's background. The standing joke in Delaware is that Biden was such a horrible attorney that a group of lawyers convinced him to run for office. We've been sufffering ever since.

(19) jackson white made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 1:52:48 PM | Permalink

Beldar, I do agree that moving into the position as the DA's chief deputy in a matter of months is uncommon--unless there are political connections, as was the case here.

Nonetheless, what strikes me is the grandiosity Kerry displays when he discusses his mundane, yet honorable, legal career. Exaggeration seems to be a common thread throughout the senator's life, and may explain his ham-handedness when the Swifties revealed him as a fraud.

(20) Mikey made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 2:04:47 PM | Permalink

Zachriel:
It isn't difficult to do a lot as an attorney in a short period of time. Unlike tv and movie attorneys, real live attorneys handle more than one case at a time. I have nearly twenty active cases, albeit most of them are administrative hearings. In a busy prosecutor's office (say, Wayne County, Michigan - that is, Detroit) a prosecutor may be doing a trial every week and a half to two weeks, plus a long motion call of perhaps 15 motions/hearings, etc. on Friday.

Just food for thought.
Mikey

(21) Mikey made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 2:14:37 PM | Permalink

Someguy:
I agree, student loan payments bite. When you are paying off your student loan bill, my check is right there also. (sob!)
The pro bono stuff has been around a lot longer than the flower children and will be here long after they are dust. It is a form of charity, yes. It is also a form of duty rendered in that those who have a privileged position in society are obligated to serve society. You don't have to do it, but you are encouraged to. It's that honor thing, you do understand, don't you? Too many people are too selfish to comprehend that.

That's part of why this is a profession, not just a job.
Mikey

(22) Some Guy made the following comment | Sep 30, 2004 7:41:43 AM | Permalink

Hey, Mikey, screw you, hippie. I still find room in my pitiful salary to contribute far more than you ever will to charity, and I spend time and effort with my church helping those less fortunate. Where do you get off giving me attitude?

What I don't cotton to is the puffing chests on liberal idiots telling me that I need to donate my labor, generally to legal causes that I find morally reprehensible. Tell me, would you be so hot on pro bono if you knew I would be devoting time on behalf of Washington Legal Foundation or the Republican National Lawyers Association? I didn't think so. Liberals are only preachy about pro bono because, for the most part, it furthers THEIR pet political causes. Period.

By the way, in case you didn't get the hint, you can take your luaghably self-righteous attitude and "profession, not a job b.s." and shove it far out of the sun's reach.

(23) Mikey made the following comment | Sep 30, 2004 9:23:07 AM | Permalink

Some Guy:

Hippy? Liberal? Me?
You really do not know who you are talking to, do you? You made a statement. I tried to answer it with the reasoning behind it (as far as I know it to be.) Your rudeness is not necessary and not appreciated.
By the way, if you are donating your skills to the Washington Legal Foundation or the Republican National Lawyers Association that may be pro bono work. You don't have to donate your time to causes that you do not like to do pro bono work. You can do it very easily - handle a matter for a reduced fee or for no fee for someone who cannot afford to pay much. It isn't really a big deal.

Regarding your personal attacks on me - same to you, pal. In spades.

Very truly yours,
Mikey

PS: I think further correspondence between us would be fruitless and a waste of Beldar's bandwidth.

(24) Scooter made the following comment | Sep 30, 2004 9:42:52 AM | Permalink

Regarding the legal defense of the 'guilty'... How did you feel when you found out that the lawyers representing the rapist/murderer of Danielle Van Dam had information the entire time that left no doubt whatsoever their client had committed the crime?

Surely you would agree that sort of travesty of the legal system should not be allowed to occur. I find it reprehensible that anyone (let alone 2 people) could possibly defend someone in a court of law knowing they are guilty of the crime. Money, of which they received several million dollars, is such a strong motivation to lawyers that it sickens me.

I wonder what those lawyers would have done if they had been able to get their client acquitted? Maybe they would have invited him over for dinner and let him spend the day playing in the yard with their little girls!

For those not familiar with the case, following his conviction, information came out that his lawyers had attempted to make a 'plea' arrangement with the prosecutor that they would tell him where the girl's body was (something only the killer would know) in exchange for them not seeking the death penalty.

(25) David Gillies made the following comment | Sep 30, 2004 3:06:10 PM | Permalink

Scooter, that's something that's always interested me too - what if, in the course of a trial, a defending lawyer obtains unequivocal evidence of his client's guilt? What recourse does he have? How does he square his ethical obligations with not being disbarred. I'm sure this is pre-law 101, but IANAL, nor do I play one on TV.

This resume-padding seems to be a fairly consistent theme with Kerry. The characterisation of Kerry as a Walter Mitty type seems to me to be wrong. After all, in Thurber's story, Mitty is merely daydreaming of being a bomber pilot, a surgeon and so on. He never claims to be any of these things in his CV. If we're looking for someone surrounded by luxury who has been a little economical with the truth about his past, then the closest I can come up at short notice is Jay Gatsby (although humble upbringing JFK did not have). Let's hope Theresa doesn't get involved in a hit-and-run in 'her' SUV.

(26) Joe Molyneux made the following comment | Oct 11, 2004 8:52:56 AM | Permalink

Having heard Kerry so many times speak about his experence as a law enforcement officer and now to learn that he was an assistant district attorney for only three years, I am only confirmed in my suspicions that he will say anything to advance his political career. I was a DEA Special Agent for many years and can state that DEA and FBI agents are not considered proficient until they reach their journeyman grade of a GS-13, usually after at least six to seven years as an agent. Why is it that Kerry can pass himself off as a veteran law enforcement official when he had less than three years experience? He has no idea what law enforcement is all about.

(27) jenna made the following comment | Oct 30, 2004 10:52:34 PM | Permalink

i do not support john kerry at all! all he does it say what bush has done wrong, not what he is going to do to help the country. also, when kerry was in the army he got a cut on his finger and filed for a purple heart so he could leave the army 8 months early and when he got back he threw is on the ground! um excuse me john kerry but that is so direspectful to your country. my brother is in the army and he is so proud to be fighting for his country he supposts bush 200% and so dont all the other soldiers. bush did not do anything wrong with the war he was protecting us knowing kerry, he would ruin our country and we will be over powered. were not safe havin you as a president that is why i will and everyone else should be votin bush for president!

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