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STEVE MEISTER’S CRIMINAL DEFENSE BLOG: The Jerry Sandusky Curse?

Look at a headline from today’s Law 360 News Digest:

Ex-Sandusky Atty Pleads Guilty To Stealing Client Funds.
“The former attorney for convicted child rapist Jerry Sandusky pled guilty on Thursday to charges that he stole nearly $750,000 from clients to spend on casino gambling and other personal interests.”

I know what you’re thinking:  Former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, notorious child rapist.  Yuck.  Lawyer defends Sandusky.  Yuck.  Lawyer steals money from other clients.  Yuck.  Lawyer pleads guilty to theft.  JUSTICE AT LAST!

As a defense attorney myself, I know what it is like to represent notorious people accused of horrible things.  It’s not easy, but it’s a high calling and an indispensable task in our constitutional republic.  And, not everyone is guilty, or guilty of everything they’re charged with, or deserves all the punishment an eager or ambitious prosecutor might desire.

That Sandusky’s lawyer got into all this trouble suggests a few things:  First, his problems likely preceded his representation of Coach Jerry.  Second, Sandusky could try and argue on appeal that his lawyer was so gripped with personal issues at the time — including, likely, ongoing involvement in client fraud — that the lawyer’s representation of Sandusky was ineffective or incompetent.  Third, maybe birds of a feather do flock together, and crooks run with crooks.  And fourth, there’s a weird karmic overtone when a lawyer who represents a thoroughly evil, dreadful defendant slips into criminality himself.

To be clear, I don’t wish criminality on anyone, and I would never judge a defense lawyer for doing his or her job as a defense lawyer, any sooner than I’d limit the blessings of the Constitution only to those defendants who win popularity contests.  None of them win popularity contests, and criminal defense isn’t for the squeamish.  But it’s not lost on me that a defense lawyer would get into trouble like this.

We defense counsel step into lands of darkness, of evil, of sociopathy, of depravity and viciousness, depending on who we’re defending and what they’re accused of doing or what they actually did.  In doing our jobs, and existing as human beings, we have to make sure we remain only “tourists” or detached anthropological observers of the criminal netherworld.  And sometimes, some of our number lose their way, or let themselves linger in the moral void.  Whichever it was with Sandusky’s attorney, or whether it was something else that led him to his decision and to now have to face the music, I feel some sympathy for him.  But I don’t think he should be spared the lash, and I can’t help but wonder whether on some strange, supernatural level, it’s the Sandusky curse.