Two Frogs

How Can You Defend Those People: The Making of a Criminal Lawyer

by James S. Kunen
Date Reviewed: February 09, 2004

I’m torn about this book. On the one hand, it offers a (seemingly) pretty candid look inside the Public Defender System of the District of Columbia – and into defense attorneys’ mindsets in general – in a way that is both interesting and funny. There are several anecdotal cases which illustrate various points Kunen wants to make about our notion of justice, and the inner workings of the court system. For those reasons, I really liked this book. On the other hand, certain revelations in the storytelling confirm the notion of attorneys as being less interested in truth or justice, and more interested in winning. Among Kunen’s sins as an attorney were (1) failing to reveal material evidence to the court, (2) telling a client what to say during testimony (this he explains away as “justified overzealousness”), and (3) asserting defenses he knew to be untrue. He stretches definitions in the code of legal ethics beyond their breaking point to explain this behavior, and caused me to hold even less respect for those of his profession. His continuously repeated mantra of “What would you want YOUR attorney to do?” left me cold; I’m a law-abiding citizen, so I wouldn’t need my attorney to break the law to defend me. Couple this egregious, unethical behavior with gratuitous swipes at “right-wingers” and “conservatives,” his declaration that “everyone lies” in the justice system, and general disdain for getting at actual truth, and I couldn’t help but hold him in contempt. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

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