Friday, April 28, 2006


Here, with due respect, is a suggestion to crime page editors.

When a person is formally accused of a crime, certainly if the accusation is in the form of a criminal complaint or indictment, the reporter should try to interview the accused, to get his side of the story. Do not interview the lawyer who has been hired by the accused, unless an effort has been made, and thwarted, to interview the accused.

Then the story should recite that the accused, who, for example, was implicated in criminal activity by the sworn public testimony of a witness, not only "denied wrongdoing," but answered specific allegations. The questions and answers should be in such form that they could be repeated in any Court proceedings that might follow.

If the accused declined to answer questions, the story should say so; and then the attorney may be quoted. However, when the attorney states words to the effect that his client is innocent, or has done nothing wrong, the reporter should ask follow-up questions such as "How is this known?" or "How do you know?" or "Do you speak from personal knowledge, and if not, from whom did you get your information, etc.?" The answers should be in the story.

The result would be that one formally accused would not be able to simply remain quiet and avoid an adverse inference of guilt (which the public may reasonably and fairly draw from the silence). Further, mouthpiece lawyers would be deterred. Our definition of mouthpiece lawyers is those lawyers who publicly mouth that their clients are innocent, when the lawyers have no personal knowledge that such is so, and the lawyers also know they do not intend to allow their clients to answer legitimate questions. You want examples? F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz both made public statements that their client, O. J. Simpson, was innocent of the butchering of Simpson's ex-wife. How did those lawyers know? Were they placing their own reputations and character in the balance, to affect public opinion? That is not permissible in the practice of criminal law.

Here in Albuquerque in recent days, a convicted former State Treasurer swore under oath that he had received $100,000 or more from a prominent stockbroker, in return for giving business to the broker. This testimony was reported, and it was reported immediately following, that an attorney for the broker has denied that testimony. No mention in the story that anyone asked the broker about the allegation.

We have no business trying to tell the news media how to do the job. However, we respectfully suggest that the procedure outlined here would be fair, legitimate, and would benefit the public and improve the image of lawyers (we are especially sensitive here).

No comments: