Op Ed

Attack On Matt Flynn Is Unfair

Blaming lawyers for sins of their clients is simply wrong.

By - May 15th, 2018 11:31 am
Matt Flynn. Photo courtesy of Forward with Flynn.

Matt Flynn. Photo courtesy of Forward with Flynn.

Most Americans understand and appreciate the vital nature of our adversarial system of justice, where both sides can obtain legal representation. But some lawyers who run for public office are continuously being lambasted for having done their jobs as lawyers.

Matt Flynn, a lawyer who is seeking the Wisconsin Democratic nomination for governor, is being attacked because of his past legal representation of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the sex abuse lawsuits involving priests.

For many years when Flynn worked for the Quarles and Brady law firm, Flynn was the lead attorney for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the priest sex abuse case. In 2015, the case was ultimately settled with the archdiocese agreeing to pay $21 million to accusers and their lawyers; an amount per accuser reportedly far lower than many other priest sex abuse cases.

Peter Isely, former Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called Flynn an “appalling choice for someone who wants to represent the citizens of Wisconsin, including families and children,” according to a story in the Wisconsin Gazette.

Some have criticized Flynn’s tactics regarding how he dealt with the accusers. Isely blasted Flynn for what Isely called Flynn’s “scorched-earth policy.” One accuser was reportedly upset with Flynn about how he questioned her in depositions.

Flynn has defended his representation, saying he was simply doing his job in providing his clients with the best defense possible. Flynn says he worked hard to settle priest abuse cases, treated victims with dignity and helped put in safeguards to make sure priests accused of abuse would not simply be moved to other churches.

If Flynn gets the nomination in the crowded field of Democratic candidates, the Republican Party will surely attack Flynn. A GOP spokesperson derided Flynn, stating, “Matt Flynn has sought to cover-up the crimes committed against those who are most vulnerable.” GOP spokesperson Alec Zimmerman called Flynn a “dirty defense attorney.”

Attacking lawyers for whom they represented is, unfortunately, not new in politics. In 2008, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler was attacked in a disgustingly misleading campaign ad by then Circuit Judge Michael Gableman’s campaign. Butler is a former public defender who once represented a man convicted of sexual assault named Reuben Lee Mitchell. Butler, who did not represent Mitchell in trial, represented Mitchell on appeal. Butler argued Mitchell should get a new trial because of an error that he argued undermined confidence in the verdict.

Butler was doing his job as a public defender, but that did not stop the Gableman campaign’s attacks.

The ad by Gableman’s campaign showed a close-up of Butler and his former client Mitchell, with the narrator saying, “Butler found a loophole. Mitchell went on to molest another child.” The narrator said Butler “worked to put criminals on the street.”

It is a basic American principle that people accused of crimes, even horrible crimes, are entitled to receive, at the very least, effective legal representation. In criminal cases, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees persons accused of crimes this critical American right.

Although there is no Constitutional right to a lawyer in civil cases, such as the sex abuse lawsuits, having a lawyer in civil cases can be just as important.

Our country’s founders and Presidents have largely understood how fundamental legal representation is to fairness, justice and due process.

Before he was president, Abraham Lincoln was a criminal defense lawyer. Lincoln was known to be an extremely thorough, zealous advocate for his clients. Lincoln defended countless people accused of crimes, even the most brutal crimes, such as murder.

Following the Boston Massacre, where British soldiers were accused of murdering five Bostonians, President John Adams defended accused British soldiers because he so firmly believed in every accused’s right to a lawyer and the presumption of innocence. It was highly unpopular for Adams to represent the British soldiers. Adams did not do so because of what the soldiers represented or believed. Adams did so because he understood how vital it is that every person accused of a crime has representation.

Adams successfully defended the British soldiers and a few months later, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts legislature. Adams would later go on to help write the Declaration of Independence and ultimately become the second President of the United States.

Even in civil cases, such as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sexual abuse case where there is no Constitutional right to a lawyer, having good legal representation is critical.

Matt Flynn no doubt understands that, as do most fair-minded people. Flynn should not be attacked for having represented his clients.

The disturbing notion of blaming lawyers for the sins of their clients or whom the lawyers represent must end. To do so is a fundamentally un-American notion that runs contrary to our system of justice, fairness and due process.

Casey Hoff is a criminal defense attorney based in Sheboygan.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

7 thoughts on “Op Ed: Attack On Matt Flynn Is Unfair”

  1. Matt says:

    Yeah. But what about the hair?

  2. A Prire says:

    Matt Flynn is a man of unquestionable integrity. Can this be said of the rest of us?

  3. Terry says:

    Wisconsin Republicans have needlessly destroyed millions of good, loving, caring, hardworking Wisconsinite’s lives and literally ripped families apart with their regressive, draconian, far right-wing agenda. Whoever the Democrats run will be far, far, far, more ethical and positive for ALL Wisconsinites, not just Career Politician Scott Walker’s Billionaire campaign donors.

    Dump Walker 2018

  4. JAnderson says:

    Excellent points by Hoff. Hope the Gazette learns from it. Flynn is an outstanding lawyer and a man of high integrity. He’d be a great Governor.

  5. GRNDPAKWH says:

    There is a difference between a public defender and a hired for profit attorney. Flynn was a hired for profit attorney when he decided to represent the Diocese of Milwaukee. He was hired to limit the Diocese financial liability, and he did his job in a most disgusting manner. Matt Flynn should step down now and if he has any sense of regret over his actions he can volunteer to work with sexual abuse survivors.

  6. CS says:

    Hmm. Unquestionable integrity? I think it’s important that the media and electorate examine the integrity of every candidate running for public office – even Matt Flynn. And while everyone has as a right to legal representation, attorneys in civil cases are free to decide whether or not to take a case.

    So let’s be clear. Matt Flynn chose to represent the Archdiocese in sex assault cases and publicly stated that his motivation was to support and preserve the Archdiocese as an institution and defend the ‘good’ men who continue serve its parishes. With stakes that high, it’s quite possible he stepped over the line of civility to defend his client. Those of us who only know what we read in the papers will have to draw our own conclusions.

    For me, the larger question is whether Democrats can put forward a candidate who is so clearly invested in maintaining the status quo. I’ve seen Matt speak at public events and have been left wanting. What are his innovative ideas? Where is his passion for moving Wisconsin forward? How can he govern effectively and creatively? His work for the Archdiocese would certainly be heavy baggage to carry through what promises to be a difficult campaign. While most of us value the rule of law and understand that even the most powerful institutions have a right to a strong defense, Republicans will have a field day. When you stack that baggage with a lukewarm vision for Wisconsin, it’s tough to imagine people standing in line to vote for Matt Flynn.

  7. Douglas says:

    The difference between the Butler vs Gableman issue and the Flynn/Archdiocese vs the victims of sexual assault by priests couldn’t more stark and miles apart. The only similarity is each involved sexual abuse but beyond that the similarities end. What was released by the Gableman campaign against Butler was dubious at best and clearly meant to minimize and cherry pick information while not completely giving the whole picture. Of course Flynn wanted to provide a ‘vigorous defense’ for his client but in the process, according to reports, he went far beyond that and in turn, re-victimized people who had been abused by priests. If Flynn is really interested in running for Governor then he should be the one addressing this issue.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us