Attack On Matt Flynn Is Unfair
Blaming lawyers for sins of their clients is simply wrong.
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.
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.
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.