As Texas approaches its 500th execution, there is a lot of discussion about the death penalty. Did you know that a significant number of U.S. executed prisoners have later been found not guilty of the crime for which they were executed? This exoneration often occurs because science improves and evidence is re-examined with the newer technology.
Our justice system is one of the best in the world, but it also has a huge number of flaws- perhaps even some of you have been victims of the civil or criminal courts adjudicating poorly or unfairly.
I also strongly believe in the motto, "It is better to let a guilty man walk free than condemn an innocent man."
It is in this context that I had an upsetting conversation with another lawyer. My client had bought a horse from his client, and after my client had re-sold the horse to a third party over a year later, there was a dispute over the buy-back provision in the contract. The other lawyer asserted that my client was a horse thief (keep in mind there was a signed bill of sale, exchange of money, his client deposited the money, the horse was registered with the new owner in the breed database, and the horse was sold after the buy-back provision period had ended).
The other lawyer said, "Too bad it isn't the turn of the century otherwise your client would have been burned at the stake by now for being a horse thief."
I took a pause because I was speechless.
I responded, "Yes, well back then justice often meant pitchforks and burning torches. My client does not believe she is a horse thief. You know only one side of the story."
He agreed he knew only one side, and we ended the call. I was rather dismayed at his violent and one-sided choice of words; is it really 'too bad' my client hasn't been put to death?
Let alone his mistake: the most recent "turn of the century" was from 1999 to 2000, at which time the U.S. was not burning people at the stake as a form of justice for horse thievery. I also believe that hanging was the more common punishment for horse thievery, at least in the mid-1700s.
The Legal Lesson
I typically recommend that a person retain a lawyer if he is in a conflict with someone who is represented by counsel. I was glad I was a shield for my client so that she didn't have to hear such inane things from opposing counsel.
As many of you likely know, an attorney cannot directly contact someone he knows to be represented by counsel; he must go through that person's attorney for all communication. I know how to deal with difficult or uncivil attorneys, but I also know that for many individuals legal conflict can be stressful, and having to communicate with a rude or obnoxious lawyer would only add a tremendous burden to the situation.
Have you ever been faced with an attorney that could use a lesson in civility? If so, what did you do?