Senate Calls Widow Of Slain Officer To Oppose Nomination of Former Defense Counsel In Confirmation Hearing

220px-Mumia03debo-adegbileThe confirmation hearing for Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has many of the standard elements and witnesses on Adegbile’s career as a lawyer and an advocate. One witness however is not like the other: Maureen Faulkner, the widow of a Philadelphia police officer gunned down in 1981. Now, Adegbile is not accused of gunning down Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner or even being an accomplice before or after the act. No, the witness is being called to suggest that Abegbile should not be confirmed because he represented the man convicted of the murder. Faulkner is being joined by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the Fraternal Order of Police in saying that such representation is relevant in determining if he should be confirmed. It is move that strikes at the heart of the notion of the right to counsel and due process. Many law students become prosecutors because they fear that representing criminal defendants or controversial clients will bar or hinder their professional advancement while the presidents and members of Congress continue to favor prosecutors for judicial appointments (making the federal bench a sometime hostile place for criminal defense counsel).

170px-Daniel_faulknerAdegbile has been denounced as “radical,” “dangerous” and “outside the mainstream.” However, the main proof of these allegations is the simple fact that he agreed to serve as counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was a member of the Black Panther Party. He later became a radio journalist and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. On December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner was shot dead while conducting a traffic stop on a car driven by Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook. Faulkner shot Abu-Jamal in the encounter. The case became a national focus not only because of the death of a police officer but the later errors claimed in association with Abu-Jamal, who initially represented himself with disastrous results.

I can understand Maureen Faulkner’s anger at the loss of her husband. That anger is likely magnified by the international movement behind Abu-Jamal. She is quoted as saying that there is digest when she and others are forced to “witness Adgebile, a man proud to have chosen to aid the murderer of their friend, singled out for honors and high office by the government of the United States. It is an abomination to now reward Mr. Adgebile as if he had done something wonderful.” The problem is that critics seem to view the representation of a killer as a celebration or endorsement of the crime. If Adegbile has extreme views, we should hear them. That is a relevant concern and has been raised with regard to positions taken as legal counsel to NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. However, the attention on his confirmation seems largely to focus on the fact that he dared to represent a hated individual. Criminal defense, particularly for indigent clients, is often a thankless job despite the legacy of such work found in the likes of John Adams. However, this hearing creates a clear chilling message for young lawyers and law students that they should turn down such cases if they do not want to bar any hope for professional advancement.

I am equally disturbed by the comment of Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police that “This nomination can be interpreted in only one way: it is a thumb in the eye of our nation’s law enforcement officers.” The impression was that the insult was nominating a lawyer who represented an accused cop killer. It that is the intention, it is a careless and thoughtless position. I have represented law enforcement personnel and I have sued police officers. I even represented officers of the Fraternal Order of Police. I will remind Canterbury that many denounce lawyers who represent officer accused of abuse or wrongful shootings.

I have the luxury of a job with lifetime tenure at a wonderful law school. I consider that position to come with the added responsibility to represent people who might not be able to secure counsel because of unpopularity or alleged crime. Other lawyers do not have such protection or support. The message being sent from this hearing is this lawyer should be judged by what his client did — a notion that is anathema to anyone who values the rule of law.

I know little about Adebdile and I have no objection of witnesses discussing his prior conduct or legal views. However, that is not the focus of the coverage thus far in this controversy. The message seems to be that no one will stop a lawyer from representing an unpopular client but you do so at your own risk. There are relevant issues and irrelevant issue. The fact that he was a child actor on Sesame Street, for example, does not mean that he was responsible for the content of the show. Being counsel to a criminal defendant and even believing in his innocence does not make him sympathetic to cop killers or facilitating murder.

I am very discomforted by the thrust of coverage on the nomination and the use of the murder case to undermine such a nominee.

81 thoughts on “Senate Calls Widow Of Slain Officer To Oppose Nomination of Former Defense Counsel In Confirmation Hearing”

  1. My question is, did he protest her admittance solely or primarily because she was white or a woman? If he had some legitimate objections, did he not apply them equally to black candidates?

    Or is there a chance that this white woman had character issues, like a criminal record or a lackluster academic career? And how many minority applicants did he oppose. Any?

    If the woman was appealing a prior decision, then there was probably something in her background that was cause for concern and led others to conclude the same thing Adegbile did; that she was unsuited for admittance to that school.

    Please bear in mind, while I don’t know anything about the guy, I’m prepared to dislike him simply because he’s Obama’s guy, and I’ve lost faith in the president. But I think if we’re going to deny a position to someone, it should be for the right reasons. Representing a client, emphasis on “a”, no matter how reprehensible, should not be grounds for rejecting an official when our system of justice demands that the rights of the accused receive a zealous defense.

    BTW, how’d your appeal turn out?

    1. RTC,

      My understanding is the only reason the woman was not accepted to Law School was she was white. She appealed the decision and Mr. adegbile opposed and fought the appeal.

      He is clearly a very good attorney who has demonstrated he does zealously represent his clients. My concern is his history of being on ONE side of an issue. If somewhere in his professional portfolio there is evidence of his being balanced on All Civil Rights Issues, then he may be suitable for the job. I’ve yet to see such evidence.

      And let’s not forget he is not the only Attorney in the U.S. who has handled Civil Rights issues. I suggest we look at other candidates who have proven records of a more balanced resume.

      This has nothing to do with President Obama, for me.


  2. carol miller: What other cases has Adegbile handled that indicate a particular agenda to you?

    jonolon: You still refuse to confront John Adams’ reasoning behind his decision to represent British soldiers accused of firing on a group of Boston protesters. The way I understand it, it’s a classic explication on the importance of zealous representation to our system of justice.

    Perhaps justice is a foreign concept to you or maybe they didn’t teach that much historical background wherever you went to school.

    Maybe it’s the fact that he’s white, and a Federalist that’s throwing you. Whatever the case may be, Adams is a big reason why Americans have a Constitutional guarantee to an attorney whenever they’re charged with a crime.

    You are an American, right?

    1. RTC,

      Mr. Adegbile protested the appeal if a female who was white from being accepted into law school. Last time I checked Civil Rights was about equality for all, regardless of Race or Gender.

      What do you say RTC?

  3. Carol Miller,

    Yes, Exactly!


    You’re amusing. I sort of hope your not a defense attorney though since your arguments are a bit lacking. So lacking, in point of fact, that the average juror – stupid as they are – would find you ridiculous and rule on your client accordingly. Then again, legal malpractice is a reason for appeal so you might do your speculative clients some good after all. LOL

    Really!?! I question whether defense experience is worth much for a prosecutorial role and I somehow HATE defense attorneys?

  4. The real issue here is whether or not Mr. Adegbile is the best suited candidate to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. I think not, due to his past representation of ONE sided, primarily racial, legal issues. Choosing a suitable candidate would involve a more balanced(professional legal background) attorney. Mr. Adegbile has demonstrated his ability to successfully represent one side of the scale. Surely another attorney who is able to “strike a balance” and sit from a non biased perspective would be a better fit.

  5. The sweetness to the naysayers of defense lawyers is THEY ALWAYS HATE them until THEY NEED ONE. isnt that right jonolan and darrel? win laymen terms…. hey anyone who is accused of a crime should just shut up and be prosecuted… they have no need of defense because they’re guilty!! im sure all the framed people along with groups such as the innocence project would gladly disagree with you…..

    and here’s a little information for you.. its people who are jewish are started and today still runs the naacp……… its amazing to me how people choose to see one side… of the coin until they find they have need of the other side.

    If you or a family member was in the process of being prosecuted, or sued you would give your soul to find a lawyer willing to take your case.. its not a matter of defense of prosecuting its a matter of due process and right from wrong…

  6. Mumia has had a number of lawyers at various stages. He was railroaded. The cop that was killed was a good cop who was set up. The witnesses were coerced and eventually recanted.

  7. BTW, I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for 40 years, and, during that time, I’ve come across plenty of bad cops.
    But, for each bad one, there are probably at least 50, if not a hundred, good ones.
    Kinda like every other occupation.

  8. Everyone has the right to competent legal representation….. It’s a shame that the FOP would oppose this nomination…. Even cops need representation in criminal actions….. Hopefully more so….

  9. Jeff Friedman : Spot on.

    Samaxe: Correct, it’s not who an attorney represents, but how, and how well, they represented their client that matters.

    jonolon: Exactly how is the Obama administration abusing civil rights law? By ensuring that Southern states with a history of voting rights violations continue to seek federal approval for their election processes? I suppose you’re okay with long lines and several forms of ID.

    Mespo: Hard to imagine a client more reprehensible than a British soldier who fired upon a crowd of Boston citizens on the cusp of the Revolution, yet wasn’t it John Adams who insisted on representing them? Hopefully, there’s still someone around here who can recall what he said in explaining his decision.

    Just to recap…John Adams: true American patriot. Jonolon:not.

  10. Bill McWilliams asks Darren: “BTW, how many did you shoot or beat to a pulp?”

    Totally unnecessary passive aggressive comment and personal insult. Most officers try to do a good job as assigned, survive their shift and go home to their families at the end of the day. According to the department of Labor and research studies by Industrial/Occupational Psychologists, the top three most stressful jobs in the world of work are, in no particular order:
    1) Air Traffic Controller;
    2) law enforcement officer,
    3) emergency room physician.

    Did you read mespo’s fine story of Grace Under Pressure: Sheriff Cody Carpenter a while back?

    Ever see a Code 10-42 ceremony Bill? The “10-8” response to the dispatcher’s status check queries means “this unit on duty.”

  11. Senior Mr. Appleton must not know that it’s the jury that decides guilt or innocence, not the prosecutor, judge, or defense counsel.

    Darren Smith’s LEO buddies never thought it was disgusting when one of their own killed citizens — or as they civilians, suspects. BTW, how many did you shoot or beat to a pulp?

  12. mezzo:

    Public attitudes on legal representation are frequently wrong. I recall a long conversation with my own father many years ago when he asked how a lawyer could morally justify defending an accused whom he knew to be guilty.

    Sen. Grassley may appropriately ask me my views on Marxist legal theory. Instead, he demands to know whether I ever represented Gus Hall. I believe there is a distinction and that the distinction is important.

  13. Every defendant deserves a competent attorney. The people deserve a competent prosecuting attorney. And in their competency, we should expect professionalism, honesty, and integrity. All too many attorneys view legal representation as a game that should be won at any cost, and the rules of evidence as mere suggestions.

    I once worked on a murder case, where it was the attorney’s first trial. A death penalty case, yet the judge appointed this brand-new lawyer to be the defendant’s public defender. That was before the state had an official public defender’s office and local attorneys were selected by the judge to take indigent cases as they rolled up on the docket. The young lawyer was trying to keep his client out of the gas chamber. He was totally unprepared to defend his client. In truth, the defendant was guilty as sin, an abusive husband, who finally drug his young wife out on the back porch by her hair and proceeded to stab her more than fifty times with a butcher knife. To say he was an unsympathetic character is being charitable. The lawyer did the best he could, but was a rookie. His client ended up on death row.

    In another case, the judge appointed a well known civil rights lawyer as defense council. The lawyer protested that he was not a criminal defense lawyer. The gimlet-eyed judge asked the attorney if he was defying the court. The civil rights lawyer denied it and made the least credible apology to the Court I ever heard. He may have known his way around litigating constitutional civil rights issues, but he was a damn poor excuse for a lawyer when it came to defending a death penalty case.

    Whether an attorney does defense or plaintiff’s work, I am much more interested in their character, ethics and honesty. That is the part that carries over into work as an appointee to an office.

  14. For disclosure, I was a member of the FOP when I was in the profession.

    One thing about the “culture” of many in the FOP is that people who advocate cop killers are viewed with the utmost comtempt imaginable. It is moreso with outsiders or activists, for lack of a better word, than it is for attorneys representing the defendants. The more high profile the cop killer is especially when Hollywood actors or celebrities join in, the more many members of the FOP or officers themselves become sensitized or outraged. The FOP newsletter that is mailed out to members often features articles on these movements and it is very critical of politicians who are perceived to take sides with the killer. A nerve that is quite raw in this culture is when the killer gets portrayed as the victim and the officer is said to be the bad guy or at least forgotten, which seems to happen in their view an unacceptable amount of times with these celebrities, who the officers view as not knowing all the facts and are doing this for their own grandstanding.

    The FOP has its views, but what I object to is, if it is the case, politicians using the FOP as a political tool against to a candidate they personnaly do not like. I can see however the FOP going out of its way to arrange for this testimony given who the candidate is and what he has done in the past. Also, police widows are highly regarded and protected by the FOP and cops universally so it is expected that they would arrange for the wife to speak.

    And, I will admit that when I hear Hollywood stars and celebrities championing for a cop-killer to promte themselves it hits a nerve with me as well.

    But, I have no problem with a defense attorney representing their client in a professional way. In some ways one has to admire them taking a client that everyone hates knowing they are going to take some flack over it. I do agree with Mespo that they shouldn’t take a client they cannot stand for the reasons he mentioned. The defense of this man has nothing to do with Debo’s qualifications in my view. That was his oath and profession. Proper attorneys are necessary, one never knows when he/she will be a defendant. The tables sometimes turn.

    Whatever Debo does as far as his suitability to be nominated for this civil rights government position is fair game to me. But this controversy in his criminal defense matters is not one of them.

  15. Mike A:

    “My point is that the Constitution guarantees access to legal counsel for criminal defendants and access to the courts for everyone. You may question me about my legal philosophy as long as you wish. You may question my social, political and economic values. You may even question my religious beliefs. But basing your approval on the acceptability of my clients is logically flawed and morally unjust.”

    I agree with that statement but whom you choose to represent is a window on your mindset. I think the public has a right to know if you are representing these folks out of pecuniary gain or identification with their causes or just out of your sense of justice for those who are unpopular. Not every lawyer’s motives are as sanguine as yours and JTs. I think the reason you do what you do is fair game when you are asking for a government job at the highest levels. Would you want the Koch brothers corporate counsel running the DOJ with questions about his political involvement off the table?

    We lawyers reflexively dismiss the argument that who you represent says something about you. The public does not and they are paying the bill.

    1. There is an obvious qualitative difference between a lawyer who happens to take one or two cases that involve a disfavored individual or group during the course of his or her career versus a lawyer who handles nothing but a particular kind of case for a particular kind of client.
      For example, if a lawyer consistently represents one side or the other in the abortion debate, you can be pretty sure how he or she will rule if a case involving abortion were to come before them as a judge..

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