For many who watched the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, some of the most outstanding moments involved his defense counsel Yarelyn Mena. It was an extraordinary opportunity for the 29-year old graduated from CUNY (2015) and, by all accounts, Mena performed well. It was considered the turning point of one of the most famous trials in modern history. It is something that should be a matter of great pride for the CUNY community and, not surprisingly, the website did an article on their graduate. However, it has now been deleted with an apology after people objected that they were upset or traumatized by the recognition due to Heard’s allegations of abuse.
The now deleted article told the intriguing story of how a young associate out of CUNY became a global sensation as a key member of the defense team. Yarelyn explain “I am a third year associate and am fortunate to have worked a trial so early in my career. Most cases don’t go to trial.” It is an extraordinary story for a woman who came with her family from the Dominican Republic. She proceeded to graduate from CUNY and then received her law degree from Fordham University. That is a quintessential American story of achievement that any institution should relish and highlight. She noted in the interview that “(Law) was the first career that I knew of before I even really understood what it was.”
Apparently, CUNY graduates and students were outraged and unwilling to separate the act of representation from the rivaling abuse allegations in the case. It turned out that neither could the school.
The school acknowledged the objections raised to “our newsletter featuring a recent CUNY graduate who worked on Johnny Depp’s legal team.” It then apologized:
“We understand the strong negative emotions this article elicited and apologize for publishing the item. We have removed it from our CUNYverse blog. The article was not meant to convey support for Mr. Depp, implicitly or otherwise, or to call into question any allegations that were made by Amber Heard. Domestic violence is a serious issue in our society and we regret any pain this article may have caused.”
The “pain” caused by the article was an account of a graduate doing her job as an advocate. We have gotten to the point that people are incapable of recognizing that everyone is entitled to a rigorous legal defense and that the lawyers are fulfilling essential roles in protecting the rule of law. The only thing that matters is that the lawyer represented someone accused of abuse (even though the jury clearly found that Heard lied with malice in the trial). Even lawyers defending a client must now be cancelled to protect others from the pain of dealing with a trial on spousal abuse.
The role of the school in such a cancellation effort is shocking. CUNY trains lawyers, including criminal defense lawyers. The message being sent to those students and graduates is that the school will shun you and disassociate itself if you represent a client in an unpopular cause.
This is disturbingly similar to the firing of House Dean Ronald S. Sullivan Jr, a Harvard Law professor, after he decided to represent accused sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein. As with Yarelyn Mena, the students and school could not separate Sullivan’s role as counsel from the alleged acts of his client.
The deletion was noted by Brooklyn College History Professor KC Johnson, who said with considerable understatement that the move is “not a good look for CUNY, to put it mildly.”
CUNY has previously been the center of controversies discussed on this site. That includes Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek cancelling herself for a single remark in a faculty meeting, a law school administration that believes that cancelling speakers is an exercise of free speech, a professor who views math and meritocracy to be products of white privilege, and the effort to block an honorary degree over a poet’s political views.