Over the 34 years I have been practicing law, my practice has changed and evolved a great deal.
In my younger years, most all my work was in litigation, mostly civil, but some criminal too.
Early on, my law school roommate, who clerked for a federal judge, got my name placed on the list of appointed counsel for federal criminal defendants, and I got my feet wet by defending indigent criminal defendants in the federal system.
In the two law firms I worked for, in my first nine years of practice, I was the criminal lawyer. Whenever a criminal case came in the door, it was shuffled to me. It was not viewed as glamorous work, but I truly enjoyed it.
Few issues are so basic in the law as the tug of war between the government and its citizens over an allegation of breaking the rules of society, and the consequences meted out to those who are proven to have done so.
At this point in my career, I no longer take criminal cases. I refer them to lawyers who specialize in that area and make their living in the criminal arena, while I practice “old man law,” as I sometimes call it, shuffling papers at my desk, dealing with business and related matters, and typically routine appearances in court.
Still, those experiences in the criminal law in my youth represent some of the most interesting work, the most exhilarating accomplishments, and the most devastating outcomes, I have experienced.
But these days, nobody goes to prison when I lose a case. So there is that.
One type of allegation that I have been involved in on a number of occasions involves claims of sexual misconduct perpetrated upon minors.
As a father who has raised two beautiful, innocent children who I adore more than life itself, I can imagine few more despicable acts than that. Still, I have advocated for a number of individuals over the years accused of that very thing.
Many of the cases along these lines I have handled did not include criminal charges but instead the investigation of allegations that did not result in criminal charges, civil liability claims, family law child custody cases, order of protection cases, and juvenile court proceedings. I have also been aware of and tangentially involved in such criminal cases where minor sex charges were ultimately dismissed voluntarily by the prosecutor, due to insufficient or flawed evidence of alleged guilt.
With what is involved for a defendant facing such a case, financially, emotionally, and personally, it is a classic situation where even though you win, you lose, due to the personal cost of the fight.
Most clients I have represented in these types of matters have unequivocally denied the allegations of wrongdoing against them.
I would, of course, have no way of knowing to a certainty if they are telling the truth, or not, and reasonable analysis would indicate that some are and some aren’t. That’s not the lawyer’s job to decide. Every defendant has a right to fervent representation by a competent lawyer who is not judging them.
Still, I have had over the years a strong sense that a number of those facing such allegations are truly innocent of the claim, and facing such an allegation in a court proceeding, or even an investigation, where the allegation is false, must be among the most horrific fates to befall a human. And it is always gut-wrenching for a lawyer to defend a truly innocent client, especially where the allegation is so horrific and humiliating.
And so, keeping this all in mind, we must never forget:
• Everyone is presumed to be innocent until or unless they plead guilty or are found guilty.
• Everyone is entitled to fervent representation, and a fair trial.
• Jurors’ oaths that they serve impartially in each case and render a verdict in accordance with their conscience, the evidence, and the law as instructed by the Court must be strictly adhered to.
There must be no exceptions to this, no matter how quickly the casual observer may be inclined to condemn, prejudge or presume.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.