Called the “Father of Western Philosophy,” Greek philosopher Aristotle declared:“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”
We, lawyers of varying disciplines, share the responsibility of honoring this great profession. The law helps to maintain a civilized society in which civil and criminal disputes are processed daily. To honor it, we must protect it. Throughout the history of civilized people, the role of the lawyer has been scrutinized, questioned and degraded. In the face of such challenge, all lawyers must stand together in educating the naysayers so that the rule of law may persist as a beacon of light and hope. The law is too integral to society to sit passively by and watch the unchecked casting of stones. The time is now for all lawyers to embrace every opportunity to teach those who question the importance of our system of jurisprudence. This is one of those times in history in which the law, if left to stand alone, could fall.
This column is not intended to be political. The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association is a large organization whose members subscribe to different political affiliations and beliefs. It is safe to say though, that each of us believes in the dignity of the profession. We know that the legal system, however fallible due to human factors, is the greatest forum for ordinary citizens to settle personal disputes and seek redress against perceived injustice. Choose not to view the challenges set forth below as partisan. Instead, please consider the evolving opinions of the non-lawyer community. Respectfully, we must recognize how recent events are shaping witness’ impressions and attitudes toward the entire legal system.
Please consider the prospect of people questioning:
- Whether they can opt not to comply with a subpoena to testify or produce evidence;
- Whether judges are serving the ends of justice or are beholden solely to political ideology;
- Whether investigative agencies still adhere to their mission of imparting blind justice to uphold individual rights;
- Whether the judiciary remains an independent branch of government;
- Whether jurors are safe from ridicule and threat; and
- Whether our legal system is designed only to work for the rich, powerful and politically connected.
If the system of law were to erode, the United States would lose a prominent pillar on which it was built. The American Bar Association, cited for its’ liberalism and partisanship, has been marginalized from its long role in vetting judicial candidates. I am sure, like many of you, that friends and family have asked you questions after witnessing the recent impeachment hearings, criminal pardons and attacks on the judiciary. Regardless, of your personal affiliations, we must act now to prevent our great justice system, from falling prey to misunderstanding, untrustworthiness, and mockery. We owe it to ourselves, our clients, and the future practice of law. As officers of the court, we are obligated by our oaths to accurately teach the fundamentals of law to all those not armed with a legal education.
The rule of law has been challenged before but as a profession, we cannot stand idly by and assume that that this too shall pass. What we do and who we serve are too important. As lawyers, I implore each of you to let the people know that subpoenas require attendance and production. Stand up to unjustified attacks on judges. Make clear that those in the public service arena are inherently good and work for the people. Stress in your discussions the importance of an independent judicial branch. Emphasize the importance of jury service to all who ask. Share with anyone willing to listen that justice is not reserved only for some and that the ordinary citizen can still be heard. These are not mere lofty goals or ideals. This is what we must do in defense of our chosen profession and to ensure that the American system of jurisprudence is maintained in its highest form.
Can we make a difference? History has shown that great change can result from the effort of a mere few. We are approximately 5,500 members strong and we cannot afford to not try.
Ian Friedman is a partner at Friedman & Nemecek, L.L.C., which is a Cleveland-based criminal defense law firm. He is the current President of the CMBA. He has served as President of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, Ohio Association of Criminal Lawyers and CM-Law Alumni Association. He is an Adjunct Professor at CM-Law where he teaches Cybercrime. He is a recipient of the CMBA’s William K. Thomas Award for Professionalism and was named by Best Lawyers in America as 2019 Lawyer of The Year, Criminal Defense: General Practice. He has been a CMBA member since 2002. He can be reached at (216) 928-7700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.