America Deserves Better Than Tim Kaine, But Not Because He Was a Defense Attorney: A Dissenting Opinion

My colleague Dan Spencer published a post earlier this evening titled America Deserves Better than Murderer Defender Tim Kaine. The news hook for the post was the following attack ad released by the GOP today:

Dan agrees with the thrust of the GOP attack. I have a different view, and I’d like to take a moment to express it here. I do so with genuine respect for Dan.

In my day job, I am a prosecutor. (Naturally, what I say here is said on my own time, and I do not pretend to speak for my office.) I deal with defense attorneys every day of my professional life. I hold many of them in the highest respect. Others, I respect somewhat less. (Hey, every profession has good and bad people.) But no matter what I might think of any particular person, I respect the job defense attorneys do. They are a necessary and indeed indispensable part of our system. They hold people like me to our burden of proving criminal defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a noble profession. Never forget that John Adams defended the men accused in the Boston Massacre, out of a desire to show that the colonies had a functioning judicial system.

I think it is fundamentally wrong to attack a man for having provided this critical service — a service not just to the defendant, but to society as a whole. I believe that is the case whether the work was done by a public defender, by a paid attorney, or (as was the case for Kaine) pro bono. In fact, sometimes pro bono attorneys and other activists do some of the best work on behalf of criminal defendants, uncovering injustices that were previously unexposed by the system and all the experts.

It appears that Tim Kaine took on death-penalty cases out of a deep-rooted opposition to the death penalty. If you agree with the death penalty, as I do, then criticizing Kaine for his abolitionist views is legitimate. A commutation of a sentence by a governor is fair game for criticism, and that forms part of the GOP attack as well. I have no problem with such arguments.

But criticizing a man simply for defending a criminal defendant, in my view, runs counter to our values as Americans. Don’t get me wrong: I am in favor of law and order, and I don’t like murderers. I prosecute murderers, on a daily basis. But when I do, I expect them to be well represented by counsel on the other side of the table — making sure that the blows I strike against the accused, while they may be hard blows, are fair ones.

A defense lawyer can go on to hold public office and serve honorably. In fact, I’m here to tell you that former defense attorneys sometimes make the best judges.

All that being said, I don’t care for Tim Kaine. I agree with Dan Spencer that America deserves better than him. And it deserves better than Hillary Clinton (and Donald Trump, for that matter). But not because Tim Kaine provided a legal defense for men charged or convicted of crimes. In my humble opinion, the GOP should be ashamed for making such an argument.

UPDATE: Democrats pull the same nonsense when it benefits them. B.S. is nonpartisan.

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