Prior to and during the October 9, 2016 Presidential Debate, the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made comments about Hillary Clinton “defending an accused child rapist.” If that’s all you see in a headline, it looks pretty bad, right?
Ok, but here’s the whole story, what people fail to mention, and where his argument falls apart.
Per the Washington Post: Kathy Shelton was 12 years old when she accused a 41-year-old man, Thomas Alfred Taylor, of raping her.
According to factcheck.org, in 1975, Hillary Clinton — then known as Hillary Rodham — taught at the University of Arkansas School of Law, where she founded the University of Arkansas School Legal Aid Clinic. In her book “Living History,” Clinton recalls that Mahlon Gibson, a Washington County prosecutor, told her that the accused rapist “wanted a woman lawyer” to defend him, and that Gibson had recommended Clinton to Judge Maupin Cummings. “I told Mahlon I really didn’t feel comfortable taking on such a client, but Mahlon gently reminded me that I couldn’t very well refuse the judge’s request.” Corroborated in a 2014 interview with CNN, Gibson said Clinton called him shortly after the judge assigned her to the case and said, “I don’t want to represent this guy. I just can’t stand this. I don’t want to get involved. Can you get me off?” “I told her, ‘Well contact the judge and see what he says about it,’ but I also said don’t jump on him and make him mad,” Gibson said. “She contacted the judge and the judge didn’t remove her and she stayed on the case.”
Eventually, the prosecution’s case fell apart, and the man pleaded to a lesser charge — unlawful fondling of a minor under the age of 14. He received a year in jail and four years probation
To criticize Ms. Clinton for “defending a child rapist” is to miss the point completely.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Ok, then. A judge appointed Clinton to defend Mr. Taylor; she expressed her discomfort with it, and asked the judge to let her out of her duty. The judge said no, so Clinton then did what she was told to do – she did her job.
The Rules of Professional Conduct govern attorneys’ behavior, and attorneys can be sanctioned, disciplined, or even disbarred for failure to adhere to these rules. For instance, Rule 1.1 says “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” Rule 1.3 states that “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Rule 1.16 discusses when a lawyer should (must) and may (can) withdraw from representation. Pertinent to this matter, 1.16(c) states that “A lawyer must comply with applicable law requiring notice to or permission of a tribunal when terminating a representation. When ordered to do so by a tribunal, a lawyer shall continue representation notwithstanding good cause for terminating the representation.”
Yes, the rules have changed sightly since 1975 when Clinton was appointed this case, but the idea is essentially the same – If the judge says you’re on a case, you’re on the case. And when you’re on the case, you’re held to the exact same standards that every other lawyer is held to his or her case. You have to do your job to the best of your abilities, no excuses.
Mr. Taylor was innocent until proven guilty; it’s the state’s job to prove his guilt, not Clinton’s job to prove him innocent. Ms. Clinton did her job as any criminal defense lawyer worth his or her salt would have when she attacked and questioned the evidence.
I don’t know if Mr. Taylor is guilty or not, and I’m certainly not condoning rape or excusing rapists of their awful behavior. However, our system of laws were put into place to protect our civil liberties and safeguard our rights. If something happened to you, god forbid, and you needed a good criminal defense lawyer, you would want someone like Ms. Clinton doing exactly what she did in 1975 by making sure the police and the state did their jobs correctly. Mr. Taylor wasn’t given a reduced plea because Ms. Clinton made him innocent; he was allowed the plea deal because the state messed up and didn’t do its job properly.
Taking it one step further – what if all licensed professionals were allowed to pick and choose who they accept as clients? A doctor declining a patient because he doesn’t like fat people; a therapist kicking out a mentally ill patient because he hates homosexuals; a firefighter letting a house burn down because the homeowners are gay? You see where I’m going with this. As professionals we take oaths, and we take them seriously.
I have cases I love and cases I don’t – but if I take a case, you better believe I’m going to do my very best on it for the sake of my client because that’s my job.
Regardless of where you stand politically, this is one argument that makes no sense.