Posted By Cliff Tuttle | May 19, 2009
Posted by Cliff Tuttle
A group of activists have reported high ranking Justice Department officials from the Bush administration to their respective state bar ethics boards. They contend that memoranda written justifying aggressive interrogation methods, including waterboarding, of terror suspects to gain information about terrorist activities constituted violations of legal canons of ethics. The press release, linked above, asserts that the advocacy of practices they deem to be torture by government lawyers constitutes moral turpitude.
The legal profession has long submitted itself to formal ethical rules. Codes of ethics are mandatory upon those who would practice our profession and are in some cases quite severe. Underlying these standards is the overriding principle that a lawyer must serve the interests of clients honorably and faithfully and must deal with adversaries and others in a fair manner. The professional disciplinary process was established to protect the public, not to provide a forum for the opponent of a particular lawyer to obtain retribution for excessive or improper advocacy of a legal cause.
The politicalization of the professional discipline process is never appropriate. If a lawyer feels that he or she must report a potential violation of our profession’s code of ethics, it should be done quietly. It should never be accompanied by press releases and public appeals to support the imposition of sanctions. Until the professional discipline board has ruled, it is wrong for the accuser to make any public statement. The resolution of ethical conduct by lawyers belongs exclusively to professional ethics boards, not the court of public opinion.
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