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May 11, 2004

Some Lawyers Will Say Anything

Get this:

AMMAN, Jordan - Saddam Hussein's attorneys are concerned about his welfare after seeing how some Iraqi prisoners were being treated by their U.S. guards, one of the lawyers said Monday.

"We are deeply concerned and worried about his security, how is he treated and how is he living," Mohammad Rashdan told The Associated Press. "We are very worried." . . .

"The torture is systematic, and the leaders of the occupation know it, so it is not only a small bunch of soldiers," he said.


People dislike lawyers -- among other reasons -- because they behave disingenuously. Some will say almost anything to get what they want. And what do they want most of all? To win.

Take the above statement by Saddam's lawyer. He says the "torture is systematic," "the leaders of the occupation know it," and "it is not only a small bunch of soldiers." He, like the rest of us, has no way of knowing those statements are objectively true. But that doesn't stop him from uttering them. Thus, while the statements are his opinion at best, he doesn't preface them with "I believe," "I think," or "I suspect." He states them as fact.

Notice I say that his statements are his opinions at best. That is because, actually, one can't even be sure those are his opinions; he may very well believe the statements to be untrue. Some lawyers are perfectly willing to say all sorts of things they believe to be untrue. They justify such infidelity to the truth as vigorous advocacy for their clients. And they do so self-righteously.

This is especially true for statements of opinion and mixed statements of fact and opinion -- as opposed to pure statements of fact. For opinion statements and mixed statements of fact and opinion, some lawyers believe they are merely presenting their clients' positions -- they need not believe a statement to be actually true to say it. In the such lawyers' minds, they are not the arbiters of truth, that is the job of judges and juries. They are just their clients' mouthpieces.

But with pure statements of fact -- i.e., the car is red -- lawyers are generally more careful. The reason is obvious -– if a statement is purely factual, it is likely that the truth either can easily be determined or at least will be ascertained one day. Therefore, a lawyer is likely to be caught in a lie at some point if he doesn't tell the truth today. It is for this reason that criminal defense lawyers, for example, may purposefully avoid learning whether certain facts are true (for instance, whether their clients murdered their alleged victims), precisely so they can make their clients' arguments for innocence without knowing them to be untrue. Such lawyers simply won't ask their clients about the truth.

It is true, though, that lawyers are substantially more circumspect in judicial proceedings, as there are real consequences if a judge determines that he is being lied to by a lawyer. They are, by contrast, more careless with their words in the press and elsewhere.

So when I hear a lawyer advocating for his client and he is not speaking in a judicial proceeding, I think to myself: "Words, words, words, words, words."

Posted by Old Benjamin at 08:30 AM | Permalink


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