SOMETIMES THE RUSH TO JUDGMENT IS CORRECT: AND I AM NOT
I was wrong.
I said I believed that a certain candidate in the Republican Party had the character and integrity to admit her mistake in running a scurilous, disreputable and, in at least three respects, inaccurate television ad
In my own way, although I have no involvement in Republican politics, I vouched for her decency and excused the placement of this ad by assuming her better judgment had been overwhelmed by campaign staff and consultants. I argued that she would likely promptly issue the apology which was due for this conduct.
In writing what I wrote earlier I was well aware that very balanced and decent brothers of the bar had written that the placement of the ad, itself, was, for want of a better term, "disqualifying."
Because every human makes mistakes and because I believe firmly in redemption I held out not only the hope but the expectation that this person I know to be good and decent, would make the situation right. Several of my friends, quite publicly, told me, each in their own way, that I was being either naïve or stupid.
To explain myself, I am more than just an old guy who practices law just for a living. I am a committed member of the brotherhood and sisterhood that makes up the national bar, the folks who function in this country every day as, if you will, "ministers of Justice". This is as much of me as my other roles, husband, father, grandfather, veteran, any of them.
As I noted, I'm also an old human. In the modern age we have, as applied to lawyers, "disciplinary rules." When I began practicing our guide star was not disciplinary rules, which only describe minimally acceptable conduct, our guide star was document known as the "Canons of Ethics". Two of the canons which of always stuck with me were open parents and I will paraphrase):
"Look kindly upon the needs and travails of brother lawyers, their widows and families."
"Avoid any conduct or expression which would negatively impact the public's perception of the administration of justice."
Again, because I am old, I remember when the members of the local bar quietly and privately dug deep into pockets for a brother facing an emergency situation. I also remember a number of us taking turns stopping by the office of a lawyer who was quietly going blind to read his mail to him in order that he did not miss any obligations. I remember more than once setting up a schedule for evening visit with a homebound colleague fighting a dread disease so that he had some company every day.
Yes, everybody loves to bash lawyers and talk about how they are inquisitive, money loving, self – centered sharks.
But that is not the bar I know. The general bar in Western Illinois is charitable, kind, involved, concerned and conscious that the whole of us is far greater than the sum of its parts. Folks, the geist of our group is extend kindness and courtesy to one another, wherever possible.
It is certainly true that the younger lawyers, those with 20 or fewer years of service, have not witnessed as much of that collegiality as us old guys. Still, we can't read our monthly magazines and weekly updates without being reminded that we are called to increased civility and humanity.Understandably, your reality may be different from mine. When you witness us fighting like cats and dogs in court or when a lawyer tells you that you have no case because your boss spoke disrespectfully to you, that may inform your reality that we are a cold, cruel heartless bunch. For now, you'll have to take it on faith that the history of the bar in Western Illinois is one of enormous civility and humane treatment of our brothers and sisters.
But, you say, "what does that have to do with a political ad."
In my world and in my view the rule of civility and humane treatment proscribes any and all exploitation of human frailty. The law, just for an example, does not permit a job seeker to be examined about prior bankruptcies. Some subject matters are just so personal as to be unavailable as an employment credential. Certainly, politics involves drawing distinctions. This is an area where I am not naïve I have been the author of and the victim of ample "contrast" ads. But the "contrast" ad must be fundamentally true and must bear some rational relationship to the position sought by the parties. If it does not pass both of these litmus tests, then it is just a gratuitous, personal attack and, in my view, substandard and regrettable conduct.
Now, I have said rather boldly that folks make mistakes and that retraction and apology could wash this one out. I even said that I believe strongly in the character of the offending advertiser to do exactly that. Having run for office in the past, I understand the pressures on a given candidate and I can hypothesize how this would happen against the candidates better judgment. Corrected early, it would have been, in my view, a very exusable error. Until now, I considered myself a reasonable judge of character.
For an apology and a withdrawal to be effective, there was a very short window of time. When a piece of the type we are discussing is being broadcast on prearranged electronic rota, there comes a time when the information has metastasized to the point where the apology and withdrawal are without effect. In my judgment we have reached that time.
I have seen the letters and social media comments to the effect that the initial decision to run this ad was a "disqualifying event." I have resisted that view. I have held up for the integrity of the person who made the original mistake. I had dreamed on the notion of Abraham Lincoln that "better angels" would prevail.
I like to think I am not stupid. I am often intentionally naïve and hopeful. In this case, my belief in "better angels" has become unsustainable.
My colleagues who took the "disqualifying event" position immediately appear to have been correct. I am not sorry that I am slow to this position. When it comes to my brother and sister lawyers I will continue to look for reasons to view them as high integrity individuals but, in the final analyisis, I got this one wrong. There are a minimum of three lies in the offending piece… And those are just the ones about which I have personal knowledge. There may be more. There's a price to be paid for lying generally and, particularly, for lying about a brother.
As I made clear on social media, I am not involved in either campaign and I do not vote in that primary. Thus, my only interest here is in the behavior of lawyers, one to another, particularly here in Western Illinois.
Having said that, I do know a little bit about what it takes operate the State's Attorney's office from the position of State's Attorney. The holder of that office, to be effective, must be trusted by police, grand juries, the judiciary, other states attorneys, the defense bar and the Atty. Gen.'s office, the county board and the other county officeholders, not to mention the general public who are often asked to testify or provide information in investigations when I say "trusted" I mean not just in terms of truthfulness but in terms of judgment, soundness of character, if you will. The performance of the office fails without that aspect.
It is with great regret and disappointment that I say a person who would run the subject ad and not quickly recant is unlikely to capture the trust I referenced in the preceding paragraph. It should be obvious I am trying very hard to avoid using the severe words that some other commentators on this issue have chosen. Still, I can no longer argue with those who have stated this is, indeed, a disqualifying event.