Copyright Morning Call Jan 3, 2023
Recently I received an angry note in the mail. The agitated writer closed his letter by saying: "you know what that guy said about killing all the lawyers." People who despise lawyers love that line from Shakespeare's play, Henry VI, in which Dick the Butcher, a henchman of the anarchist Jack Cade, declares: "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
In Henry VI, however, Jack Cade is described as: "the head of an army of rabble and a demagogue pandering to the ignorant." Lawyer- bashers overlook the folly of employing this Shakespearian quote to support their diatribes. Shakespeare was illustrating Cade's belief that he had to tear down the government to become king. To do so, he would have to remove all semblance of justice from society. To run roughshod over peoples' legal rights, he would have to kill all the lawyers.
Over the centuries, various tyrants and demagogues have come and gone. Times have changed and lawyers are no longer threatened by crude ruffians like Dick the Butcher. Today those who want to reconstitute our governmental institutions to advance their own selfish designs are sleek, sophisticated, and mendacious demagogues. Today, elements within the insurance and other industries want to dismantle the American tort system. These powerful forces seek to disrupt the judiciary and abrogate common law, by slowly eliminating the right of citizens, consumers and tort victims to seek justice in courts of law. They understand that trial lawyers are the linchpin of the American tort system. By neutralizing lawyers, they can effectively eliminate whatever small obstacle the tort system might present to their quest for complete dominion, hegemony and control over society.
Just like Jack Cade and Dick the Butcher, these modern tyrants also have an aggressive agenda. To do away with the Constitution's guarantee of the right to trial by jury, they realize they must first discredit the lawyers. An effective way of eviscerating the common law right to recovery of legal damages is to defame the attorneys who help citizens seek justice before juries of their peers. The incessant psychological drumbeat against lawyers poisons the well from which potential jurors are selected. Its aim is to deconstruct our judicial system of tort reparations into a profit mechanism for big business. Lawyer-bashers are cunning enough to assiduously avoid direct attacks on America's legal system in general, or against judges, the Constitution, or even against the law itself. Obviously, these are sacrosanct; there would be a price to pay for disparaging them. So instead, a barrage is being leveled against a softer target: the officers of the court. Recently, a new line of attack from lawyer-bashers is the argument that lawyers should be regulated by the state Legislature. This would require a complete re-writing of the Pennsylvania Constitution, because lawyers are regulated directly by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court -- an independent judicial branch under the state constitution.
Fifty-seven separate ethical requirements have been imposed on lawyers by the Supreme Court, in a set of rules 46 pages long. No other profession is regulated this scrupulously. Nonetheless, it is still worth the trouble, just for the privilege of practicing law. Daniel Webster once said: "Justice is the great interest of man on earth." For 26 years, I have had the honor of standing before the bar of justice as a practicing attorney, experiencing the grandeur and majesty of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the law. I make no apologies for what I do. I pray that God allows me to practice law for many years to come. If I have any self-doubts, it is only those arising from contemplating how much more I could accomplish for my clients, were I not constrained by my own shortcomings, weaknesses and inadequacies.
Perhaps in that brave new world envisioned by the lawyer-haters, they will also be able to abolish injustice. Courtrooms and juries would be unnecessary; everyone would always get along and treat everyone kindly. The rich would never prey on the poor, the strong would never take advantage of the weak, and the clever would never euchre those less clever than themselves. Corporations would never place profit above safety or above principle, and consumers would never be cheated. And, if something does go wrong in this utopian system, lawyers would not be needed. Instead, parties with competing interests would gladly subordinate their positions solely to advance their opponents' causes. If one day I were to wake up in such a dream world, I would gladly take down my shingle and search for something else to do.
Donald P. Russo is an attorney in Bethlehem. His e-mail address is [email protected].