Dylan Mcdermott, a star trial lawyer in The Practice had a rough episode as he is beaten up and kidnapped by an ex-client. That's not the worst of it -- his client proves to Mcdermott that he was innocent of the crime for which he served 12 years in prison.bootlegged practice foto Mcdermott forced him into a deal to manslaughter: " I took one look at his rap sheet and prejudged him. I pushed that deal on him." It becomes clear that Mcdermott violated the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of effective aid of counsel by not investigating the case and failing to look for the exculpatory witness.

The Practice should be commended for this morality piece as every week we read that DNA has cleared another person who is serving time in prison. And how many more innocent people are there, victims of lousy lawyers, racist lawyers, burnt-out lawyers? However, the episode must be criticized for playing into the prevailing philosophy of the legal profession -- The lawyer is god, He knows what is best and should make the decisions. This warped view was promoted by my Trial Practice teacher at Boalt Hall as he lectured us never to explain the case to the client. He warned that "either the client won't understand and waste your time with questions, or will understand and wonder why he is paying so much for something simple enough to comprehend."

Lawyers must be advisors, not dictators. Mcdermott, oblivious to his client's emotional needs, refused to call his client's sweetheart as a character witness saying her testimony "wouldn't have mattered." The client yells back "It mattered to me." He needed her at the trial believing in his innocence.

Mcdermott also told his client he couldn't take the stand because his priors would allow impeachment. Not only does this turn out to be a terribly wrong tactical decision, but it forces the client into silence and he goes to prison without anyone hearing his explanation of innocence. He therefore becomes isolated, despairing and hateful, sustaining himself on nightmares of revenge.

Mcdermott pleads his own case: "I was just out of school, I was working 17 hours a day, I was taking 3 court assignments a week, I trusted the DAs." Excuses, excuses! The real issue is that too many lawyers hide under the cover of "professionalism" to feed their own huge egos and to avoid uncovering and empathizing with the humanity of the people they are sworn to represent.

The episode ends with out star sitting in bed next to his brilliant lawyer fiancee, looking beautiful in a sexy nightgown. He is filled with remorse. His client lies in the morgue, a bullet from a police sniper in his brain. Lawyers do suffer. our clients suffer more.

Written by Paul Harris who is a former National President of the Guild, co-founder of the San Francisco Community Law Collective, and author of Black Rage Confronts the Law. He currently works with the Center for Guerrilla Law in San Francisco.

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