Judging by its “most popular” list, Time.com struck a nerve with its article on Curtis Osborne, fetchingly headlined “If your lawyer wants you executed.”
Osborne, who faces execution in Georgia on Wednesday for murdering two people, was represented by court-appointed lawyer Johnny Mostiler. Another Mostiler client claims the lawyer said, of Osborne, “That little [n---] deserves the chair.”
(Mostiler himself, before his death in 2000, assured a judge that he never uses the N-word “out in public,” the story says. Not exactly lawyer-of-the-year material.)
There were other allegations of outrageously ineffective assistance of counsel, all of which were rejected by state and federal courts.
However, the courts never reached the merits of Mostiler’s alleged statement, finding that claim was procedurally barred. Time.com takes umbrage at that, calling it the “ultimate insult.”
But it seems to me that misses the point.
The infuriating beauty of the criminal defense bar is precisely its belief that every defendant is entitled to representation, no matter how heinous the crime, no matter the lawyer’s personal feelings about the client.
I was once surprised to learn that a noted capital defense attorney did not oppose the death penalty. When I asked him why, he said he’d sat too often across the table from truly evil people.
“Truly evil,” he said. Yet he made it his life’s work to save theirs.
No, I’m not in favor of lawyers using racist slurs or publicly condemning their clients. And yes, there are lawyers who work to prove their clients are innocent, as opposed to wrongfully convicted or sentenced.
But if capital defendants are entitled to lawyers who believe in their innocence and feel friendly toward them as individuals, then we might as well abolish the death penalty.
Because there’s no guarantee – let alone a constitutional guarantee – that a lawyer like that will come along in anyone’s lifetime.
BARBARA GRZINCIC, Managing Editor/Law