Do Dead Lawyers Lie Still?—Attorney-Client Privilege and its Oxymoronic Effect on “Legal Ethics”


Every truth is routinely denied and falsified, every lie is affirmed and promoted.  So as I, with Mephistopheles, so often like to state: “Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint, und das mit Recht, denn Alles was entsteht, Ist werth daß es zu Grunde geht.”

Montana State Representative (former State Senator, all-time great guy) Jerry O’Neil and I have spent many hours discussing the question: what IS it that a LICENSED ATTORNEY can do that really makes a license worth having?  I am a thrice disbarred attorney, basically a victim of political games played by evil NeoCons in Texas.  Jerry O’Neil has obtained a license to practice as an “advocate and counselor” from several Indian Nations, notably the Blackfeet, but he has never sought the license of any state.  If ETHICS were the sole test of qualifications to be an attorney—Jerry O’Neil would be recognized as one of the greatest of all time, in fact, he would probably at the very least be on the Montana Supreme Court.   

What Jerry and I have concluded, along with many other people, is that, in terms of functional definition, relatable to any part of the U.S. Constitution, a lawyer is a person who takes the First Amendment VERY SERIOUSLY and does EVERYTHING in the second half (non-religious) clause of the First Amendment routinely:  An attorney SPEAKS, he produces and uses the press (i.e. printed matter) prodigiously, he peaceably assembles with others, and, above all, he PETITIONS the Government (and other private citizens) for REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.

But whereas the United States Supreme Court has found that there can be no licensing whatsoever for ANY aspect of religious practice (the first two clauses of the First Amendment) and has similarly said that there can be no “prior restraint”, i.e. censorship, of freedom of speech or the right to print anything at all, all branches of government, including the Supreme Court, have at least tacitly approved the licensing of attorneys.  

Even though the licensing of priests and preachers of the Gospel would never be tolerated under the free exercise and establishment clauses, even though the licensing of newspapers has throughout U.S. history been regarded as an abomination.  It DOES matter that the NDAA and Patriot Act have had a major limiting effect on America’s traditional freedom of speech, but my concern tonight, on this First Day of July and the beginning of the Second Half of the Year, is more parochial:

Is it at all legitimate that TWO of the few things lawyers can CLEARLY get by with doing, with more impunity and immunity, than anyone else (except President Obama himself) are TO LIE and TO KEEP SECRETS.

One of the more famous sources and/or manifestations of the lawyer’s ability to lie and keep secrets is known as “the attorney-client privilege.”  The basic idea, I think, is to encourage attorney-client candor, and to prevent a client from fearing to tell his attorney “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” simply because the attorney (without the privilege) might have to tell the whole world.  This makes sense and is positive, but DOES IT REALLY MAKE SENSE and IS IT REALLY POSITIVE if construed as broadly as it seems to be in the modern world?  

Given broad construction, is the attorney-client privilege not an instrument of corruption in and damnation against society?

For example, imagine if you will an upper middle class Father, a doctor, a surgeon perhaps, who has voluntarily relinquished his paternal rights in court so as to avoid further liability for child support and his ex-wives’ attorneys fees.  This doctor has, in both form and effect, “sold” his daughter and permitted her adoption by her new husband, who is neither a professional nor anything like the biological father.   The doctor would now claim duress.  He would claim fraud and coercion.  In particular, though the doctor/surgeon claims that since he was not able to arrange a complete discharge of his (admittedly unfair, oppressive, possibly illegal, but nonetheless Court ordered and enforced) financial obligations, he should have his daughter back.

Suppose this doctor hires a socio-political advisor and consultant.  Suppose that the socio-political advisor and consultant concludes that the doctor/surgeon is unfit as a man or a father, or even to claim those names and titles.  Suppose that the advisor and consultant concludes that this man, the doctor/surgeon cannot possibly be a competent father.  Suppose that the private advisor and consultant concludes this only after spending a total of nearly four weeks with this doctor.  

Suppose that the consultant concludes that a man is unfit to be a father if that “man” turns out in reality to be a pusillanimous pup who (1) breaks down in uncontrollable tears at every discussion of his serious legal and social problems, (2) speaks more-or-less constantly of his fear of prison, his fear of suffering, and his desire for death, (3) elaborates graphically upon his suicidal ideation, (4) his plans for international flight, and/or digging a bomb-proof air-shelter or bunker in his front yard, (5) a man who is confused and distressed within the confines of his own financial, professional, and even his sexual competence and prowess.  

Suppose further that the advisor and consultant is also a socio-political advocate for the regeneration of Traditional American Values, including Christian sacrifice, individual responsibility and manliness.  SHOULD THIS SOCIO-POLITICAL CONSULTANT CONSIDER HIMSELF, because of the pendency of legal proceedings, to be bound in any sense by analogy with the attorney-client privilege?  In other words, should an advisor keep secrets or tell the truth?  Will society benefit more from a conspiracy of silence (which is one of the licensed attorney’s true “superpowers”) or from exposing reality?

Should the advisor REMAIN SILENT, OR SHOULD HE SPEAK OUT, and by way of an “intervention” of sorts, do EVERYTHING IN HIS POWER EITHER TO SHOCK THE DOCTOR/SURGEON BY PUBLIC SHAME INTO REFORMING HIMSELF OR TO PROTECT HIS (presumably) INNOCENT TEENAGE DAUGHTER FROM HER DEEPLY UNSTABLE, ONLY MARGINALLY MENTALLY COMPETENT FATHER?  

Is not “intervention” the approved means, an emotional shock therapy preferable by far to the electro-shocks or lobotomies so long administered by the sadistic practitioners of primitive psychology and psychiatry, of approaching an addicted or deranged person mired in psychological turmoil?  

Analogy: the confessional and penitential privilege, the web of hypocritical deceit and deception to which the attorney-client privilege is often compared, which was and still is one of the primary sources of and shields for the child-buggery, priest-pederastry scandals plaguing the Roman Catholic Church.  Given that Christ assured an eternal lake of fire for those who harm little children, and that priests are quite literally sworn as Christ’s fiduciary vicars, is the penitential privilege  not an intolerably inconsistent thing to be scorned, derided, and abolished rather than preserved?  

The root concept of justice, throughout history, has been to illuminate the dark places of secrecy and hidden lies with sunshine.  The Ancient Sumerians, when oppressed, are known to have rioted violently and en masse in ancient Iraq (4th-early 3rd Millennium Mesopotamia), when any person in that land cried out publicly “I UTU”—an invocation of the Sumerian name of the Sun God (UTU), the supreme god of Justice.  To demand sunshine was to allege a deep cabal of secrecy and hidden lies*** and the people of Ancient Sumer and Akkad apparently found such things intolerable.  They only wanted to live in the sunshine of truth (or so their cuneiform texts seem to suggest: Egypt, by contrast, seems to have been much more comfortable with cultural institutions built upon and treasuring values of hypocrisy, secrecy and lies).

Within the Roman Catholic Church (no other branch of Christianity enforces a celibate priesthood), the confessional-penitential privilege gave rise, over the past near millennium if not more, to countless generations of children who must have hated and feared their priests and the Church as true monstrosities.  The Catholic Priest child molestation scandals have now been going on so long they hardly make the news, but have we reflected sufficiently on the ethical lessons and analytical consequences? A CONSPIRACY OF PERMITTED SECRECY and PROTECTS LIES and LEADS TO HYPOCRISY.  

I suppose this goes also to the question of whether recent Moscow resident Edward Joseph (“Ed”) Snowden, U.S. Constitutional Attorney Glen Greenwald, and other “whistle blowing” internet disclosers (e.g. Julian Assange of Australia) are traitors or among the greatest American (and Australian) Patriots ever to live.  My own bias on and answer to that point may be evident in the way I phrase the question.  My only complaint about Snowden is that he disclosed too little too late….

Attorneys in America have become a cabal, an elite, who control society but do not, for the most part, administer justice at all.  In fact, for the most part, I would submit to you that attorneys BLOCK justice, and the attorney-client privilege is one of their tools for doing so.  

In discussing the entirely hypothetical above, suppose the political consultant asked a local attorney with parallel experience with the same doctor for her opinion.  Under the dogma of “attorney-client privilege”, one North Florida attorney (Beth Gordon) wrote dramatically regarding this scenario: 

“I certainly don’t wish to engage in any kind of discussion . . . , what kind of a parent  [SOMEONE MIGHT BE], or anything else like that. I take my ethical duties very seriously, and therefore don’t wish to engage in anything like this.  . . . As an attorney, you can be appalled by someone’s behavior. You may or may not know this however- you cannot then feel free to share and discuss what you know about the client.”  

OK, as I understand this statement, SO ONE OF THE FIRST RULES OF LAW, THE ATTORNEY’S CREED, IS ONE OF SECRECY, I.E. LEGALLY ENFORCEABLE CENSORSHIP AND REPRESSION OF TRUTHFUL SPEECH—NOT MERELY IN THE CONTEXT OF A TRIAL WHERE AN INDIVIDUAL’S INNOCENCE MUST BE PRESUMED UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY—AND THE WHOLE POINT OF HIRING A LAWYER FOR A TRIAL WOULD BE DEFEATED IF THE LAWYER COULD BLURT OUT: “HE TOLD ME HE KILLED THE VICTIM, YOUR HONOR, THAT’S WHY HE HIRED ME.”  

So, the ritual presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings requires some sort of discretion on the part of an advocate.

But when an innocent third-party is involved, a child, do the same rules apply?  I submit that advocacy is only legitimate when it seeks the truth, to maximize sunshine, and to hide nothing.

I cannot help but wonder where Glen Greenwald would stand on this question.  I know he would violently (or perhaps non-violently, but vehemently) oppose compelling attorneys to reveal-client secrets in order to obtain convictions for terrorism—he is already on the record for this.  But those who defend American victims of denial of due process are presumably, at least in large part, defending people who are “actually innocent” of terrorist acts even though they may be “guilty” of hating America, and all that America has come to stand for, which is, after all, a gigantic culture of hypocrisy and lies.

Anthropological linguistics teach us that language is symbolic communication and that symbols are inherently abstract and hence, by definition, removed from the “reality” they describe.  So all language and all expression requires and demands deception of a sort: but is the purpose of law and litigation to protect the guilty or the innocent, and to maximize truth or to protect lies.  Lawyers seem to exist, in large part, to maximize protection for the guilty and to secure lies their “rightful place in the domination of world history”.

And in closing, I categorically deny that this is “sour grapes” on my part. I am NOT actually thinking about how the Austin, Texas based Admissions Committee of Western District of Texas in 1997-8 protected the one or two carefully selected and manufactured witnesses who testified in private, behind closed doors, with no recordings or transcripts, only committee summaries, from any cross-examination by me or my attorneys throughout the “Disciplinary Procedures” ordered by Judge James R. Nowlin against me. Or actually, they were protected from cross-examination until their testimony had been sufficiently rehearsed to be credible.  This was indeed an example of secrecy guaranteeing the efficacy of lies, but it goes back much farther than that.

 Rather, it is in memory of a Great-Grandfather of mine, known as “Judge Benny” who was a Louisiana Judge of impeccable albeit local reputation in Shreveport and Natchitoches who (at least according to family legend) had a knitted or crocheted and framed textile on the wall of his chambers which said, in a grand Louisiana tradition of cynicism, “Dead lawyers Lie Still.”

***It is Utu’s Akkadian-Speaking Eastern Semitic Successor Shamash who greets the Babylonian King Hammurabi and hands him the sacred laws, or pronouncement of laws, atop the Stela removed from Susa to Paris and now resident in the Louvre in Paris (with exact replicas at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and the magnificent Pergamon Museum in Berlin).  The Greek Apollo, tragically, acquired very few of the characteristics of  the Near Eastern Sun God of Justice—Apollo was more known for his sarcastic gifts mixed with curses (e.g. Cassandra’s true power of prophecy coupled with universally inaccurate disbelief) and any real justice or fairness.

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