I was extremely disheartened to learn that two Maryland attorneys were charged in federal court with child pornography possession recently. I won’t name here but the identities of the defendants are available in the link above; the cases are unrelated.
There are approximately 20,000 licensed attorneys in Maryland, so perhaps 1 in 10,000 is not the worst imaginable ratio, but it still sickens me. As I sit here writing – taking an early break at a coffee house in beautiful Owings Mills from a very early rise to go work on my office administration issues today – I want to walk to the 4-foot high trash can near the door and vomit into it for a half hour.
10,000 lawyer jokes aside, most lawyers are ethical, honest and law-abiding, if not always the best social company. Some attorneys are ethical and honest because that’s their characters; others are personally indifferent but play by the rules in order not to get their lives and careers ruined. But by and large, lawyers play by the rules of decent, law-abiding society.
When attorneys commit crimes or career-ending mistakes, it’s almost always either about client money, about getting overwhelmingly swamped and drowning professionally or violating some bright-line professional rule specific to the legal profession (e.g. don’t dare even think about borrowing from clients’ escrowed funds for non-client or unauthorized purposes.) To get thrown out of the profession – I don’t mean getting a reprimand or a 30 day suspension, but getting disbarred or indefinitely suspended – you usually have to do something fraudulent, something to defalcate client money, something felonious. Even simple possession of illegal drugs – especially marijuana – is unlikely to end a career in many states, through one can certainly expect disciplinary consequences.
Not everyone charged with child pornography charges is guilty, of course. The cases are complex. It is conceivable that one could load an image into one’s computer without knowing of its existence or its contents. On the other hand, the U.S. Attorneys are known for their conservatism in their charging documents generally; they tend to follow the Powell doctrine of not filing charges unless the evidence is quite powerful, because they desperately hate to lose. Most federal crimes are also state crimes and the federal government is more than happy to cherry-pick its cases for the biggest, the worst and the most overwhelmingly provable.
While my practice by policy does not handle any non-consensual sex crime charges, the website of respect criminal defense attorney James Crawford, Esquire, of Baltimore County may give some idea of the issues involved, such as the use of specific search terms, who had access to the computer when, etc. It is conceivable to me that someone could download an image without knowing it, such as we download viruses without knowing it, and that the same sociopaths who put viruses on our computers could spread illegal images for the same destructive sense of sport. But I do not see how any attorney recovers professionally from child pornography charges even after a not guilty verdict on all charges; the very thought of such charges just sickens me in my core both as a father and as a member of the Maryland and DC Bars. One of the two attorneys involved just consent to disbarment in MD last month; the other one is a 1985 admittee, someone who by age and experience easily could have been my interviewer at my character committee interview when I applied for the Maryland Bar.
Until I read of these charges, I joked that attorneys were a better bunch than clergy because you didn’t hear about Bar Associations or law firms getting near-bankrupted for sex abuse and related cover-up charges, as has happened with several Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. and elsewhere (not merely for the abuse, but for the hierarchical cover-ups facilitating and protecting the abusers.)
To be fair to the Catholic Church, Dateline NBC”s “To Catch a Predator” series showing a sting operation on sexual predators on the youth caught a Protestant youth minister and a Maryland rabbi, but no Catholic clergy. The Orthodox Church in America, one of many Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S., recently placed its young and dynamic hierarch Metropolitan +JONAH on a mandatory leave of absence due to alleged mismanagement of sexual abuse issues in his church, among other issues. The Jewish Times of Baltimore has published many articles dealing with sexual predation by rabbis and other persons of authority. Those who blame Roman Catholic priestly celibacy as the source of sexual predation in the church of Rome would do well to consider that Protestant ministers can marry even after ordination, rabbis are almost always married as is normative universally in Jewish life and Orthodox Christian parish clergy are drawn predominantly from the ranks of married seminary graduates.
Point of the foregoing: clergy sexual abuse not just a Roman Catholic issue. But I had thought lawyers were a better bunch, answerable in this life to ethical codes and public discipline with no confessional seal to conceal the truth, and these charges undercut my perhaps poorly-founded conceit and pride as an attorney. Far more important than any professional or vocational conceit of course is the stark fact: child pornography is manufactured through the deliberate abuse of children for profit or the narcissistic pleasure of the manufacturer and of whoever receives the manufactured product.
Now if you will excuse me, I have an urgent appointment with a garbage can.