Dubious Achievement

If I were a card-carrying member of the American Bar Association -- and I am not -- I would tear up my membership card and mail it back to the bozos who decided to name Alberto R. Gonzales, disgraced former attorney general, as the ABA Journal's "Lawyer of the Year."

The ABA Journal is the bar association's official publication. And its award, which is neither a joke nor an attempt at sarcasm, was meant to acknowledge Gonzales's unique role in 2007 as the lawyer who made the most news. Instead, it stands as an affront to every honest, competent, hard-working lawyer in America, in and out of goverment, who did not act like an idiot before Congress, or display an appalling lack of courage and integrity in dealing with both subordinates and superiors, or leave to his successor and the nation a bloody mess that may take years to clean up.

How about Charles Swift, the military lawyer who bravely defends Guantanamo Bay detainees, despite the massive toll his counsel has taken upon his career? How about the stoic private attorneys who donated their time and energy to help the detainees? How about the attorneys who have done so much to bring the significant problems with lethal injection to the attention of the Supreme Court? How about James B. Comey, who, unlike Gonzales, stood up to his superiors and spoke out against the government's poor policy choices when he was a high-ranking Justice Department official?

These people deserve awards and recognition; they are the sorts of attorneys, the sorts of people, we want our children to emulate should they choose the law as their profession.

Gonzales? He's the bumbling crony who authored the "torture memo," who couldn't come up with a coherent explanation as to why U.S. attorneys were purged, and who was literally laughed at, to his face, by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Imagine that -- a lawyer being laughed at by politicians. How humiliating.

The only thing about him worth emulating is his ability to make so much money speaking around the country, now that he's finally been exiled from Washington.

ABA Journal Editor and Publisher Edward Adams, formerly of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. and an old friend, told me via e-mail yesterday that the "award is neither an endorsement of [Gonzales], nor a criticism of him. We're like Time magazine when it names its Person of the Year; we're identifying the person who most affected the legal world in 2007."

But the ABA Journal is decidely not Time. Time is a news magazine. So when people like Stalin and Hitler made news, they were logical, if not popular, choices for man of the year. The ABA Journal, on the other hand, is a magazine about the law and the people who make it work. And, in that capacity, it owes more to its readers, and to people looking to it for insight into American law, than a gimmicky substitution of notoriety for true accomplishment. (One of the runners-up for this year's award was disgraced former district attorney Michael Nifong, the fellow who fouled up the Duke lacrosse case.)

Adams also told me yesterday "And it's worth remembering, as we said in our announcement, 'the magazine's articles do not necessarily reflect the official policy positions of the American Bar Association.' I and my colleagues at the Journal simply report and analyze legal news; the lawyers who lead the ABA make the organization's policy." I do not doubt this is the case. But it's a distinction likely to be lost on the rest of the world.

Gonzales is worthy only of scorn. The ABA Journal should apologize for its disappointing lack of judgment and sensitivity in selecting him for any sort of recognition.

By Andrew Cohen |  December 13, 2007; 8:15 AM ET
Previous: The Dynamic Duo of Discrepancy | Next: Balls, Strikes and Legal Standards


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no doubt...however...you will have no problems with Clinton being reinstated!

Posted by: lmao | December 13, 2007 08:54 AM

Maybe it was a typo or maybe someone hijacked the ethics committee. There has to be a sensible explanation.

The Bar association must be managed by fools who do not appreciate the intrinsic dishonesty of the man.

For instance, he asked all of us to presume that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were guilty. Then he got rid of Habeus Corpus so that these poor guys would not have a chance to challenge the claims that they were dangerous to the security of the USA.

To all of those nutters out there who want the detainees to linger in hell please tell me how and why you know that they are guuilty and that a terrible mistake has not been made by george the Tyrant and people like you.

Posted by: Robert James | December 13, 2007 09:17 AM

Spot on. The ABA have made a mockery of themselves, and given aid and comfort to legal incompetents everywhere. I hope they face a nasty backlash from decent lawyers across the country.

Gonzales has tarnished the standing of prosecutors and the law itself. And the ABA, or at least its official journal, responds with applause.

Posted by: Bullsmith | December 13, 2007 10:37 AM

Thing is, this will go on Gonzales's resume, and when he is introduced on his speaking tour he will be credited as The ABA Journal's 2007 Lawyer of the Year. I shudder.

Posted by: Mike S | December 13, 2007 11:02 AM

This began when Republicans got away with wasting law enforcement to investigate Bill Clinton's legal/heterosexual personal life. The 9/11 Terrorists demanded the attention of law enforcement, not GOP political devices.

Now Americans are learning competant public servants in the Justice Dept.(and in other law enforcement branches) have been replaced by underqualified Bushies.

This will lead to another disaster.

Good work ABA! You have carried on the Bush tradition, making a mockery of America's institutions while spewing the rhetoric of someone who cares.

Wonder who the GOP appointees are tracking? Terrorists...or their political targets? Go figure.

Posted by: mike turner | December 13, 2007 11:13 AM

AG Gonzales's actions in White House and as AG were enabled by significant deficiencies in scope and implementation of legal ethics. To not recognize that makes Mr. Cohen part of the problem as much as he wish otherwise.

Who is charged to protect a DOJ attorney (or other federal attorney in almost every agency) from retribution for responsibly voicing a concern? Federal attorneys employed by US Office of Special Counsel (OSC), that is who. Do they comply with the law they were hired to implement to do so (5 USC 1214)? No, see September 2007 opinion in Carson v. OSC, docket no. 06-1833, DCD.

Do they "blow whistles" about their failure to comply with the law they were hired, as attorneys to implement? No.

why not? Because they claim that by legal ethics they are prohibited from responsibly voicing concerns about their and OSC's failure to comply with its duties to protect concerned federal employees, including DOJ attorneys, IG employees, NRC nuclear safety engineers, etc, who seek OSC's and their protection, because they claim OSC is also their "client," whose interests they must hold paramount - including its interest in keeping its lawbreking concealed.

If only the stakes were not so high.

So I think former AG Gonzales is a fine choice for the ABA journal, because ABA is responsible for the ABA model rules of professional conduct, which OSC attorneys cite to defend their actions, which enabled those of AG Gonzales.

Posted by: Joe Carson | December 13, 2007 11:50 AM

Apparently, the ABA Journal does indeed nominate it's "Lawyer of the Year" in the same way Time does. I saw this quote in the Baltimore Sun this morning:

"Think about Time Magazine's 'Person of the Year.' In years past, they've named people like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin. So we're not suggesting by these awards that these are the best lawyers in any sense of the word. We are saying they are the most newsworthy-- and perhaps also the best."

The speaker was Edward A. Adams, identified as the editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. Apparently Michael Mukasey received the award alongside Gonzo.

While I definitely think Gonzo qualifies as one of the WORST, rather than the best (anyone else old enough to remember John Mitchell during the Watergate years?), I would have to agree that he's been "newsworthy."

Posted by: Dee | December 13, 2007 12:18 PM

Uh, speak for youself, Cohen, on James Comey-you seem to have amnesia-he spoke out, dramatically I'll give you, about certain aspects of the domestic wiretapping program, but that's all he did. He APPROVED THE PROGRAM IN ITS ENTIRETY A FEW WEEKS LATER.

So I don't know what in hell kind of "great shakes" award you're giving him, huh? All of those Federalist Society Repubs in DOJ and the rest of the deadrot ought to have been swept out of there after the Gonzo/McNulty fiasco.

Posted by: | December 13, 2007 12:29 PM

Today, I learned that the ABA has seen fit to nominate Alberto Gonzales to Lawyer of the Year. It seems to suggest that the criterion was "top newsmaker". I do not buy it! I could recite a litany of reasons why he should be sanctioned by the legal profession, but one particularly galling reason was his role in the wiretapping of American citizens without a court order; and as such he abetted a potential violation of the time honored right to the attorney-client privilege. For this he deserves ABA Man of the Year? How about Scoundrel of the Year? I am incensed over the ABA's squandering of an opportunity to honor our members for contributing to the betterment of the world, not its deterioration! Look for my resignation from the ABA, effective immediately!

Posted by: Joe Carvalko | December 13, 2007 04:02 PM

Gee, lawyers can't tell the difference between coattails and real achievement?

Can't see the difference between loyalty to a superior and loyalty to the laws? Little Al's greatest virtue is that he didn't slide underneath the bus when it stopped.

Posted by: pacman | December 13, 2007 04:36 PM

Does this mean that we can now find the ABA Journal in the supermarket (with Gonzo's picture on the cover?) right next to such esteemed publications as The National Enquirer and People Magazine?

Posted by: JS37 | December 13, 2007 04:41 PM

In 2003 the ABA cynically appointed a national minority representative from a crooked law firm (Republican, Florida) that had conducted crimes in the service of violent organized crime for a murderous organized crime ring and a war criminal engaged in sophisticated racketeering.

The ABA may not have understood the cynical nature of the crime they were (inadvertently?) glamorizing and the rule of law they were mocking.

Posted by: Mr. Boulis | December 13, 2007 09:40 PM

I don't know if I have ever agreed with anything that Andrew has typed, include "the, and, but, not." In fact I believed him incapable of having a correct opinion. But he has just proved that if you keep on trying you can get it right.

The ABA Journal is NOT Time magazine. The "lawyer of the year" should be a role model of ethics, action, and decorum. The former AG is none of these things.

Yeah to Andrew! Boo, hiss ABA and its Journal!!

Posted by: Constitutionalist | December 14, 2007 06:06 AM

Time has had lots of scoundrels as their Man of the Year. Hitler, Stalin (twice), Nixon, Nixon and Kissinger (the very next year).

Based on what Andrew wrote, it would appear that the ABA has a similar standard for making the choice.

Which is kind of sad. Time's business is news to the broadest degree, the ABA Journal's isn't.

Posted by: DC | December 14, 2007 12:12 PM

I read Andrew's abbreviated item first and then started reading the comments without reading the complete piece.

What I said above is redundant. Sorry!

Posted by: DC | December 14, 2007 12:15 PM


Posted by: ACaliforniaLawyer | December 18, 2007 02:36 PM

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