“Should they disbar TuberculEsq?”

by Walter Olson on June 2, 2007

David Giacalone has some thoughts on now-notorious Atlanta personal injury lawyer Andrew J. Speaker, who doesn’t seem to have lived up very well to the Lakoff-prescribed billing of “public protection attorney” (Jun. 1). But see: Elizabeth Whelan, in the New York Post, thinks the pillorying of Speaker’s decision to fly home has been overdone (“Free Andrew! Hysteria and the TB Case”, Jun. 2). Updates: Jul. 8 (some passengers sue Speaker), Dec. 2 (no one flying with him caught TB).

{ 3 comments }

1 Peter Nordberg 06.02.07 at 1:44 am

I agree that “public protection attorney” is a particularly tin-eared p.r. coinage. But Speaker’s behavior (as reported so far in the press, at least) is not linked in any apparent way to Speaker’s being a plaintiff’s lawyer, a p.i. lawyer, or a “public protection attorney.” So the derisive allusion to Lakoffian spin-doctoring seems poorly placed, warranted though some derision may be in the larger scheme of things.

Unless there is indeed some issue of S’s having misrepresented something to the authorities, or of his having committed some other crime, then any link between S’s travels, on the one hand, and his ability or propensity to discharge his professional duties in competent and ethical fashion, on the other, would seem tenuous. S may have committed a tort. His behavior may also be ethically or morally dubious. But those things aren’t normally enough for us to drum people out of their professions.

My question might focus less on the travel and more on the office. Did S knowingly put clients at risk, whether directly, by meeting with his own clients while infected, or indirectly, by exposing other legal professionals?

2 Walter Olson 06.02.07 at 10:17 pm

Peter has a point. If people really believed that tort lawyers’ job description were closely bound up with the advancement of public safety, there would be some dark humor to be milked from an individual act of gross recklessness of this sort, much as we guffaw when a public official known for abstinence preaching shows up on the client list of an escort service, a state’s head cop for DUI enforcement is picked up on a drunk-driving charge, and so forth. But in fact only the most gullible are taken in by the efforts at Lakoffian framing. Who would imagine, for example, that just because a given cadre of lawyers regularly addresses juries in achingly sincere tones on how callous it is for defendants to put the public safety at risk, they can somehow be expected to take more care in (say) their own driving than do accountants or orthodontists, because they’re more loath to take a chance of hurting innocent persons?

So, yeah, hardly anyone seems to believe there’s a genuine ideal at work here whose disregard might serve as the basis for an imputation of hypocrisy. Even so, David Giacalone’s post is well worth reading for its discussion of how and whether bar regulators can take cognizance of infamous behavior by lawyers aside from its direct effect on clients.

3 Peter Nordberg 06.06.07 at 4:00 am

There would be a case for calling Lakoff a hypocrite, I believe, if Lakoff acquired a law degree and behaved in a manner injurious to the public. There would be a case for calling Speaker a hypocrite, if Speaker called himself a “public protection” attorney or complained of defendants’ callousness in closing addresses, but showed a reprehensible disregard of the public’s welfare in his private behavior. Hypocrisy, to my understanding, involves behavior by X that is inconsistent with the ideals or standards held out by Y for others to follow, where X and Y are persons, and where (importantly) X = Y.

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