A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Neutering Of The Private Criminal Defense Bar

What happened to us? What are we all so afraid of, and when did we become so afraid of, everything?

This includes me, although I'm growing tired of being "careful" about everything. What I say, what I say here on my blog, who I represent, how I represent them, speaking the unpopular truth.

When I first started this blog I wrote a post about judicial elections. I wrote about how some judges suddenly become "nice" during campaigns. It was full of sarcasm and the "truth" about the politics of electing judges.

I received calls from judges - "very disappointed Brian." "Were you talking about me?" The buzz became loud. Lawyers began calling me. "Judges are upset, Brian...." At this time there was no local blog like there is now (run by an anonymous blogger who several judges still think is me). My post was tame compared to whats out there now.

But I took the post down, not interested in developing an uncomfortable relationship with the judges who had a problem with what I wrote. Why prejudice my clients should a case fall in front of them?

I regret taking it down. I actually don't have it anymore. Wish I did, because today, I'd put it right back up. I'm embarrassed I fell to the pressure of a few judges who for some reason didn't like my commentary.

But this is all over the place. We have blogs where lawyers and everyone else can anonymously comment on judges, prosecutors and fellow defense lawyers. Few defense lawyers would dare publically say that judge so and so did something they thought was wrong, or that a prosecutor is chronically unreasonable, or that one of their own stole a case from them by undercutting their fee just to pay the rent. Sure we have our rules of professional responsibility, but what about our obligation to be advocates and not just businessmen and women.

And those of us who practice in federal court, we've been smashed into submission on many fronts.

The recent indictment of a prominent criminal lawyer brought many of us to his defense, but still found a fair amount saying "be careful," "wait till the evidence comes out."

What happened to us, the criminal defense bar? Is it our job to stand up for justice, or merely to make sure we don't piss anyone off while representing those that the "Law and Order TV Generation" feels don't deserve more than an hour of legal process (including a confession to the prosecutor in his office)? Has it become all about the business of our profession?

We complain about elected officials ignoring the law and creating laws that only serve to please those outside the system who don't understand that being "tough on crime" is not akin to turning every misdemeanor into a felony and telling the folks at the rotary club that a stupid crime that no one cares about now carries a minimum mandatory prison sentence (at $20,000 per inmate per year). But when election time comes up and the defense bar's screams get louder and louder, none of us (including me) file to run against anyone. We just go back to bitching at the coffee shop and our anonymous comments on blogs.

I know in the end this is me ranting and that nothing will come of it, but I end with how I began - "what are we all so afraid of?"

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


  1. Brian:
    This is a good post and demonstrateed a lot of courage. Don't back down next time. Tell them the truth and how you feel.


  2. Anonymous7:15 PM

    As a legal assistant, I worked with a lawyer who refused to file a petition for writ of prohibition in a landlord tenant case. The judge refused to allow the renter her jury trial of right. The attorney told me his reason for refusing to file the petition was because he, a new lawyer, makes his living by appearing before this judge. I even offered to draft the petition so the lawyer wouldn't have to do the work, and he still wouldn't file the petition. Sadly, this "renegade" judge often illegally denied jury trials in civil cases.

  3. Excellent, excellent piece. I'm a criminal defense lawyer in Nevada. I had a case last year regarding an inventory search where the cops didn't prepare the inventory sheet (which equals automatic exclusion in Nevada). When the City Attorney confirmed for me that there was no sheet they said that the police don't generate them anymore because no one asks for them. As I was drafting my suppression motion, I thought how lax is the local defense bar when the police are routinely doing something which equals automatic exclusion simply because no one calls them on it.

  4. Anonymous6:49 PM

    My hero.

    As the worst become worse, the best become better!

    This rocks.

    Thank you.

    Aspiring Criminal Defense Lawyer

  5. Anonymous11:00 PM

    It's fear, Brian. Fear of my client not getting a bond because I ran my mouth about the asshole judge. Fear of damage to my reputation. Fear of not getting good offers from the state attorney or ausa. Fear of what other people think. As far as running against a judge, groundhog day is not appealing to me. Let's face it, a lot of criminal lawyers are hacks. Oh yeah, and in Federal court it's fear of being indicted.

  6. I commend you for your comments. It only takes one pebble to create a ripple.

    -Also an aspiring criminal defense lawyer

  7. Anonymous1:01 AM

    Post the truth and make people be held accountable for what they do! The world is too full of cowards that are not willing to fight! The prosecutor in our case has tried to gag us for blogging and now has filed a motion to have our bond revoked because of our blogs. Sometimes the truth is just hard to take!

  8. Anonymous9:21 AM

    It's curious that you bring up the subject of someone being nice only because they want something from you. This is exactly the way you act. It pains you to simply smile and say hi to someone if you don't feel they are important enough.

  9. Anonymous2:09 PM

    Agree, the problem is Brian doesn't have any friends, he's way too busy writing his own press releases.

    Of course, there are those times that he's yelling at his non-English speaking client's...

  10. 9:21, sorry I didn't say hello. I try to say hello all the time, but avoid interrupting people in conversation. Sometimes I have other things on my mind, like whether a client is going to jail or going to be convicted, or maybe something at home that causes me not to focus on you. I apologize.

    2:09, I only have one non-english speaking client right now, and had to yell at him the other day when I saw you because he was yelling at me. He actually yelled at me for showing him pictures of evidence that he "knew" I manufactured. Wish I knew how to do that. I usually don't yell at clients whether non-english speaking or not, but as criminal defense lawyers, we've all had our moments.

  11. Anonymous11:45 PM

    You have them more than most... a legend in your own mind.

  12. Anonymous6:49 AM

    11:45, I think I get your position by your second comment. You don't like me. Keep writing in, get it all out of your system.

    I wish you all the best.

  13. oops, that was me at 6:49, hit the button too fast.

  14. Anonymous11:36 AM

    6:51 am, checking my comments, you really need a life "Social Boy"

  15. Anonymous9:42 PM

    what did you think of barzee and denaro and the shameless display in the d. b. r. today?

  16. Anonymous1:11 PM

    I commend a REAL man like you - with heart, street and school smarts, and balls bigger than the prosecutor and judge's egos! You are diplomatic, observant and call it like it is. Praise the Lord for a MAN like YOU.
    The opposition and hate/nasty attitudes fired at you is a badge of honor because you're not allowing the game of "Simon Says" to dictate your mind and actions. You are CHOOSING, not to be a gump and to educate others about these forces driven by self-affluence that rule the world. The system is set up to have an advantage in every aspect and they still play dirty to come out on top. Let me give you an example so you know that I know what I'm talking about. Through psychology and speech classes I've learned that what sticks in people's minds the most is the first and last thing they see/hear. Why is it that the Prosecutor presents first and last in a trial? Most Americans are like pigs (no offense, I was too until I educated myself)in the sense that we will eat whatever is laid in front of us (and we'll pay top dollar for it - but that's a whole other issue). And then when we start asking questions and the door is slammed shut in our face, we say, "Oh, I'd better not knock on that door anymore." Not me - all the more reason to start banging and find out what is going on because I don't like to be lied to or taken advantage of.
    A teacher of mine used to say, "they're all in bed together," how appropriate. People, let alone lawyers, rebuke with concern about their professional reputation being smeared; well how about your manhood/womanhood reputation and when you look in the mirror? Unbelievable - and I'm a realist - that so many people CHOOSE to wrestle with a conscience (if they have one at all) than to publicly "do the right thing." Brian, you have character - which is one of the few honest and true measures that cannot be bought or made about by manipulation. It creates jelousy and resentment by those who lack it. You are not alone.

  17. Anonymous12:35 PM

    www.ianrichards.org Start here.