Saturday, February 9, 2008

Civil Disobedience and the Alabama Indictment

I have been studying the so-called Alabama Indictment this morning. It can be looked at as a confrontation of sorts between Mr. Scruggs and Judge Acker. The judge rendered an order to turn over certain documents. Mr. Scruggs had them but turned them over to Attorney General Hood. Judge Acker was not at all pleased. The judge wants Mr. Scruggs indicted and if the U.S. Attorney does not do it, Judge Acker acting as his personal Grand Jury will do it. And he did. He appointed a couple of lawyers from the same law firm to prosecute Mr. Scruggs. He says he used Fed. R. Crim. P. 42.

So, there is now this great debate between the judge and Mr. Scruggs. The battle has taken on the aspect of a high stakes game. Mr. Scruggs is subject to criminal contempt. That may mean jail, it certainly means money.

Who is right? Who is wrong? Don't know. But I can see something here. Mr. Scruggs may have had to do what he did, turn the documents over to a law enforcement agency (AG Hood) to protect the interest of the cause he was working on, the cause as he saw it for his clients and for those who may have been injured by the conduct in question, the conduct which might be surmised by looking at the documents.

In Mr. Scruggs' mind he may have done just what he had to do. And for that he may have to pay a price. He may have to submit to the punishments of society for doing what had to be done despite the fact it violated the law. What do we call this? Civil Disobedience. Henry David Thoreau provides the best explanation of Civil Disobedience.

Sometimes lawyers act to do the right thing even when they will be punished by their own bar association for doing so. The case of Doug Schafer, a Washington state attorney who was suspended (the Bar Association wanted disbarment) for disclosing judicial corruption in Pierce County Washington. He was suspended because the information of the corruption came to him as a "client confidence."

Mr. Schafer paid a price to fulfill the dictates of his priniciples.

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