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Mum Lawyers Do No One Any Favors

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


I took a swipe recently at police who don't cooperate with reporters. And in the interest of fairness, I have some thoughts about other occasionally mute individuals.

Many times I've approached criminal defense attorneys who subsequently darted down the hallway as if their sensible navy suits were on fire.

I've often been greeted with a condescending tone and the following line, "I don't comment on pending cases."

When so inclined, I politely remind the lawyer that this is the 21st century. When not so inclined to be polite, I ask him whether that is dandruff on his shoulder or powder that fell from his wig.

Anyone who reads this newspaper knows we cover criminal cases relentlessly. Readers have a right to expect as much explanation about charges, hearings and case dispositions as we can provide. Fairness in the criminal- justice system is a pillar of democracy.

We don't go away when defense lawyers prefer that we do so. There are some cases that prosecutors would rather we leave alone, but we cover those, too.

Yes, defense lawyers are private businessmen, unlike prosecutors and police. But they still have a duty to their clients when a case is publicly scrutinized.

I'm not talking about the mouth-breathers who sit opposite each other on cable news shows shouting about the Scott Peterson case.

I'm talking about cases that involve people who might eventually be judged by this community. If you don't think potential jurors read the Northwest Herald, sit through jury selection some time.

Some lawyers get it Daniel Hofmann, Henry Sugden, Thomas Loizzo, Mark Gummerson, Brian Stevens to name a few. They understand the importance of communicating openly when a case demands it.

People dislike criminal defense attorneys until their kids get into trouble. If that happens, look for a lawyer who is completely on your side, not just there when the check clears.

When high school student Jessie Estrada was charged with first-degree murder for the death of fellow McHenry student Andrew Cooper in June 2002, Sugden immediately told reporters that Estrada was afraid and attacked Cooper in self-defense.

After an emotional trial, the jury bought much of Sugden's argument. The jurors didn't acquit Estrada, but they convicted him of second-degree murder, which for sentencing purposes is about the equivalent of finding him guilty of shoplifting as opposed to armed robbery.

Whatever your feelings are on whether that verdict was just is not the point. The point is that Sugden successfully made his point in the court of public opinion, and then in a court of law.

There are occasions when a lawyer can publicly say little or nothing that will help his client when the best legal strategy may be to cut bait and run. But that shouldn't be a matter of policy.

Speaking with reporters is also a business decision. Maybe some lawyers don't think their clients pay them enough to deal with the media hassle. They have that right, but I'd hardly call that zealous representation. Ask the guys who do speak to the press about how their business is going. They aren't starving.

Located in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the lawyers at Madsen, Sugden & Gottemoller, Attorneys at Law, represent clients in McHenry County, including the communities of: Crystal Lake, McHenry, Waukegan, Woodstock, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Cary, Elgin, Dundee, Barrington, Harvard, Marengo, and Johnsburg.

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