Rachel K. Paulose a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota and a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, wrote in the USA Today.
While the alleged killers of Ahmaud Arbery force their case to
trial, one of their attorneys is propagating in the courtroom the systemic
injustice that led to Arbery’s murder.
Kevin Gough represents William Bryan, one of three men
who chased down and killed the unarmed Arbery as he jogged
through the residential neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia. Bryan
filmed the fatal attack on Arbery.
Arbery’s death spurred protests, cast the spotlight
once again on the daily lethal threats faced by people of color and
inspired legal change when the governor of Georgia introduced a bill to reform Georgia’s citizen arrest law under which
Arbery’s alleged killers claimed they were acting.
Gough's actions have had the effect of a
campaign of intimidation against African Americans throughout the trial. He
helped cause the removal of all but one Black potential juror even
though Brunswick is majority Black, causing the trial judge to comment that “there appears to be intentional
discrimination." Gough complained there are not enough white “Bubbas
or Joe Six Packs" on the jury. He has attempted to control the
Arbery family’s actions by restricting their unsupervised access to the media,
suggesting the family should be issued a "rebuke" for speaking publicly
and claiming national civil rights leaders supporting the family could be
subject to “sanction.”
He moved to bar Black pastors from the courtroom, claiming they intend
to intimidate the jury, although he cites not a single example of any minister
causing any disruption during the trial. Gough asserted in court, “We don’t want any more Black
pastors coming in here.” He compared Black ministers to men in “white masks."
Later, instead of taking responsibility for his
incendiary words, he sought to cast blame on his many critics, stating that he apologized to those who were
His motion Monday to record citizens appearing in the court gallery who are
simply supporting the victim’s family doubles down on his
previous alarming courtroom statements, which a co-defendant’s lawyer described
as “asinine" and the judge called “reprehensible."
There are at least three manifest problems with the
defense lawyer’s public statements. First, by constitutional design, every
trial court is the people’s court. No member of the public may be excluded from
watching our government in action.
By contrast, attorneys did not object to the live
global media coverage of the trial, which has the greatest potential to impact
a jury susceptible to intimidation, as the defense attorney suggested. Nor did
anyone object to white pastors appearing in the courtroom.
For centuries, in contradiction of the soaring words
of the Declaration of Independence, Southern localities barred
African-Americans from participating in public life as voters,
jurors and elected officials. A lawyer’s attempts to terminate trial observance by
“high-profile members of the African-American community," whom he
could not even correctly identify, suggests an intent to perpetuate the ugly
stereotype that every Black person, whether an unarmed jogger or a man of the
cloth, is a threat to civil order.
Reckless words remind people of color that they are
daily unwelcome in public life.
Second, Black pastors have long served as the
conscience of the community. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King
Jr. responded to the very same criticism of an attempt to influence local
action by invoking the prophet’s call: “I am in Birmingham because injustice is
here...Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Yet the Black church has remained the backbone of
the African American community, offering strength and support when the
government, law enforcement and the local citizenry failed. To attack Black
ministers is to attack a cornerstone of life in America.
Third, a lawyer’s continual refusal to abide by
standards of good faith, fairness towards opponents and respect for the public,
demeans the entire profession. For anyone to victimize again a grieving
victim’s family, just as the victim
was hunted, assaulted andkilled by Confederate flag-bearing suspects, is aggression beyond reckoning.
Such behavior may be in violation of professional
ethics, the duty of an attorney as an officer of the court and the rules
of the state bar through which he or she is licensed. Justice for all is a core
value of the profession. Any lawyer who disregards fundamental values should be
sanctioned – and such discipline should be a warning to every lawyer in
America that zealous advocacy is not a license for unbridled racial harassment.
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