A vote for the rule of law

Issue November 2014 By Marsha V. Kazarosian

Each Election Day reminds us of how fortunate we are to be citizens in a country where the right to vote is sacrosanct. It's also a good time to remember how privileged we are as lawyers to play a critical role every day with something just as integral to our democracy: the rule of law.

The rule of law is the principle that laws should govern a nation - not arbitrary decisions by rulers, government officials, or small, unrepresentative groups. The rule of law gives us the right to expect peace and order, and to expect and demand that our rights are protected and defended. And it's the rule of law that allows us the freedom to think the way we want to think, and to say the things we want to say, all without fear of persecution or prosecution.

But none of this happens without some very key components. One is an independent and impartial judiciary to enforce the rule of law. In Massachusetts, we are fortunate to have judges who are appointed, not elected. The rule of law also requires our government to implement it; that's where our right to vote comes into play. And lawyers serve in the most essential role as the foot soldiers charged with defending the rule of law.

As lawyers we understand that we work under the rule of law to protect all of our rights. Take criminal matters, for instance. Prosecutors defend victims, prosecute crimes and seek convictions and punishment in order to keep us free from fear, harm, loss of property and loss of life. Defense lawyers force the prosecution to do their job while ensuring that their client receives a fair trial and that their client's rights are not trampled in the process.

Sometimes it isn't easy for everyone to embrace the rule of law wholeheartedly, especially when faced with tough, emotionally charged trials, such as the one upcoming in January against the accused Boston Marathon bomber. Yet it is often the most difficult trials that best show how our adherence to the rule of law sets us apart from terrorists, anarchists or dictators.

Think about the British soldiers who were charged as a result of the Boston Massacre. Who defended them? John Adams, one of our founding fathers. He stepped up to the bar because he realized that if he or any other lawyer started picking and choosing who they thought was entitled to a defense, we would become exactly what this country had rebelled against in the first place.

Like many lawyers, I have always embraced this proposition. But I never really felt it as strongly as when I had a case in New Hampshire years ago where a man was accused of raping his 8-year-old child. I knew that acting as his lawyer would not be popular, but I also knew the fact that he was accused did not make him guilty, thanks to our rule of law. And in this instance, he was, in fact, not guilty.

But in that case, the evidence against him seemed so strong that on the second day of trial the judge pulled my co-counsel and me aside and told us that our client had better bring his toothbrush with him the next day to trial, because he was not going home. Thankfully, we had a jury of 14 people who had the good sense not to make a decision until they heard all of the evidence in the case, and our client was rightfully found not guilty. But that was an eye-opener for me because I really understood for the first time how lucky we are to be able to have the right to be judged only on the evidence.

William Shakespeare may have said it best when he intimated that, without lawyers, we would live in a world of chaos, anarchy and mob rule. He told us so in Henry VI, with his famous line: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." I know some people mistakenly believe that Shakespeare was suggesting that the world would be a much better place without lawyers. But he meant exactly the opposite.

In the play, Dick the Butcher is giving advice to his boss, Jack Cade, an anarchist with a diabolical desire to overthrow the government and rule the people. Dick, after giving it some thought, said the only way to overthrow the government is to destroy democracy's first line of defense: lawyers, the protectors of truth and justice. Getting rid of the lawyers, he reasoned, would make it easier to pillage the minds and will of the people without being challenged, questioned or opposed.

So while that well-worn phrase is more often used for negative connotations about lawyers instead of positive, it is, in fact, the highest compliment one could give to our profession. And it's illustrative of how our relationship with the public is so important. They come to us to protect them and to right the wrongs done to them. And no one - not the police, not the court, not the government - can interfere with that relationship.

Because that is the rule of law in our country. That is the right that gives all Americans true access to justice. That is what sets us apart from everyone else.

And that is what we, as lawyers, are proud to defend.