By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
About 40 years ago, Enid attorney Stephen Jones defended a University of Oklahoma student who was arrested for carrying a Viet Cong flag on campus during a protest following the Kent State University shootings.
The student, Keith Green, was turned down by the first 12 attorneys he contacted to defend him. Jones was the 13th attorney contacted, and represented Green, and gaining an acquittal.
Years later, Jones would be called on to defend the nation’s most notorious domestic terrorist — Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who eventually was executed.
Jones said while it is less difficult today to find attorneys for unpopular political causes or clients, there is a threat as well, namely pressure on attorneys from various political entities.
Recently, representatives of the Keep America Safe organization, Liz Cheney and William Kristol, called for identification of any Justice Department attorneys who previously represented Guantanamo Bay terror suspect detainees or argued for changes in legal policy concerning Guantanamo Bay.
Jones said that theory assumes these attorneys cannot now represent the Justice Department and are somehow unpatriotic. He disagreed with the assumption in a Wall Street Journal article he recently penned.
Jones cites the case of President John Adams, who defended British troops who fired on a crowd in Boston and a former U.S. senator who defended Mary Surratt, one of the accused conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
“Neither logic nor experience nor history demonstrates that the points being made by Ms. Cheney and her allies have any merit. They represent forensic vigilantism, a political lynch-mob mentality,” Jones said in the article.
To be independent, attorneys must represent all political persuasions, he said.
If that does not occur, a person who represents an unpopular political idea will have a difficult time finding an attorney unless they are willing to accept a “cause” attorney. Cause attorneys are those who fight for or against a cause and often place the clients benefit secondary, Jones said. For example, he said, some attorneys oppose the death penalty and will take a case to convince the jury to not impose a death sentence, rather than concentrate on the guilt or innocence of their client.
“The best way for your client to avoid the death penalty is for them to be deemed not guilty,” he said.
He likened that to a physician treating only people whose political opinions agreed with his.
“You can’t have a medical system like that, but we are willing to have a legal system that operates that way,” Jones said. “You can’t do your job if you are constantly looking over your shoulder.”
While federal judge David Russell “drafted” Jones to represent McVeigh, he could not find an Oklahoma attorney to represent co-conspirator Terry Nichols, Jones said. Jones’ defense of McVeigh resulted in death threats and armed guards being assigned to his home and office. Jones said Cheney and Kristol are trying to demonize attorneys and hold them to public criticism for undertaking causes with which they disagree.
“The shrillness of attacking lawyers to gain a narrow political advantage is a toxic atmosphere and adverse to what this country is about,” he said.
That philosophy is similar to Franco’s Spain or some of the Eastern European communist countries, but is against what the United States stands for, he said. Fundamentally, he does not think the tactic will work because the American public is more intelligent.
Jones called on attorneys to be independent and to represent unpopular causes and clients because of their constitutional right to an attorney and a vigorous defense.