Why do Attorneys Lie on TV but not in Court?

I like lawyers. I was once was sued for $78 million and crafty attorneys got me off the hook from a frivolous lawsuit with no merit. I have experience as an expert witness in many broadcast-oriented court cases, I once testified in a lawsuit presented in court by an obnoxious lawyer. One year later, I helped that same lawyer win another case. I guess he thought I was a credible witness.

Broke-dick attorneys and ambulance chasers who have become spokespersons of ill-advised causes based on lies and deception have been spreading their bullshit all over our media. Rudy Giuliani comes to mind, as do Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen, a personal injury lawyer from Philadelphia. Hey, a guy must make a living. I am not impressed with any of them, but who am I to judge? Any member of the opposing side would be quick to point out, they often won cases for their clients.

Submitting false statements or lying to the court is illegal, and an attorney can get in legal trouble if they’re caught. Should opposing counsel in a civil case detect dishonesty, they can move for sanctions which could result in a fine or perhaps having to pay the other side’s legal fees. This rarely happens but the downside is enough of a deterrent to keep dirty, dime-store attorneys from lying to win.

I know of a lawyer who didn’t show up in court for a divorce case. The judge found for the other party, which would have cost the “missing lawyer’s” client more than $100,000. When that client learned of her attorney’s malfeasance, she sued him for malpractice, which took years to resolve. The lawyer said he missed the court date because he was absorbed in his own divorce case and forgot. That is some rich irony.

Each US state has a bar association to oversee the legal profession and ensure that attorneys carry out their trade in an honest, fair and legal manner. If an attorney lies or practices in a shady manner, they could get dinged by their state bar and have their reputation damaged beyond repair. Attorney misbehavior is published in monthly association magazines read by every state bar member. This kind of trade shaming can lead to shunning and financial harm.

If a lawyer completely flies off the rails, the state bar can suspend their license or impose probation as punishment. As a self-governing profession, state bars typically give lawyers the benefit of the doubt the first few times. So, America’s Mayor Rudy will probably get a light spanking and be sent on his way.

An attorney with a pattern of ethics violations, such as egregious conduct or misusing client funds, could get disbarred. United States attorneys are never punished for zealously representing their clients. An attorney is expected to present the facts and law in the most favorable light for their client. Bending the law or the facts slightly, especially when addressing a jury, is not disallowed but there are lines and limits.

A defense lawyer relies on information provided by their client and there is no requirement that they investigate a client’s statements. On the other hand, a prosecutor would most likely verify each bit of information. A good attorney will judge the credibility of their client before going out on a limb. Some defense attorneys may even say to a client, “Don’t tell me you committed a crime, just tell me what happened.” I’m not sure that being kept in the dark is a permission slip for lying, but, hey, they have a job to do.

Even simple cases can have multiple legal theories of defense, each supported by different facts or circumstances. Lawyers have broad discretion to determine which combination of law and facts should be presented on behalf of their client. They also have free rein on how to present their case. Short of the other side raising objections that the judge sustains, an attorney runs his or her own show.

Lawyers must be reasonable when they present rules of evidence, rules of civil procedure, local rules of the court and precedent. The role of the judge is preventing counsel from going over a line that could steer the case in a direction preventing justice for all.

In the more than sixty cases brought to court by Donald John Trump and his allies, one judge had a great line when stating they can’t come into court and just say there was fraud, they must prove their case. When the lawyers of the former president presented questionable affidavits, one judge questioned the authenticity of signed documents. Trump’s attorney responded, “So technically – yes – if a person signs an affidavit with false information, they could be charged with perjury. But proving the person willfully lied can prove to be quite difficult in many cases.” Once the word got out that any person lying to help Trump during their testimony could go to jail, fewer affidavits were presented.

Sam Waterston

TV shows like Law & Order have given all of us some insight about how the process works, but their presentations are not always complete or accurate. There are also compelling shows such as 20/20, Dateline and 48 Hours, where we see other aspects of how the criminal justice system works. One of my personal takeaways with cold cases is the initial investigative work by the detectives can be remarkably shoddy. I don’t mean to rub the blue line people on this issue, but over time we have put a lot of innocent people in jail. In other cases, investigators spend years going after one guy who had nothing to do with the crime. Many times, the police report and file might be the only evidence a defense attorney has to develop a case. A faulty report in such an instance could be a gift for to the prosecutor who wants to quickly lock up the “monster.”

I have utter faith in the system, but we must keep a careful eye on bad judges, bad attorneys and an underfunded prosecutor’s office. We can never let our guard down. America was founded on a fair justice system and a well-written Constitution, things that many countries, such as the UK and Israel, do not have. When a lawyer lies, they endanger the system and themself. When a judge permits fabrications and distortions to be presented in court, he or she weakens the justice system. It might not be a popular decision, but those who can’t stand the heat need to get out of the kitchen. Always remember the most important line, “Equal justice for all.”

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  1. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of the Trump administration’s rush to litigate is that a country with a healthy distrust of lawyers has, in some ways, progressed to a country with a healthy disgust for lawyers. When Republicans, and Republican star attorneys in particular, could not argue in support of Trump, they argued against process, and by doing so suggested to many who were paying attention that all the stereotypes of such lawyers are true. There is no question that we’re going to need a lot of elbow grease to restore the lustre of the democratic form of government, but one group that will find the climb almost as steep as it is for elected officials are attorneys who thought winning one for the chief was a quick career booster. Trump contaminated anyone who went near him. How could some of those high-profile barristers not see that? Or were they as corrupt as he all along?

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