…And Justice for Some
On July 11, 2011, an eight year-old boy in a Hassidic neighborhood in Borough Park, Brooklyn was abducted while walking home from day camp. The disappearance of young Leiby Kletzky shook the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and the hearts of all New Yorkers went out to the Kletzky family. On the morning of July 13, the family’s worst fears were confirmed. Remains of the boy’s body were found in Levi Aron’s apartment, where he instructed authorities that what was left of Leiby had been discarded in a dumpster in Sunset Park. The unspeakable state in which Aron (the confessed killer) left Leiby’s body demonstrates that he is a man of particularly brutal undertakings. If he is ever out on our streets again, it will be too soon.
However, with several prominent public figures—including former NYC Mayor Ed Koch in a recent article in The Algemeiner —shamelessly rallying for the execution of Leiby Kletzky’s kidnapper and murderer, it is alarming to see the manner in which one of Levi Aron’s defense lawyers, Gerard “No Fear” Marrone (as he is referred to on his website) has callously resigned from the case.
“The allegations were just too horrific,” said Marrone in a much-publicized interview. “A little piece of me died getting involved in that case.”
Of course, no amount of pressure from Koch, or any other political figure, will bring about the capital punishment for Aron. To be sure, he is likely to go to prison or a psychiatric facility. But, while no lawyer should handle a case with which he is uncomfortable, the public manner in which Marrone quit had the effect of lessening the likelihood for Aron to get a fair trial.
As the old adage goes, If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Mr. Marrone, however, decided to attach himself to this high-profile case and then jump ship, but not before adding on a giant helping of bias for the public—and the potential jury—to gobble up. While we are certainly not siding with the defendant, no matter how cruel and heinous the facts of the case are, they do not justify the corrosive effect the lawyer’s comments had on the defendant’s Constitutional Rights to a fair trial.
Assuredly, Marrone knew the allegations before agreeing to represent Aron. After all, the details of his crime and confession were widely publicized. It is equally clear that he understood that he was to defend a man who admitted to killing and dismembering a young child. And if we are to assume—as Marrone seems to suggest—that additional information had come to light, which cast new and perhaps more heinous allegations against Aron, certainly he should not be intimating this to the public.
In doing so, Mr. Marrone suggested that he believed the client was guilty. Now, while it seems clear that Aron committed the crime, certainly Marrone is violating the sacred attorney-client privilege by suggesting the crime is not worthy of defense. The free and uninhibited communication between an attorney and his client is essential. When a person walks into a lawyer’s office, it is necessary to know that any communication between them will not be discussed publicly.
“I have a wife, and the manner in which Mr. Bruck cheated on his wife makes this case just too unpleasant for me to handle.” Even such a backhanded comment is an affront on the sacred nature of privilege. Attorney-client privilege is lost when lawyers grandstand about their personal opinions regarding a case. The justice system stands on this block of confidential communication. Aron, despite his crime, deserved this privilege, if not for his own sake, then for the sake of the system. And even if Mr. Marrone was not revealing actual privilege, the appearance of impropriety should be avoided.
Marrone has in effect demonstrated that—while he may have initially thought that Aron would have had a legitimate defense—due to his firsthand involvement in the case, he now believes that Aron would not. If a potential jury pool was not already tainted, it certainly will be now.
True, there is little chance of finding a fair jury in Brooklyn, due to the publicity of the case. However, this provides more reason for Aron’s lawyers, or former lawyers, to refrain from contributing added prejudice. Jennifer McCann, a lawyer currently on Aron’s defense team, may have curbed some of the damage that Marrone caused by winningly declaring a case like this “no different than the D.W.I.s and the traffic tickets and the other murder cases.” She added, “They are defendants, they have rights and we are here to defend them.”
Geir Lippestad, the lawyer defending Anders Breivik, the man responsible for the death of 76 people in Norway last month, shed some light on the principle of criminal defense, light which can easily be seen as a direct lesson to media-hungry lawyers like Mr. Marrone. “Norwegian people…value the principle of democracy very highly, and the legal system is a part of that democracy,” he said in a press conference. “And I am proud of being part of [such] a system.”
Apparently Gerard Marrone has different ideas about democracy, the Constitution and justice. He was absolutely free to quit, but he should have bowed out more gracefully. His demeanor in resigning demonstrates a lack of respect for the sacred rules of our legal system and, in doing so, tainted the jury pool. “I have three little boys,” he said in the interview. “You can’t look at your kids and then look at yourself in the mirror, knowing that a little boy,who’s close in age to my eldest son, was murdered so brutally.”
The legal profession is a noble one. To take criminals off the streets and to provide legal research, advice and services for those who need it are great and essential positions. But at the very top of the profession, perhaps the most honorable of all, is the right to an attorney, and a fair and balanced defense in front of a jury of one’s peers. When the media offer the public highly-slanted reports on particular crimes, it is the lawyers’ duty to try to diffuse some of the bias that the jury members may have. Judges will instruct a jury to ignore much of the media hoopla surrounding a case, so that the verdict will reflect only the information presented in trial. Nevertheless, despite all efforts by the ennobled legal system, private biases will be in play when the jury members make their decision. This lawyer not only did nothing to mitigate the already existing prejudice surrounding Levi Aron, but on the contrary, he exacerbated it by quitting the case, sidestepped his client’s privilege and making theatrical statements to the press condemning Aron as a killer too terrible to merit his services.
It is quite frankly un-American.