Legal opinion based on the movie …And Justice for All (1979)
The case at bar involves a judge accused for a crime and an uptight lawyer coerced to defend the former against the prosecution. The facts are as follows:
1) That Arthur Kirkland is a defense lawyer in Baltimore;
2) That Judge Henry Fleming is the judge hearing the case of Jeff McCullaugh who was stopped for a minor traffic offense but was later on mistaken as a killer of the same name;
3) That Kirkland is the lawyer of Jeff McCullaugh in said case;
4) That McCullaugh has been convicted and has already spent a year and a half in prison;
5) That Kirkland was able to find new evidence to prove McCullaugh’s innocence;
6) That Judge Fleming, however, refused McCullaugh’s, as represented by Kirkland, appeal on the basis of some minor technicalities; and
7) That Kirkland was jailed for contempt of court for having thrown a punch to Judge Fleming while arguing the appeal.
After some time, Judge Fleming was filed a case against him for rape, and for political purposes, sought Kirkland to be his defense lawyer. Kirkland had no choice but to agree to the proposition on account of Fleming’s blackmailing him for his previous violation of lawyer-client confidentiality. In the course of looking for evidence to support Fleming, Kirkland was approached by one of his clients who gave him an incriminating photograph of Fleming performing BDSM acts with a prostitute. Kirkland, in turn, looked for Fleming and asked about the photograph. Fleming freely admits that, indeed, he was guilty of rape. On Kirkland’s opening statement on the day of the trial, he began to mock the prosecution’s lack of preparation for the case and he was seemingly laying the groundwork to exonerate Fleming. Throughout the end, however, Kirkland remarked that the prosecution would not be able to get Fleming, his client because he himself would get him. He started to disclose Fleming’s confession of guilt and remarked how he should go to jail. The issue at hand is 1) whether or not Arthur Kirkland violated any existing laws, rules, or regulation in the practice of law in the Philippines in regard to what he did to Judge Fleming, and 2) whether or not Judge Henry Fleming may be convicted of rape on the basis of the revelations made by Arthur Kirkland in open court.
Under Rule 115 of the Rules of Court, the accused has a right to be present and defend in person and by counsel at every stage of court proceedings.1 That being said, it is obvious that the counsel given to him should work for his defense and not for his prosecution, contrary to what Arthur Kirkland has done in court. Aside from this, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court also stipulates the character, rights, and duties of attorneys. In Section 20 thereof, the duties of every attorney are expressly stated and one of which is “(e) to maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself, to preserve the secrets of his client, and to accept no compensation in connection with his client’s business except from him or with his knowledge and approval”.2 The foregoing clause specifically highlights the lawyer-client confidentiality rule in legal practice; by revealing his client’s guilt in open court without his consent, Kirkland effectively violated this rule. Moreover, Section 20 paragraph (i) of the same rule states that “In the defense of a person accused of crime, by all fair and honorable means, regardless of his personal opinion as to the guilt of the accused, to present every defense that the law permits, to the end that no person may be deprived of life of liberty but by due process of law”.3 Kirkland’s behavior of shaming his client in open court clearly showed his disregard for such provision of the law. He has let his personal opinion and feelings against Judge Fleming get in the way of his duty as his defense counsel. The contention that he was just blackmailed into defending him has, moreover, no merit, for the reason why he was compelled by Fleming to serve as his counsel came from a lawful sentiment. As for the second issue, it is clear that Judge Fleming may not be convicted of the crime of rape solely on the basis of the revelation made by Kirkland in open court simply because to consider such revelation as evidence is to use a fruit from the poisonous tree. Unless there is enough evidence to prove Fleming’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, he cannot be convicted of the crime of rape charged to him. This scenario clearly illustrates the flaws in or legal system and how injustice, sometimes, still prevails on account of the technicalities provided in the laws. However, the laws are binding upon all people, despite the intricacies and the contentions of its justifiability; dura lex sed lex, the law may be hard but it is the law and every one has the duty to uphold it.
1 Rule 115 Section 1 paragraph (c) of the Rules of Court
2 Rule 138 Section 20 paragraph (e) of the Rules of Court
3 Rule 138 Section 20 paragraph (i) of the Rules of Court