Sitting in Water Tower Place I could not help but think about all the great and talented attorneys this City has produced. The legendary Clarence Darrow called this place home. He never shied away from taking on difficult cases, unpopular causes or clients.
Darrow successfully defended Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black physician, who was charged with the death of a man who was shot to death as Dr. Sweet and family members defended themselves from an angry white mob of people who were yelling and stoning Dr. Sweet’s home for daring to move into an all white neighborhood in Detroit during the 1920s. The case was tried to an all white male jury. Darrow was fortunate to have a fair-minded judge who made sure that jury selection was a fair process. The trial judge, Frank Murphy, would later become mayor of Detroit, governor of the Philippines, governor of Michigan, Attorney General of the United States, and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
As an attorney I have my share of difficult cases. I represented a lady charged with the murder of her newborn child. The local press and public had vilified her on television, in print and on the Internet. My client had the benefit of a fair-minded judge who insured that my client’s right to a fair and impartial jury was not violated by allowing written questionnaires and individual voir dire of jurors over a period of two and half days. I did the case for the challenge and out of a sense of obligation. The glares from law enforcement or members of the public looking on did not dissuade me. I fortunately won an acquittal.
Without attorneys willing to act in such situations and bring their best to bear our system of justice can not work. Only through both sides working to do their best can our system produce just and accurate results. Like John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”