Mimesis Law
14 July 2020

Paying the Electoral Price: Leave Criminal Defense Attorney Hillary Alone!

October 13, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Defense attorneys who aspire to higher office often face the same cheap shot: the implication by their opponents that their defense of a particular defendant, or particular case, or just being a defense attorney general, somehow reflects on their character. Worse than that, that they can (and should) be tarred with whatever their clients are alleged to have done.

We’ve seen a couple of examples of this in the last year, such as with the potential nomination of Judge Jane Kelley to the Supreme Court, which some idiot at the National Review took offense to because of her defense of a possessor of child pornography, who (years later) turned out to be a child murderer. Another was Ed Sheehy of Montana, against whom outside interests ran an ad decrying his work in a capital defense case. Both were public defenders.

Now the same thing is happening on the country’s biggest electoral stage. Faced with the release of the Hollywood Access video, Donald Trump made an attempt at counterpunching by staging a photo op with one Kathy Shelton, a victim of child rape in 1975, whom Hillary Clinton had defended as a court appointed attorney.

The case went like this. In 1975, Hillary worked at the University of Arkansas Law School’s legal aid clinic. A man was charged with the rape of Shelton, who was 12 years old at the time. He wanted a female attorney, and this being Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1975, there were only three or so female attorneys in the whole county. Hillary got the call and took on a case “as a favor to the prosecutor.”

From the outside, this looks a really bad idea. Appointing a baby lawyer two years out of law school to defend a child rape case smacks of just wanting to get the case done and over with. Whether by beginner’s luck or consummate skill, Hillary negotiated the case down to the fondling of a minor, which resulted in a year in jail and four years of probation.

It’s instructive to look at what she actually did to get what has to be considered an amazing result…because that’s what’s driving the (utterly fake) outrage.

In a July 28, 1975, court affidavit, Clinton wrote that she had been informed the young girl was “emotionally unstable” and had a “tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing.”

“I have also been told by an expert in child psychology that children in early adolescence tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences and that adolescents in disorganized families, such as the complainant’s, are even more prone to exaggerate behavior,” Clinton said.

Clinton said the child had “in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body” and that the girl “exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”

Which is exactly what she (or any lawyer) is expected and required to do: advocate for their clients. And in case this isn’t obvious, one way (one of the most important) to act in your client’s interests is to evaluate the complainant’s credibility and find ways to attack it. She’s been called out by the Gotcha Brigade for her later comments on sexual assault, that victims should be “supported and believed,” but that’s stupid. She’s running to be President of everybody, and that may be the right policy to get here elcted. But she was the rapist’s lawyer, and his alone. She was obligated to give her best efforts on his behalf regardless of her personal feelings, even if he was accused of setting fire to a warehouse full of pantsuits.

As it turned out, full-blast cross examination of the girl was unnecessary. Hillary was able to exploit someone else’s mistake.

Clinton wrote in Living History that she was able to win a plea deal for her client after she obtained forensic testimony that “cast doubt on the evidentiary value of semen and blood samples collected by the sheriff’s office.”

She did that by seizing on a missing link in the chain of evidence. According to Clinton’s interview, the prosecution lost track of its own forensic evidence after the testing was complete.

“The crime lab took the pair of underpants, neatly cut out the part that they were gonna test, tested it, came back with the result of what kind of blood it was what was mixed in with it – then sent the pants back with the hole in it to evidence,” said Clinton. “Of course the crime lab had thrown away the piece they had cut out.”

In other words, the lab tested the blood, then threw away the thing they tested, a/k/a THE KEY PIECE OF EVIDENCE. It’s as if the police evidence room decided that the best place to store cocaine was in a jar of flour that was shaken vigorously every hour on the hour and then emptied out every Friday.

What “offends” people the most about this story is that, in an interview several years later, she “laughed” about the case, and heavily implied that her client was guilty.[1] You know what? I hope she did laugh. I hope she laughed long, loud, and with youthful abandon.[2] Ultimately, criminal law is a competition between the state and defense. If you’re going to be a good criminal defense attorney, you have to like competing. And there’s no such thing as enjoying a competition if you don’t enjoy winning.

Any attorney who feels bad that they won a tough case for a guilty shouldn’t be let within a mile of an actual client. Her job was to represent her client to the best of her ability, and she did. If you have problem with that, think about this: if you ever get charged with a crime, do you want your lawyer worrying about what might happen to her 40 years down the line. Or do you want her worrying about you?

[1] If she breached a client confidence, and she likely did, that’s a problem. But the people howling about what a terrible person she is aren’t offended on behalf of the defendant.

[2] Or “bigly,” if you like.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Richard Kopf
    14 October 2016 at 6:13 pm - Reply


    I certainly don’t care that as a lawyer Hillary did what a lawyer is supposed to do. Indeed, I applaud her. I don’t even care that she laughed about it afterward. However, the news reports indicate that she tried to duck the case. That I care about (and detest).

    All the best.


    PS Representing people you hate is part of the job of being a real lawyer rather than a pretender. I wrote about this in the “Smell of a Sociopath.” If you care, you can find my musings on that subject here: https://wednesdaywiththedecentlyprofane.me/2013/07/17/the-smell-of-a-sociopath/

    • Greg Prickett
      14 October 2016 at 7:08 pm - Reply


      Is a baby lawyer always qualified to represent a client in that type of case? I don’t care for Hillary, but I can very easily see (and support) her trying to duck the case if she did not feel qualified to handle it.

      In most Texas counties, lawyers have to have a set number of felony jury trials before they can be appointed in this type of case.

    • Noel Erinjeri
      15 October 2016 at 10:05 am - Reply


      I might agree with you if she were a public defender or on the court-appointed counsel roster. She took the case as a favor to the prosecutor because the defendant “wanted a female attorney.” That’s a stupid reason to get drafted into a case, especially since the regular public defender was already representing him.


  • Montana Money Shenanigans Against Dirk Sandefur
    17 October 2016 at 9:25 am - Reply

    […] 17, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Last week, Trump tried to use Hillary Clinton’s defense of a child rapist in 1975 against her. This is hardly a new tactic, and it’s not limited to defense […]