View Full Version : Let's Get Free, Part 1

27th April 10, 08:00 AM
I was twelve years old when I knew for certain that I wanted to become a lawyer. My decision was not born from any courtroom drama, real or fictional. The impetus was instead something far more mundane and simple: a Boy Scout merit badge.

I remember sitting in the drafty quarter masterís Quonset hut, listening with bated breath as Troop 459ís Assistant Scoutmaster, a federal judge at the time, regaled us with stories from his tenure as a Special Agent, and lawyer, in the FBI. He told us about epic kung fu fights barely won, fierce gun battles narrowly survived, and his many interviews with various drug lords, all of which occurred on ornate yachts populated by heavily armed guards and beautiful women. It was only a decade later that I discovered that the average lawyerís day rarely involves gun play and that fisticuffs are generally frowned upon in the legal community. After I enrolled at Brookwood Law Center, I found little mention of the excitement I heard about in while earning my Law merit badge. Instead, I discovered a different type of exhilaration, one more tantalizing and special than all the teenage fantasies in the world.

At Brookwood, I found a community of people dedicated to learning and reason. Every student braved the horrors of the LSAT and endured the rigorous humiliation of the Socratic Method because she had an unyielding desire to understand and, eventually, apply the law. Parallel to this were the professors, who abided by our ignorance so long as we remained devoted to legal studies. This was the first time I had ever seen such a ubiquitous and mutual devotion to education. It was enlightening and fulfilling to be able to trade ignorance for knowledge and to be immersed in a culture of earnest study. That we could all be so blessed.

I have learned a great deal while at Brookwood, perhaps not as much as my peers, but enough to garner an understanding of the world from a perspective available only to those who study the law. These insights, though obtained with great difficulty, were almost unanimously positive experiences that fortified my desire to become a lawyer. Recently, however, I read a book by a professor at George Washington University titled Letís Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice. PAUL BUTLER, LETíS GET FREE: A HIP HOP THEORY OF JUSTICE (2009). This book fundamentally changed the way I view the law and its application. In his book, Professor Butler, a former prosecutor in Washington D.C., outlines a culture of corruption where the state pays criminals for testimony, police officers routinely commit perjury, and over 500,000 men are incarcerated nationally for non-violent crimes. Professor Butlerís book poses the ethical question that is the topic of this paper: What do you do when the entire criminal justice system violates Rule 3.8? Professor Butlerís answer is to turn to a decades old cultural phenomenon and political movement: hip hop.

Professor Butlerís story is that of a young black man who, with the help of a supporting mother and a sharp intellect, received an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard. After a brief clerkship for a federal judge, Professor Butler entered private practice in the area of white collar criminal defense and civil litigation. Then the young lawyer did something that shocked his peers: he joined on at the U.S. Department of Justice. Professor Butler claims his hatred of bullies inspired his tenure as a prosecutor. After enduring the hardships of life in Chicagoís Southside, the young lawyer wanted to do something that would truly help those most in need. While his classmates interpreted his quest to help the downtrodden to be in the vein of black revolutionaries like Malcolm X, he followed a mold more similar to John Marshall Harlan.

Professor Butler began his career prosecuting small misdemeanors such as prostitution, then represented the government in several gun and drug cases, and finally helmed the prosecutorís table in some of the most famous public corruption cases in recent memory. It was during Professor Butlerís prosecution of Senator David Durenberger, however, that he found himself at the defendantís table. At the apex of his career, Professor Butler was accused of a crime he did not commit and prosecuted by a Federal District office uninterested in the pursuit of justice, but instead preoccupied with redressing an embarrassment Professor Butler had inflicted on them. What was Professor Butlerís crime? He had legally rented his parking space to someone else.

Professor Butlerís troubles started after he discovered that a neighbor named Detroit had rented out his parking space to another commuter. When the professor tried to explain to Detroit that she had no right to do so and informed her that he was going to be renting the space out instead, she slammed her door in his face. What followed that encounter was a string of hateful letters and vandalism on Detroitís part that lead to a heated confrontation where Detroit falsified claims against Professor Butler, resulting in his arrest and subsequent arraignment for simple assault. For the next eighteen months, the professor experienced the law as he claims most black men do: as a defendant. In this new perspective, Professor Butler was shocked by the cruelty of the system, repulsed by the apathy those in power have to the truth, and ultimately came to the cynical realization that it was not his innocence that eventually won his freedom, but instead his connections and privilege as a respected attorney. Professor Butler left the U.S. Justice Department shortly after his acquittal. In response to his experiences as a defendant, Professor Butler decided to outline a call to arms for those interested in fixing what has become a broken system.